Telomouse model provides a valuable resource for in-depth aging and cancer research

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Researchers introduce the “Telomouse”. By making a subtle genetic change in standard laboratory mice, they have made their telomeres, which protect chromosome ends, more similar to those of humans. Telomeres are critical for maintaining genetic integrity and promoting healthy aging while reducing the risk of cancer. Standard laboratory mice have telomeres five times longer than humans, creating challenges in modeling their role in aging and cancer in humans. The Telomouse model, developed by integrating a genetic variation from a mouse strain with naturally shorter telomeres, provides a valuable resource for in-depth research into aging and cancer, highlighting the importance of the RTEL1 protein in determining telomere length . This discovery promises to reveal new insights into the genetics of aging and may contribute to increased longevity and well-being.

In an exciting scientific breakthrough, a team of researchers led by Professor Yehuda Tzfati of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Life Science and Professor Klaus Kaestner of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine have introduced ‘Telomouse’. This discovery involves changing just one small building block in one gene of ordinary laboratory mice, Mouse muscleto make their telomeres (our chromosome caps) look much more like the telomeres in humans.

Telomeres have a central responsibility in protecting our genetic material and ensuring the orderly division of our cells. Maintaining their structural integrity and optimal length has the potential to reduce the risk of cancer and facilitate a healthier aging process. However, a major hurdle has emerged: Conventional laboratory mice possess telomeres that are about five times longer than those in humans. This disparity poses a huge challenge when using mouse models to understand the implications of telomeres for human aging and cancer.

When developing the Telomouse model, researchers turned their attention to a separate mouse strain, M. contempt, notable for its inherently shorter telomeres. Within the genetic code of these mice, a subtle variation was identified within a crucial protein known as RTEL1. By transferring this genetic distinction to typical laboratory mice, they managed to produce a line of mice with human-length telomeres. These new Telomice exhibit robust health and reproductive capabilities, making them an exceptional resource for in-depth research into the complex domains of aging and cancer.

This study highlights the central role of RTEL1 as an arbiter of telomere length. A nuanced modification of this crucial protein has allowed scientists to create a mouse model that closely approximates human telomere length.

During the study, the researchers also achieved an invaluable breakthrough in our ability to measure the length of each individual telomere, and especially the shortest telomeres in the cell, which determine cellular function and fate. They developed a new method for measuring the precise length of individual telomeres using a new generation of DNA sequencing, called nanopore sequencing. This method, called ‘NanoTelSeq’, makes it possible to evaluate ‘telomere health’ in samples of blood or other tissues from healthy individuals, as well as from patients with cancer and aging diseases, and improves the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of these patients.

Professor Yehuda Tzfati, the lead researcher on this initiative, said: “The Telomouse model promises to enrich our understanding of the complex relationship between telomeres, cancer and the aging process. I believe that NanoTelSeq will replace currently used methods and accurately evaluate telomere status in patients and healthy individuals, and reveal how it affects human health. Such insights will hopefully lead to innovative strategies for combating cancer and promoting the well-being of older individuals.”


Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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