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Associate Professor Tony Cesare.

Breakthrough on stem cell immortality

An Australian scientist has made a surprise anti-ageing breakthrough.

University of Sydney Associate Professor Tony Cesare said he found “the most unexpected result of my career” in a study of stem cell immortality.

The team co-led by Cesare said they have discovered what causes stem cell immortality – differences in a protein called TRF2.

The protein arranges DNA at the chromosome end into a ‘telomere-loop’ structure. Removing it from adult cells causes the chromosomes to become stitched together into one long string, which is incompatible with life.

But removing TRF2 from pluripotent stem cells did almost nothing. The team concluded that telomeres are therefore protected differently in pluripotent stem cells and adult tissues. 

“This is tremendously exciting for molecular biology and opens up a whole new way of thinking about immortality in stem cells,” said Cesare.

“An exciting outcome of this research is that it definitively shows the critical protective element at chromosome ends is the telomere DNA loop.

“This likely explains why telomere length regulates ageing; cells must need long enough telomeres to make the DNA loops and this becomes difficult as cells age.”

He said the finding had major implications for ageing, human development, regenerative medicine, and cancer.

“We now realise that the rules for creating telomere loops are entirely different in pluripotent stem cells, suggesting other cellular rules might also be different.

“This is tremendously exciting for molecular biology.”

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