Paris (AFP) - Elated scientists announced Wednesday the completion of a 20-year quest to map the complex enzyme thought to forestall ageing by repairing the tips of chromosomes in plants and animals, including humans.
Decoding the architecture of the enzyme, called telomerase, could lead to drugs that slow or block the ageing process, along with new treatments for cancer, they reported in the journal Nature.
___________________________Long-sought structure of telomerase paves way for drugs for aging, cancer
The first architectural visualization of human telomerase, a big enzyme complex (below) that tidies up the ends, colored green, of our chromosomes (blue Xs), represents a breakthrough for drug design because of the enzyme’s role in cancer and aging.
More than 30 years ago, when UC Berkeley researchers discovered telomerase — an enzyme that lengthens chromosome ends and prevents them from fraying enough to kill a cell — speculation ran wild about its role in aging and cancer, setting off a full-court press to produce drugs to activate or block the enzyme.
While neither telomerase-based anti-aging drugs, touted as a “fountain of youth,” nor anticancer drugs have yet appeared, the publication today by UC Berkeley scientists of the first detailed picture of the molecular structure of human telomerase should jump-start that effort, allowing more targeted drug screens and intelligent design of new drugs.
“It has been a long time coming. It took a lot of persistence,” said Kathleen Collins, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology who has worked on the enzyme for 26 years.
Collins and Eva Nogales, also a professor of molecular and cell biology, are the senior authors of a paper describing the 3-D molecular structure of the human telomerase enzyme published this week in the journal Nature.