Mice With Hyper Long Telomeres Created Without Gene Therapy

Mice with doubly long telomeres have been created, without altering the telomerase gene. They also exhibit lessened DNA damage, greater repair capability and even reduced tumour incidence

A team headed by telomere expert Maria Blasco, at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), have succeeded in creating mice with extended telomeres - without modifying their genome. 

How did they do it? 

Previous research indicated that expanding a culture of induced pluripotent stem cells caused a gradual extension of telomere length over time, and this process was shown to happen in cultured embryonic stem cells too. This occurs through active mechanisms without altering the telomere gene; the primary mechanism that usually extends telomeres. The CNIO team then used these cells to develop mice with hyper long telomeres. 

"The in vitro expansion of the embryonic stem cells results in the elongation of the telomeres up to twice their normal length" 

What was the effect?

The additional length didn't seem to have any negative effect on cell function, and cells accumulated DNA damage at a reduced rate. Mice with these longer telomeres also had reduced tumour incidence, and exhibited better repair capacity too. The shortening rate was much the same, but because the length was longer at the start point, it appeared to delay some aspects of the aging process. 

"Our work also demonstrates that it is possible to generate iPS cells with longer telomeres that would turn into differentiated cells also with longer telomeres and that would, therefore, be better protected against damage"

Why is this exciting? 

Once again, telomere extension seems to have a positive effect and actually corresponds with a lower cancer incidence, not a higher one. This might only apply however when working on young cells, as many older cells may have accumulated damage. This new technique also means that iPSCs could be expanded in the lab to increase telomere length, before being formed into new tissue or implants that could be introduced into a patient. This may well protect the new cells from damage to a degree, or increase their shelf life as it were. 

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