March 28, 2013
Telomere Length Genetic Variants Influence Disease Risk

One of many studies showing a link between telomere length and health. Shorter telomeres are a sign of faster aging.

An international team of scientists including researchers from Imperial College London has found new evidence that links ageing of DNA molecules to the risk of developing several age-related diseases - including heart disease, multiple sclerosis and various cancers.

Telomeres – sections of DNA at the ends of our chromosomes – shorten each time a cell divides, so their length can be interpreted as a measure of biological ageing. However, it has not been clear whether the shortening of telomeres is responsible for causing disease, and whether people with shorter telomeres have a higher risk of diseases

But if telomeres really protect against cancer by hobbling the ability of cancer cells to divide many times will longer telomeres really lengthen life expectancy? The answer might depend on the presence or absence of genetic risk factors for cancer.

Dr Jess Buxton, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial analysed samples from over 5,500 of the study participants belonging to the Northern Finland Birth Cohort study. “We’ve shown that some people have genetic variants that mean they have shorter telomeres and are at higher risk of age-related disease,” she said.

I want stem cell therapy using cells selected for absence of dangerous genetic mutations and then genetically tweaked to have long telomeres. Down with diseases. Up with youthful stem cells that fix whatever ails you.

The research team looked at DNA from over 48,000 people and identified seven genetic variants that were associated with telomere length. They then examined whether these genetic variants also affected risk of various diseases. The scientists found that the variants were linked to risk of several types of cancer, including bowel cancer, as well as diseases like multiple sclerosis and celiac disease. The seven variants they identified were collectively associated with risk of coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attacks.

I find the bowel cancer link curious. What I wonder: do short telomeres boost risk of some forms of cancer by reducing the immune system's ability to respond to and kill early stage cancer cells?

You need youthful stem cells to replace aging vasculature, turn into new heart muscle cells, and turn into other cells needed for a healthy cardiovascular system.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 March 28 10:32 PM 

Jake said at March 30, 2013 9:40 AM:

Optimum levels of Vitamin D helps preserve telomere length.

Also, fasting and exercising fasted stimulates the production of the protein SIRT6. SIRT6 repairs telomeres and cell DNA.

James Bowery said at April 1, 2013 6:45 PM:

I can understand why people would be worried about infinite repair of telomeres causing cancer, but it seems occasional repair of telomeres would result in nonmalignant tumors. Cancer happens when there is no telomere loss. So you let telomere loss happen -- watch for signs of cancer and if cancer appears you don't do any more repair unless and until you've got it under control.

Why isn't this obvious?

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2013 9:47 PM:


Suppose you wanted to do small scale telomere repair. That seems hard. You would need to deliver, say, gene therapy to most of the mitotic cells in the body. You'd need to have them do only small amounts of telomere repair per cell. How to prevent multiple sets of genes get into the same cell and do lots of telomere lengthening?

I would rather take many cells out of the body, grow them each up in separate cell cultures, sample some cells from each culture and get them DNA sequenced. Find out which cell colonies contain cells with no dangerous mutations. Then lengthen their telomere, grow those cells in large numbers, and then put them back in the body.

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