A telomere is a cluster of nucleotides – the building blocks of DNA – gathered at the end of a chromosome. They’ve been likened to the plastic tip on a shoelace. Scientists have found that telomeres shrink with age and that keeping telomeres long prolongs life.

As a result, longevity devotees have been downing supplements, hewing to special diets, and exercising in ways that might keep their telomeres long. Results have been mixed at best.

But scientists at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre may have just made all that effort unnecessary.

The researchers isolated embryonic stem cells that naturally had unusually long telomeres, a genetic trait which shows up once in a while. The team cultured the cells to grow a crop of them and infused the cells into mouse embryos. The resulting mice had longer telomeres in every cell of their bodies and lived an average of 13 percent longer than normal mice.

But that wasn’t the only gain. The special mice were leaner than their common peers. They had better cholesterol readings, stayed livelier longer, and didn’t develop cancer or other diseases related to aging.

The study is the first to conclusively show a connection between longer telomeres and longer life. It also is the first to lengthen a creature’s telomeres without invasively manipulating individual genes.

Other scientists are hoping to extend longevity with a new family of drugs.

As cells age, they become “senescent”: they don’t work as well, they weaken, and linger on in the body’s tissues in a decrepit state. Senescent cells have been found to contribute to diseases, chronic conditions, and the general physical decline associated with aging.

Now some initial pre-trials are under way for “senolytic” drugs. These compounds find senescent cells and kill them, or persuade them to kill themselves, so the body’s janitorial processes can sweep them away. Early indications have shown that cleaning out senescent cells can improve or relieve heart trouble, osteoporosis, diabetes, and degenerated disks, among other conditions.

TRENDPOST: Aging will be managed most effectively by enhancing the body’s natural processes of growth and well-being. By 2050, technologies will be in common use, which will allow people to live vibrant lives into their second century.

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