Telomere Biology and cancer

  • In somatic cells telomeres gradually become shortened due to the end-replication problem during DNA duplication associated with cell division1,2.
  • Once telomeres reach a critical length they no longer protect the DNA, the chromosomes become uncapped and as a consequence senescence is triggered 3.
  • Cancer cells must overcome this crisis stage to maintain their telomeres and achieve immortality. They do so by activating telomerase4 (in about 85% of tumors) or by the use of alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) through telomerase-independent mechanisms (about 15%) 5.


Around 6,500 publications in PubMed relate telomere biology and cancer



In many kinds of cancer, telomere length and telomerase activity has been stablished as a prognostic biomarker capable of predicting:

  • Cancer stage
  • Pregresion free survival
  • Overal survival

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In a collaboration with the National Bank of DNA of Salamanca.


  • CLL patients have a % of short telomeres greater than healthy people

Cancer cells must maintain their telomere length to obtain inmotality. It has been determined that telomerase activity is related with the malignancy of the cancer.


Extracted from Ceja-Ranfel, HA et al. Shorter telomeres and high telomerase activity correlate with a highly aggressive phenotype in breast cancer cell lines. Cell specific TA given as a ratio of the RTA and optical density (OD), that is the relation between the RTA and the quantity of hTERT protein

Life Length’s project ONCOCHECK has been awarded €3.1 million to perform clinical studies for the validation of the company’s technologies as a biomarker in cancer.

Discover how telomere length and telomerase measurements can be used as a prognostic biomarker in cll and breast cancer

1. Harley CB et al. Telomeres shorten during ageing of human fibroblasts. Nature. 1990, 345:458-460. 2. Takai H et al. DNA damage foci at dysfunctional telomeres. Curr Biol 2003, 13:1549-1556. 3. Shay JW et al. A survey of telomerase activity in human cancer. Eur J Cancer 1997, 33:787-791. 4. Bryan TM et al. Evidence for an alternative mechanism for maintaining telomere length in human tumors and tumor-derived cell lines. Nat Med 1997, 3:1271-1274. 5. Véronèse L et al. Telomeres and chromosomal instability in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Leukemia 2013, 27:490-493.