Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered a new procedure which can quickly increase the length of human telomeres, and then disappear before having long-term effects. The secret lies in the sequence TERT of messenger-RNA.

Helen Blau and her team introduced TERT mRNA strands into a culture of human skin cells and were delighted to see the results that followed.  “Skin cells with telomeres lengthened by the procedure were able to divide up to 40 more times than untreated cells” states Blau. Treated cells behaved much younger, multiplying more rapidly rather than stagnating or dying.

The RNA used in this experiment contained the coding sequence for TERT, the active component of a naturally occurring enzyme called telomerase. Telomerase, which is a protein usually found in embryotic stem cells, has been known to aid in the lengthening of telomeres.

The Stanford team’s modified RNA is designed to react with the cell´s immune system in a way that will allow it to make the necessary changes and then dissipate and be gone within 48 hour period.

“The treated cells don’t go on to divide indefinitely; this suggests that a treatment using our method could be brief and infrequent” said John Ramunas, PhD, and Postdoctoral scholar at Stanford.

“One day it may be possible to target muscle stem cells in a patient with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, for example, to extend their telomeres” adds Blau. “There are also implications for treating conditions of aging, such as diabetes and heart disease. This has really opened the doors to consider all types of potential uses of this therapy”.