When it comes to the science of aging, there are few discoveries as intriguing as telomeres. These caps at the ends of chromosomes protect genes from being eroded each time a cell divides. When telomeres are finally eaten away after many years, cells begin to show signs of aging. This process is thought to be a key part of what makes us grow old.
Telomeres’ partner in crime is the enzyme telomerase, which helps keep telomeres long and healthy, a property that’s made it the subject of almost science-fictional fascination. Telomerase confers immortality on cancer cells and has even been shown to reverse aging in telomerase –deficient rats.
Now, in a move that brings these questions into sharper focus for the general public, Telome Health, founded by Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine for her work in this area, has announced that it will bring to market a test for telomere length.
News of the test’s release has spurred a flurry of misleading reports suggesting that we’re on the cusp of being able to learn how long we’ll live — and whether we can ward off the irksome outward signs of aging.
While scientists are divided over the value of the test for individuals, no serious researchers are saying a telomere test will be some kind of crystal ball. However, if people can monitor their telomere length, perhaps they can make lifestyle changes to alter that risk by boosting their cells’ longevity.
SRxA’s Word on Health is asking its readers: Would you take the test? Let us know.