Telomeres Tell It: Nobel-Winning Discovery Analyzes Aging

(DGIwire) — Not every new diagnostic test on the consumer market has Nobel-winning science behind it. But one successful example was inspired by events in 2009, when the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. As shown by the award-winning research, telomeres—the repetitive, non-coding stretches of DNA located at the ends of chromosomes—are a key part of the process that ensures DNA is accurately copied.

Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes in a manner similar to the way the tips of shoelaces keep them from unraveling. At every cell division, telomeres lose a bit of their DNA. When a cell is old and has lost much of its telomeric DNA, the cell cannot replicate and dies. Thus, the loss of telomeric DNA with every cell division acts as an aging clock for the lifetime of the cell.

The year after the Nobel was awarded, a molecular testing company, Telomere Diagnostics, was founded to harness the power of telomeres in an original way. The company recently launched TeloYears, a simple genetic test that offers clues about the cellular age encoded in the test-taker’s DNA so they can get a better idea of how well they are aging—comparing their actual age to their cellular age. It represents a bold advance in the science of diagnostic testing that puts new power into the hands of those who use it—and an advance with a huge amount of solid research backing it.

“An impressive range of studies in the published academic literature—ranging from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to the National Institutes of Health to NASA—have already validated the measurement of telomere length as a gauge of a person’s cellular age,” says Jason Shelton, Chief Executive Officer of Telomere Diagnostics, “so telomere testing could be another tool for those interested in learning about the aging process.”

The TeloYears evaluation begins when a test-taker mails his or her blood sample—collected via a custom kit produced by the company—to Telomere Diagnostics’ laboratory in Silicon Valley, California. There, the telomeres in the white blood cells are analyzed. Specifically, the relative average telomere length in the white blood cells is measured using a proprietary variant of quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay, which has been spotlighted in the academic journal Nucleic Acids Research. The evaluation conducted by the laboratory is summarized in a report, mailed to the test-taker, that displays the average telomere length and how it compares (as a percentile) to others of their same age and gender.

“The translation of a technical result from the annals of biochemistry into consumer medicine is a bold and exciting step in the application of life science that has come to fruition,” adds Shelton.