Calvin Harley Cell Biology

Discovered the telomere clock

"If we can maintain telomere length or actually increase telomeres we can in fact increase the life-span of normal cells."

The Story

Harley is a Canadian, was educated in Canada, and was a Professor of Biochemistry at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (1982-1993) when he developed his exciting hypothesis of the telomere "clock" involved in the aging process.

He is now the Chief Scientific Officer at Geron Corp and was the legal guardian of Dolly the famous first sheep to be cloned.

Geron corporation is the first commercial enterprise to extend the life of human cells. "The possibility of breaking through the maximum genetic life span of humans which is currently thought to be roughly 120 is definitely there," Harley says.

Geron is concentrating its efforts on a part of the cell called the telomere, the physical ends of our chromosomes. Harley and his team discovered that telomeres gradually shrink with age and this is linked to why cells undergo an aging process. They were the first to demonstrate that telomeres are specifically lost with age in normal dividing cells, that this process was responsible for cellular aging, and that cancer cells escape mortality by activating the enzyme telomerase.

Harley thinks telomeres are like clocks setting the rate at which we age. Geron has developed compounds which, when injected into old cells, rebuild the telomeres making those cells immortal. If Geron can figure out how to do this in human cells, it could be revolutionary.

The Person

Menlo Park, CA
Chief Scientific Officer
Geron Corporation
Last Updated
November 1, 2004

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