Prof. Dr. Lenhard Rudolph, a well-known stem cell researcher at Ulm University, is investigating the relationships between telomeres, stem cell ageing and diseases. In the following interview with Walter Pytlik, BioRegion Ulm, Rudolph gives insights into state-of-the-art ageing research and its potential applications.
We identified these proteins in the supernatant of cells with telomere dysfunction and compared them with cells with long telomeres. We used a proteomics approach (the comparison of all proteins of a cell) to identify four proteins which are secreted by the cells in response to telomere dysfunction, but also in response to other DNA damage, for example damage caused by radioactive irradiation. It is interesting to note that the quantity of these proteins increases in the blood serum as humans age. However, this increase does not just happen chronologically. It has been shown that the increase of these proteins is greater in old people with health problems than in old people who are healthy. This difference is once again very significant. Therefore, we believe that these proteins are not pure chronological markers, but that there are differences between individuals. It is further assumed that a higher marker quantity actually reveals a higher biological age. These markers might be useful for the treatment of old people in cases which require the tissue to regenerate, for example surgery. Studies involving biomarkers of ageing might actually be able to predict the benefit of such surgery. This would represent a huge clinical progress in the invasive therapy of old people.I can also imagine another interesting application for these markers; for example in anti-ageing medicine, i.e. anti-ageing food supplements. People taking vitamins at the age of fifty will most likely only know in about twenty years’ time whether the vitamins have had any beneficial effect. Biomarkers of ageing might be able to give an immediate answer. For example, the effect of vitamins could be assessed using a group of volunteers, for example 70-year-olds with a higher quantity of specific ageing biomarkers, where one group receives a specific vitamin and the control group is given a placebo. The amount of biomarker would then tell us whether the consumption of the given vitamin arrests or even decreases biological ageing markers. I believe that this is of great interest for the food industry.