Telomere Science Library

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about the Nobel-Prize Winning Science of Telomere Biology


Welcome to the Telomere Science Library, the best source for staying on the cutting edge of the Nobel Prize-winning science of Telomere Biology. The Telomere Science Library is the most up-to-date source for publications, videos and presentations. Please choose a category below to view articles related to a particular topic, or explore our collection of presentations and educational videos.

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Telomere Biology Overview

Telomeres are the protective DNA-protein complexes that cap the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes and are required for genome stability. The essential telomeric DNA consists of a tract of a tandemly repeated short sequence specified and maintained by the highly regulated reverse transcriptase action of the cellular enzyme telomerase. Telomeric DNA is susceptible to natural terminal erosion through a variety of processes including the end replication problem of linear chromosomal DNA, which causes telomeres to get shorter each time a somatic cell divides (Olovnikov 19773; Blackburn 2005), and other processes in cells that can act to diminish telomere length (TL) including nuclease action, replication fork stalling through telomeric DNA repeat tracts, DNA recombination and oxidative damage (Jain and Cooper 2010). While telomerase can counteract shortening by elongating and protecting telomeres, telomerase activity is generally down-regulated in normal human cells (Blackburn 1997). When telomeres become too short, cells become senescent, losing the ability to divide and function normally (Allsopp et al. 1992; Blackburn 200; Armanios and Blackburn 2012). Mutations that decrease telomerase and cause short telomeres in humans lead to a spectrum of premature-onset diseases and conditions collectively termed "telomere syndromes", which share many features of the common diseases of aging in the human population (Armanios and Blackburn 2012). Multiple independent studies have found impaired human telomeric DNA length maintenance to be associated with a wide range of diseases, and for several age-related diseased to predict future risks and outcomes including mortality.

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Calvin B Harley

Calvin B Harley, Ph.D.
Telomere Diagnostics, Inc.
President & Chief Scientific Officer

Telomerase is not an oncogene

Telomerase is the critical enzyme in overcoming growth limitations due to telomere dysfunction, but it does not cause growth deregulation and hence is not an oncogene. There are, in fact, dozens of normal cell types that have been immortalized with telomerase without signs of cancerous changes, without altering differentiation capacity, and without altering preexisting genetic abnormalities. These observations suggest a range of opportunities for the use of telomerase immortalized cells in research, disease modeling, and drug discovery, as well as telomerase activation for treatment of certain age-related diseases. Even though telomerase-mediated prevention of cell senescence and/or genetic instability of pre-crisis cells may reduce the initiation or progression of cancers, caution is still warranted in telomerase activation therapies, as the theoretical risk of immortalizing or extending the lifespan of existing tumor cells must be weighed against the potential benefits.

Killing tumor cells in cancer patients with telomerase-based strategies has never before looked so promising. Despite the complexities of telomere dynamics on cancer initiation and progression in mice, and unresolved questions in humans, it seems clear that 'remortalizing' a lethal tumor through efective and specific telomerase inhibition, especially for tumors with short telomeres, will improve a patient's prognosis. While advances continue to be made in the discovery of telomerase inhibitors, other approaches to specifically killing telomerase positive tumor cells have achieved experimental support. hTERT promoter-driven suicide genes have proven efective in vitro and in animal models, and therapeutic hTERT vaccine strategies are now in human clinical studies.

Although further research in this exciting new area of biology will undoubtedly help clarify mechanisms of action and point to better, safer, and more cost-effective therapeutic approaches, it is gratifying to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel for the development of much-needed medicines based upon the telomere hypothesis of cell aging and immortalization.

Latest Telomere Biology Videos

The Solution to Cellular Aging: Lengthen Telomeres, Strengthen your Practice

The Solution to Cellular Aging: Lengthen Telomeres, Strengthen your Practice 2

Featured Telomere Biology Presentation

Genetic Material Replication

Watch this slideshow presentation to learn more about how genes replicate.

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