‘Elixir of youth’ found in sex hormone – scientists

A team of US and Brazilian
researchers have used a synthetic
sex hormone to stimulate
production of a naturally occurring
enzyme called telomerase that is
capable of reversing ageing and has
been dubbed a possible “cellular
elixir of youth.”
While in embryos, telomerase is
expressed by practically every cell.
It can then only be produced in cells
that are constantly dividing, such as
blood-forming stem cells, which can
differentiate into various specialized
cells, scientists say. Certain cells
avoid aging by using telomerase to
lengthen their telomeres, which are
DNA-protecting structures at the
ends of chromosomes. The length of
telomeres is a laboratory measure of
a cell’s age, as each time a cell
divides, its telomeres get shorter.
“In a healthy adult, telomere length
varies from 7,000 to 9,000 base
pairs on average. A normal person’s
telomeres lose 50 to 60 base pairs
per year, but a patient with
telomerase deficiency can lose
between 100 and 300 base pairs
per year,” said Professor Rodrigo
Calado, one of the scientists behind
the research, the results of which
were published in the New England
Journal of Medicine.
Telomerase deficiency may cause
some blood-related diseases, such
as aplastic anemia. In the recent
study, scientists treated 27 patients
having telomere diseases with a
steroid called danazol, a synthetic
male hormone, leading to telomere
“In the patients who received
danazol, telomere length increased
by 386 base pairs on average over
two years,” Calado said.
The research was based on previous
findings that showed that
androgens, which are converted into
estrogens in humans, bind to
female hormone receptors in the
telomerase gene promoter region,
stimulating expression of the
enzyme in cells. The latest study
“was designed to find out whether
the effect we’d observed in the lab
also occurred in humans, and the
results indicate that it does,” the
professor said.
While finding that sex hormones
may be used to reverse one of the
biological drivers of aging,
researchers are cautious, as the
risks of using the treatment in
healthy people are not yet clear.


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