Aging is linked to shortening telomeres. This happens, in part, because of insufficient activity of an enzyme called telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) that maintains telomere length. Animals deficient in TERT have shorter telomeres, shorter lifespans, and an increased risk of age-related diseases like heart disease. Recent studies on animal models have shown the therapeutic efficacy of TERT in increasing healthy longevity and reversing the aging process.
Telomeres can be extended in various genetic, pharmacological, and physiological means, typically by activating TERT. For example, one screen identified small molecules that activate TERT and extend telomeres.
Another major route to elongate telomeres has been through gene therapy with TERT, either by injection or even intranasal administration. For example, a study that used safe and effective viral TERT gene therapy strategies increased telomere length in the heart, liver, kidney, brain, lung, and muscle in 2-year-old-mice by six times than in control mice of the same age. Notably, the mice treated with TERT gene therapy demonstrated healthier aging and extended longevity.