The Quest for Immortality: Can an ELN Help Scientists Find a Way to Stop Aging?
Alchemists once sought the elixir granting eternal life. Explorers like Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth. For as long as humans can remember, we’ve looked for the key to immortality.
This seems like nothing more than a fantasy, but scientists may be closer than you think. Earlier this year, researchers at Stanford University discovered a way to extend the length of telomeres. Telomeres are the protective end caps on chromosomes. As cells divide throughout our lifetime, they shorten. Once they reach a certain critical length, however, the cells stop dividing and die. This process is associated with aging and many diseases are linked to shortened telomeres.
In the Stanford study, scientists used modified RNA to lengthen telomeres by as much as 1,000 nucleotides. This was the equivalent of adding several years of life to the cells used. What’s even more striking is that the effect is temporary. The RNA’s effects only last a couple days, after which the clock stops turning backward. At this point, the cells begin to age normally again, the telomeres shortening with each cell division as before. The transient nature of the procedure eliminates fears of creating immortal cells, which are linked to cancer. As a result, researchers hope to use the method to develop treatments for age-related ailments and genetic diseases.
With all this potential, researchers studying telomere lengthening could benefit from the use of a digital tool like an electronic lab notebook (ELN). After all, creating the procedure is only the first step. Now, the hard work begins in learning how to apply it.
Differentiating Between Cell Types
The original Stanford study used human skin cells. After treatment with the modified RNA, they were able to divide 40 more times than those cell cultures that hadn’t been exposed. But cells from different parts of the body have different properties. A stem cell will not react to the procedure the same way as a more specialized muscle cell. It’s important to understand those differences in order to make this potential treatment more universal to a larger group of people.
An ELN can store the results from multiple experiments in one centralized location. The tagging capabilities allow users to cross-reference the data as well. In this way, scientists can find common patterns in cellular behavior.
Developing Disease Therapy with the Help of ELNs
The ability to turn back the clock in human cells opens the door for developing ways to combat various diseases. If a genetic disease is linked to shortened telomeres, then a method to lengthen the protective end caps is a godsend. For example, people afflicted with premature aging disorders are ideal candidates. However, other conditions are also ripe for study. Type 2 diabetes is linked to aging because the human body becomes less able to process sugars as it gets older. If we can find a way to turn back the clock in aging patients with Type 2 diabetes, it could be the first step in managing the disease.
With an ELN, researchers can track potential therapy options and use the results to determine whether they’re viable. From there, they can move onto in vivo models and if those prove fruitful, into clinical trials. Better still, all of those studies can be stored in the same notebook, since the collaborative tools make it ideal for multiple research teams and multi-year projects.
Taking Lifestyle Choices into Account
Telomere length isn’t just a result of cell division. External factors such as physical fitness, smoking, diet and stress have all been shown to have an effect. When developing treatment options for diseases, it’s important to take those things into account. For example, smoking shortens telomeres so it would negate the effects of any therapy method. By including this information in an ELN, researchers can make sure to pass on those restrictions to patients participating in clinical trials or ensure that it may be included in instructions packaged with finalized drug products.
It’s not the immortality promised by legends and stories, but it is a step in unlocking the secrets of aging in the human body. With this breakthrough, scientists can pursue research that can cure our most persistent of chronic conditions.
Are you wondering how your laboratory can use an ELN to aid your disease therapy research? Visit us today to learn more about the BIOVIA Notebook.