29 Sep Clinical use of telomere length measurement
Despite the increasing echo that preventive medicine has in mass media, telomere length biology remains still unknown for the vast majority of people including physicians. So why would an individual wish to measure their telomere length? What purpose does such a test serve? There are four main reasons to consider:
- Anticipation and prevention. Measuring telomeres can contribute to early diagnosis of some diseases well before they are detected by more traditional lab tests or when the disease begins to manifest itself and treatment is difficult. This includes some kinds of cancer, metabolic diseases such as adult on-set diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Telomere length can provide valuable insight into individuals higher risk of developing these diseases and allow for earlier interventions that may avoid the disease or at least postpone its onset and reduce its progression.
- Long-term cost savings. As the old saying goes “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and this is never truer than in today’s emerging world of preventive and personalized medicine where physicians and individuals may avail themselves of many tests that can help detect diseases when the costs of interventions are a tiny fraction of treatment at later stages. While mainstream medical establishment and insurance companies are only beginning to pay attention to preventive healthcare, the educated public is increasingly realizing the importance of investing in their health. Given that lifespan has been increasing approximately three years per decade, it is now clearer that working to address the risk factors contributes to reducing the risk of suffering later surging of age-related illnesses, usually chronic, and ultimately enormous saving in the costs of avoided treatments.
- Promotion of healthier lifestyles. Telomere length measurement, in particular the % of short telomeres, serves to gain insight into our rate of biological aging. If an individual is significantly older than his or her chronological age, risk factors of some diseases (cardiovascular pathologies, diabetes, Alzheimer, breast, lung or colorectal tumors) are correspondingly increasing due accelerated aging. Fortunately, this trend may be altered or slowed if unhealthy habits are modified improving nutrition, more exercise, giving up smoking. Given that re-lengthening telomeres does not normally occur, the focus must be on slowing their rate of attrition. Inherited genetics are estimated to be responsible for just 30% of the tendency to lifespan while 70% is determined by epigenetic factors linked to lifestyle, which is entirely within our control and thus measurable with Life Length’s TAT® test.
- Personalization of treatment. Because telomere length is heterogeneous as is it rate of attrition, each patient may be risk-stratified and receives more individualized treatment by taking into consideration their biological age and a tool to monitor the efficacy of any life-style program.
Experts say often that medicine of the future is now being defined by “4P”: prevention, prediction, personalization and participation. More and more doctors join each year to this way to care for our health. Telomere biology fits undoubtedly in with this approach. Everyone who cares about having a healthy future should be taking part in this evolution.