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Fountain of youth' for cells discovred

SEATTLE TIMES

Scientists have created a snippet of immortality in a petri dish.

Researchers from Geron, a biotech company in Menlo Park, Calif., and the
University of Texas announced yesterday they have proved that a previously
untested "fountain of youth" for human cells actually works. The dramatic
discovery - which enables the cells to continue living long past their normal
lifespan - could help treat age-related diseases such as degenerating eyesight
and hardening of the arteries.

But even researchers who heralded the news cautioned that it doesn't signal the
dawning of an age where humans will live forever.

Extending the life of specific cells, however, could lead to treatments that turn the
elderly more youthful by relieving the burdens of diseases that strike late in life. It
also could be a boon to cancer research, as well as providing an invaluable tool
for scientists who have been unable to experiment with normal human cells
because they have only a finite life span.

"You just can't say we've reversed human aging yet, unfortunately," said Anna
McCormick of the National Institute on Aging. "But, for aging research. it is a
milestone."

The fountain of youth is actually just a few drops of an enzyme called telomerase.
When skin, retinal and vascular cells in the laboratory were triggered to produce it,
the enzyme rewound the internal clocks of those cells and staved off their
deaths, according to research by a team from Geron and the University of Texas
Southwest Medical Center in Dallas. The study will be published Friday in the
journal Science.

The scientists are the first to extend the life of human cells without harming them,
such as turning the cells cancerous.


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