A powerful subplot of my award winning fiction thriller Taming the Telomeres deals with DNA telomere research and its impact on human aging, and the possible extension of human life. TTT explores tragedy that befalls Amanda Michaels, and how she discovers that secret telomere research her biological father Ron Michaels was exploring had attracted the interest of the world’s most powerful nations. Amanda hunts for answers in the midst of spying, subterfuge, and nation’s seeking economic leverage over the telomere research.
As many of you may be aware, in 2009 three scientists shared a Nobel Prize for research on our DNA telomeres and the impact of telomerase enzyme on our cells. With regard to telomere research, readers of my first novel have commented in various ways:
“There wasn’t enough science about telomeres.”
“I didn’t understand the science, that bogged me down.”
“R.N. Shapiro wasn’t even accurate about the science.”
Lot’s of conflicting feedback. Not enough science. Too much science. If you had never heard of a telomere before you saw the title of my first novel, believe me you were not alone. Almost no one except geneticists or biological researchers had ever heard of one either. And when you deal with cutting edge science in a fiction thriller, it’s hard to please everyone all the time.
While it’s important to build a foundation on real science and medicine, fiction by definition may involve a leap of faith, something that might not be grounded 100% in science. Some people call that science fiction. Like getting dinosaur DNA out of petrified amber. There’s a kernel of possibility, but a leap of faith may be necessary.
Most parts of the telomere passages in my first novel was based on real science, but I will admit not all of Amanda’s special characteristics are scientifically based. And how will the telomere elixir she was transfused with impact Amanda in the future? Hmm.
I’m currently researching and writing a follow along sequel to Taming the Telomeres, with the working title “Targeting the Telomeres.” Amanda Michaels, Andy Michaels, and several other characters in the first book are involved in the sequel, which begins less than a year after the end of the first telomeres novel. Along with many new characters. Now, in the midst of writing the second telomeres/Amanda Michaels novel, there have been a number of important genetic research announcements involving telomeres and telomerase enzyme since 2009. And yes these worldwide announcements and discoveries that impact human aging have been exciting.
So what telomere discoveries have been achieved since the 2009 Nobel Prize announcement?
Cancer: One breakthrough involves telomerase enzyme in cancer cells. Cancer cell telomeres get very short, but the abnormal, damaged cancer cells somehow escape cell death by continually making more telomerase enzyme. Medical researchers are making strides in cutting off the telomerase enzyme in breast and prostate cancer cells to make them die rather than continually reproducing and causing the spread of abnormal cancer tumor cells. But one resultant problem with blocking telomerase enzyme production is that the same elimination can impair fertility, wound healing and production of blood and immune system cells.
Shorter Telomeres=Shorter Lives: In other studies, scientists have shown that shorter telomeres are associated with shorter human lives. In persons over 60, shorter telomeres meant they were three times more likely to die from heart and other infectious diseases than persons with longer telomeres. Even people with longer telomeres after age 60 still experience telomere shortening as they age but noted geneticist Richard Cawthon believes that 10 to 30 years could be added to human life by lengthening our telomeres. Dr. Cawthon says that if all processes of aging could be eliminated and oxidative stress damage could be repaired, one estimate is that the human body could live 1000 years.
Increases in Mice Median Lifespan: By late 2010, Harvard genetic researchers showed that telomerase enzyme in mice genes reversed aging and degenerative processes in the mice. A later 2012 telomere study on laboratory mice increased their median lifespans between 13% and 24% with telomere manipulation. And a genetic study just announced during 2016 from Spain showed that embryonic stem cells with hyper-long telomeres can give rise to organisms (here, mice) with longer telomeres that remain young at the molecular level far longer. Meaning that the longer telomere in stem cells can divide and divide, and the mouse’s cell telomeres become longer. The Spanish scientists are now researching the natural additional question: can they show extension of mice median lifespan based on the hyper-long telomeres?
Human Lifespan Extension: Are scientists inching closer to effectively providing the fountain of youth for our human cells? Perhaps. How many years will it take to roll out medications that will materially extend human life expectancy? No one can yet say.
Back to my second novel, Targeting the Telomeres, which is still a work in progress. On the telomere front, USA biological researchers will address how to effectively use and deliver telomerase enzyme to lengthen the telomeres in human cells, in more than one way. Powerful competing international “interests” will engage in efforts to gain access to this classified biological genetic research, but in the midst of this, the Michaels family suffers a new family crisis. That’s as far as I can go at this time, but rest assured that much of the telomere science in the second novel will have a solid foundation in recent telomere discoveries.