An on-and-off “switch” has been detected in human cells. Researchers think that the switch could hold the link to healthy aging.
In the human body, new cells divide cells constantly. The problem is that most types of human cells cannot divide indefinitely, for with each division the ends of chromosomes shorten. When chromosomes become too short, they are unable to replicate. Eventually this causes widespread degeneration of organs and tissues. Finding a way to keep cells going represents a major strand of current biological research. The newly identified switch could be mechanism to keep cells dividing.The newly discovered switch could point to a means by which healthy cells could be triggered to keep dividing and generating, rather than slowing down and aging. Furthermore, the mechanism could be used to create new lung or liver tissue.The switch is linked to an enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme rebuildstelomeres (a region inside chromosomes) and allows cells to divide indefinitely. The research showed that each time a cell divides its entire genome must be duplicated. As this duplication occurs telomerase functions as a “preassembly” complex.

The problem is, this process does not occur in all cells. Researchers think that by understanding how this “off” switch can be manipulated they could create treatments for age related diseases and perhaps even regenerate vital organs.

This is all at the early stages and so far studies have only been carried out in yeast. The next step is to undertaken research in animals, and then eventually using human cells.

The findings have been published in the journal Genes and Development. The paper is titled “Regulated assembly and disassembly of the yeast telomerase quaternary complex.”