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Test to tell how long you may live Test to tell how long you may live

February 17, 2012

Want to know how long you may live? A simple blood test — like the one that calculates cholesterol — will soon offer Indians a clue to their longevity and the pace at which they are ageing.
The test, to be available in India this year, measures telomeres — protective caps at the end of chromosomes — that are the best indicators of biological age (cell age) as against chronological age. Scientists say the length of telomeres is crucial in deciding biological age — long ones indicate healthy ageing, short ones indicate some form of irreparable damage.
There is extensive scientific evidence showing the strong correlation between the percentage of short telomeres and the risk of developing diseases associated with ageing, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer’s. In turn, lifestyle habits (nutrition, obesity and exercise) are increasingly being shown to impact telomere length.
The finding that human chromosomes are protected by telomeres had won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2009.
Dr Jerry Shay, professor of cell biology at the University of Texas’ Southwestern Medical Center, has been instrumental in creating this blood test. His technology, called telomapping, determines the length of telomeres of every single cell in biopsies and all tissues, such as skin.


Telomere length linked to heart diseases 
Dr Jerry Shay, who has been instrumental in creating the blood test, told TOI during his India visit last week: “Now, more Indians believe in healthy living. Many would want to know how healthy their cells are and how long they may live. Telomeres are essential in preserving the regenerative capacity of different tissues and organs and significantly contribute to ageing when they become short. The blood test will tell the length of telomeres.”
The test will be a costly affair around $500 (Rs 23,300).
Telomeres are passed on from parent to offspring, with 23 chromosomes each from the mother and father. “At the end of each chromosome, there are around 92 telomeres. These are like plastic ends of a shoelace. As the plastic ends shred, the shoelace becomes frayed and damaged. ”
The findings of a study, announced on Thursday, showed a direct link between telomere length and heart diseases.“The risk of heart attack or early death is present whether telomeres are shortened due to lifestyle or due to high age,” said professor of genetic epidemiology Borge Nordestgaard from the University of Copenhagen.

Categories: Public Health
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