May 17, 2011
Telomere Test For Longevity Estimate

A test of the length of the caps on your chromosomes could help more accurately estimate one's life expectancy.

A new blood test soon to be launched in the United Kingdom claims to be able to tell you how long you are going to live. The 435 ($700) test measures the length of a person's telomeres - the inventor claims this is associated with longevity.

The company, Life Length, is working on approvals for sales in European countries and America.

You might not want to know. Imagine a test could predict your life expectancy to within 2 years. Would you want to know? I'm not sure I would. Death is so final, such a hard limit. Beyond this point you will not experience this life in this universe. You might not even exist beyond this point. Do you want to know when that is?

Is the claim for this test plausible? Yup. See my previous posts Short Telomeres Markers For Higher Cancer Risk, Telomere Length Indicates Mortality Risk, Chronic Stress Accelerates Aging As Measured By Telomere Length, Sedentary Lifestyles Age Chromosome Telomeres Faster, and last but not least: Telomere Lengthening Rejuvenates Mice.

Now, having said that, the test can not precisely predict your year of death. Too many factors (accidents, suicide, and murder aside) influence your date of death. Take cancer for example. There's a lot of randomness involved in determining when we'll get cancer. The accumulation of damage in cells can make them turn cancerous. But just when the right set of genetic mutations or other cancer-promoting damage will occur in some cell in one's body is as hard to predict as when someone will win a lottery. Many things have to line up just right all in the same cell to make it cancerous. Every day is basically another throw of the dice. Will a bunch of mutations all line up to send a cell of yours into dangerous mad replication and growth?

Better longevity tests seem useful for retirement planning. Should you save enough money to support yourself to age 95? Or expect to die by your late 60s? A telomere test could help you decide difficult questions about your savings rate and career choices. Do you need to work past age 70 to save enough money to avoid going broke in your 80s and avoid poverty in your 90s? A better sense of the odds would help.

Of course, before we hit our biological shelf life expiration date some of us just might live long enough to still be around when rejuvenation therapies become available. Injections of youthful stem cells with long telomeres could replace older tired cells with short telomeres. This would be great for the immune system, for example, because a youthful immune system will do a better job of fighting cancer. Also, youthful cells for the cardiovascular system could cut the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other killers.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 May 17 11:09 PM  Aging Measurements

John Driver said at May 18, 2011 7:22 AM:

Life insurance / health insurance companies would love this. Premiums based upon test results? No need for actuarial tables. I also could see no end of government mischief.

bmack500 said at May 18, 2011 9:05 AM:

Perhaps some ta-65 to lengthen your telomeres?

Lou Pagnucco said at May 18, 2011 10:58 AM:

Interesting development. No doubt some bureaucrat will insinuate himself into the product approval decision.

The test results may be a very noisy indicator of expected life expectancy, though. Several in vitro experiments that accelerate cell aging do not shorten telomeres, so other variables probably need to be measured too.
I wonder if the standard deviation would be too large to allow an individual to optimize life style.

There does appear to be a significant impact of telomere length at birth and its maintenance on longevity, at least in birds - and probably other species. See - "Telomeres and Longevity: Testing an Evolutionary Hypothesis"

A last note - Scientific American just published: "Childhood Stress Shortens Telomeres, Affecting Future Health"

PacRim Jim said at May 19, 2011 5:52 PM:

So it is as I had feared: Length does matter.

LAG said at May 22, 2011 12:39 PM:

Reminds me of "Life-Line" (1939) by Robert A. Heinlein, his first published short story. Let's hope this company has better luck. Of course, with the modern American it will be hard enough to convince them they aren't going to live forever. Most believe you can fix that with another law and a bit more for health care.

Lou Pagnucco said at May 25, 2011 2:03 PM:

Just published --

If applicable to humans, could it point to a better way to measure expected longevity than telomeres? --

Reliable biomarkers of physiological age
- Identification of molecular markers predictive of remaining lifespan
Variable Pathogenicity Determines Individual Lifespan in Caenorhabditis elegans

LOU said at November 21, 2011 4:03 PM:

I am amazed to hear that a new blood test soon to be launched in the United Kingdom might to be able to tell you how long you are going to live. Measuring the length of a person's telomeres to more accurately estimate one's life expectancy is an interesting discovery. I have heard before that short telomeres might be a result for higher cancer risk. If you were to get the telomere blood test done, and find that you are a potential person at risk for cancer, would you suggest talking to someone with expertise in in treating cancer? I don't know if I would want to know my life expectancy. I do think that i would be interested in know if I had short telomeres, and a high risk of cancer. This way, I could be prepared for early detection.

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