16 Jan Outrunning ageing and cancer
With years of experience and a focus on telomere diagnostics, Life Length proves that ageing and cancer have a common denominator, and aims to save and improve the lives of millions
Telomere length has been well recognised as among the most important biomarkers for healthy ageing by the vast majority of scientists worldwide. Since 2009, when the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to three scientists for demonstrating the critical role of telomeres in cellular function, the field has received immense attention. For the last six years Life Length has grown steadily due to its state-of-the-art telomere measurement assays offered for corporate R&D in drug development, clinical trials and academic research, as well as to physicians working in preventive and personalised medicine, for understanding biological age and risk stratification, and as an early, prognostic biomarker for chronic diseases. In fact, thousands of published studies also associate elomere length with the development of age-related diseases, with the most noteworthy being cancer. Life Length has set its sights on the clinical validation of its Telomere Analysis Technology® (TAT®) test as a simple blood test for early diagnosis, prognosis and response to treatment in the context of cancer, with a €3.1m Phase II grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme under the project name ONCOCHECK.
Inside the nuclei of our cells our genes are arranged in thread-like structures called chromosomes. Telomeres are dynamic nucleoprotein complexes that compose the ends of chromosomes. The DNA of telomeres consists of repetitive sequences that follow the pattern TTAGGG. The length of telomeres in humans can range from 5,000 to 15,000 base pairs. Interestingly, with every cell division, 20-200 base pairs are lost due to the incomplete replication of linear chromosomes, known as the ‘end-replication problem’.
The value of telomere testing
Telomeres are crucial for the protection of our chromosomes. Acting in a similar way to the plastic caps of shoelaces, they lose their protective function when they become critically short. Usually, cells with critically short telomeres enter a state where they can no longer divide. If this mechanism fails, however, further division can result in genomic instability through DNA unwanted chromosomal fusions, which can give rise to neoplasia. The close association between telomere attrition and disease has been established by a plethora of scientific peer-reviewed publications. Notable examples include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, arthritis, pulmonary fibrosis, CNS diseases and, as mentioned earlier, cancer. In the oncology field, clinical data from telomere biology studies confirm telomere length as an independent biomarker for the prognosis of many types of cancer.
Many of the studies performed so far are retrospective in their nature, include a small number of samples, and use highly variable methodologies such as q-PCR. Large, longitudinal and prospective studies using a robust technology able to report full telomere length distribution, including quantification of critically short telomeres, are necessary to validate telomere length for diagnostic as well as prognostic purposes.
Dr. Pilar Najarro, chief operating officer of Life Length, said: “Thousands of people and numerous companies have been using our services, and the numbers are growing every day. The reception both from physicians and individuals of all ages worldwide is encouraging. People want to know how well they are ageing and we can offer a broad biomarker of cellular and organismal health that can significantly contribute to preventive medicine programmes when integrated within the clinical history of the patient.”
The most advanced telomere techonology
Life Length possesses a full arsenal of telomere testing technologies, with its flagship being the TAT, the single most advanced telomere test today and superior to all other existing methodologies. While other tests simply estimate the mean telomere length, TAT measures the telomeres in each and every chromosome individually, providing the mean and median telomere length, a full histogram distribution of all telomeres and, most importantly, the percentage of critically short ones.
Indeed the accumulation of critically short telomeres is the key indicator for the risk of developing age-related diseases. Moreover, in the clinical setting, only the use of comprehensive telomere biology datasets could be applied to understand the patient’s health status and allow a proper evaluation of risks. Normalising the data obtained by this highly accurate and reproducible technology incorporates the use of algorithms and an extensive reference database to provide an estimate of the biological age of the person tested. In addition to TAT, other Life Length technologies include Q-TRAP, for the measurement of telomerase activity, and Telomapping® to analyse telomeres in tissue samples.
A universal test for the prevention of cancer
In 2015, Life Length received Phase I SME Instrument funds from the Horizon 2020 programme for its very promising project, ONCOCHECK. During 2016 the project, following a highly ompetitive evaluation and selection process, was awarded Phase II funds to conduct clinical validation studies for telomere biology in oncology using the TAT.
The objective of the ONCOCHECK project is to demonstrate the clinical value of telomere measurements for the prognosis and monitoring of virtually any type of cancer. Based on the abundant evidence available that demonstrates the potential of telomere biology as an independent biomarker in the prognosis of various cancers, Life Length has designed several clinical studies to compile the necessary data that will allow the introduction of telomere testing in routine cancer care. The project aims to recruit over 1,200 adults and 300 children suffering from solid and haematopoietic tumours, including prostate, lung and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, amongst others.
Translational use of the ONCOCHECK project would result in a unique and inexpensive solution for cancer prognosis and prevention. “Regular cancer testing and monitoring is a highly specific, complicated and expensive process,” explains CEO Stephen Matlin. “Life Length has been providing health awareness internationally for the last six years, and our goal is to double the benefits. ith the TAT test, people will not only be informed of how well they are ageing, but will also allow doctors to stratify risk, perform accurate prognosis and predict response to cancer treatments.”
With approximately 35 million people affected by some form of cancer, and eight million related deaths per year – which is forecast to increase by more than 70% over the next two decades – cancer has become the world’s most costly disease, as well as carrying terrible personal and societal burdens. Life Length’s ONCOCHECK aspires to contribute to a global problem in line with Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The road to success
Originally a spin-off of the prestigious Spanish National Cancer Research Center, Life Length offers its proprietary telomere diagnostic assays to physicians, corporate clients and academic researchers in more than 35 countries worldwide.
With a focus on clinical excellence, Life Length is certified by the Spanish government with the licence of sanitary activity (CS34966), as well as by the US federal government as a clinical laboratory under the CLIA legislation (CLIA licence #99D2112462), making it the only laboratory in Spain to hold this certification. Life Length is also recognised as a clinical laboratory under the ISO 15189 accreditation, which is recognised in more than 60 countries for quality diagnostic testing and holds the Platinum Accreditation by the independent accrediting body, the American ssociation for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA).
Dr Pilar Najarro, PhD
Chief Operating Officer
+34 91 737 8483