telomeres NIH

Like the plastic tips of shoelaces, telomeres protect chromosomes and the genetic information they contain / National Institute of General Medical Science, National Institutes of Health

How well are you ageing on a cellular level?

A new consumer genetic test can tell you just that. For $89 and a drop of blood, the TeloYears test from Silicon Valley-based biotech Telomere Diagnostics will analyse the length of your telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of DNA strands that tend to shorten with age. 

This test sits at the intersection of consumer fitness and health tracking, according to Telomere Diagnostics CEO Jason Shelton. “TeloYears was designed to be a simple-to-take, easy-to-understand and affordable way to reveal actionable and inspiring self-knowledge that contributes to a healthy, active lifestyle,” he said in a statement.

The link between telomere length and ageing is pretty well-established. In 2009 the Nobel Prize for Medicine was jointly-awarded to three scientists for the discovery of the protective role of telomeres and telomerase enzyme. Among them was Elizabeth Blackburn, who went on to co-found Telomere Diagnostics in 2010. 

But what benefit is there in knowing your ‘TeloYears’? “It is a simple yet comprehensive indicator of overall cellular wellness” explained the company in a statement. Simply put, knowing the length of your telomeres could form part of managing a healthy ageing process.

Preliminary studies have identified telomere length as a potential biomarker for a number of age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Even NASA have shown an interest in world of telomeres. One half of the Twin Study Scott Kelly may have returned to Earth after his record-breaking sojourn in space, but the research into his biology and physiology continues. One of the experiments in the study will measure the lengths of Scott’s telomeres, and those of his twin brother Mark, “provide a deeper understanding of an informative biomarker of aging and age-related pathologies that captures the interplay between genetics and lifestyle”.

Perhaps most important for the consumer market is the evidence that telomere length might actually be improved by lifestyle changes. TeloYears argue that “self-knowledge gained from TeloYears can be powerful motivation to achieve healthy aging and for some an affirmation of an already active lifestyle.”

TeloYears joins a growing market place for direct-to-consumer genetic tests, all offering greater insights into our genetic and molecular health. Now time will tell whether insights into our cellular wellness will be an effective trigger for a healthy lifestyle.

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