Long-sought structure of telomerase paves way for new drugs for aging, cancer

VIDEO: Cryo-EM density of human telomerase holoenzyme with fitted subunits. view more 

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More than 30 years ago, when University of California, 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.

One bottleneck has been obtaining pure samples of this complex molecule, which


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