Telomeres are the tip of the chromosomes that are responsible for keeping the gene instruction in place in order to avoid genetic mixed-ups and genomic instability. Telomere shortening is something that regularly occurs when the cell is in the process of division. This is also the reason why people age and eventually get ill and die.
However, recent studies show that with the help of the enzyme telomerase, telomeres are prevented from being rapidly broken-down. Because of this property of telomerase, experts had been speculating that this must have an ability to make the cell youthful for a very long time. Thus, the study of cellular immortality had begun. Here are some details that support cellular immortality.
HeLa Cells are the cultivated cell line of a patient with cervical cancer named Henrietta Lacks. Her cancer cell line was taken out of her body a few months before she died in the year 1951. Her cell line was perfectly cultivated in laboratories and has been able to multiply rapidly. It was branded as an immortal cell since up to this date the HeLa cell line is still existing and still continues to multiply.
A normal cell line has a division limit which is known as the Hayflick’s limit. However, there is no such limit in the HeLa Cells. The development of HeLa cells was a great breakthrough in the field of medicines. Vaccines for polio and HPV or cervical cancer were invented because of HeLa cells. These cells were able to make gene mapping less complicated and very attainable. Scientists were able to have an extensive study on cellular immortality because of these.
Another known immortal cells are the cancer cells. Like HeLa cells, they do not go through the Hayflick’s limit. They multiply abnormally and uncontrollably. Cancer cells do not die when they are supposed to die. When the telomeres reached the point called “telomere crisis”, wherein the telomere caps are too short to be divided, the cell is supposed to die. However, in cancer cells, they lack telomeres. They have more telomerase and they are also fast spreading.
Telomerase is an enzyme that keeps the telomeres long and prevents them from rapidly breaking down. Telomerase had been also known to slow down aging since it keeps the cells youthful and prevents it from dying fast. It is an important key factor in making a cell immortal since its abundant presence can make telomeres maintain their length. In cancer cells, telomerase enzymes are the ones responsible for their rapid division and body spread out. They basically replace the telomeres in the cancer cells since telomeres are worn out at that point.
With these known factors in keeping the cells immortal, many scientists had focused on them. They are hands on in developing another version of HeLa cells that can be used in curing diseases and fighting off cancer. They are also finding ways to prove that these cells can not only immortalize itself but also the entire human body.