Can the biological age and risk of disease be predicted from the telomeres?
Can life expectancy be predicted? The Spanish company "Life Length" has caused unrest in the medical community with an extremely controversial offer. Interested parties can send in their blood and receive a telomer analysis, which allows conclusions to be drawn about the risk of certain diseases (e.g. cancer and heart diseases) and life expectancy.
Predict disease risks and life expectancy
The company "Life Lenght" offers a prediction of the disease risks and life expectancy for 500 euros. However, “Life Lenght” itself points out that the telomeres examined only serve as biomarkers, but no clear statement is possible. This is also the starting point of the fierce criticism that the new business model has triggered in the medical community. Such a blood test with telomer analysis is not meaningful enough to sell the results to the patient as prognoses. In general, doctors are usually very reluctant to make statements about life expectancy because they do not want to unsettle their patients and it is known that the prognoses are often wrong.
Telomer analysis to determine life expectancy "Life Lenght" uses the analysis of telomeres to calculate life expectancy. Based on the knowledge that a shortening of the telomeres is an indicator of an increased risk of disease and a higher biological age, the company offers a telomer analysis for 500 euros. As the end pieces of the chromosomes, the telomeres shorten with each cell division and although they can be extended again by the enzyme telomerase, the length of the telomeres decreases with increasing biological age. The molecular biologist Dr. Maria Blasco from the National Cancer Research Center in Madrid, who received the Körber Foundation Prize in 2008 for her basic research in the field of telomeres, is co-founder of the company "Life Length". Although the medical benefits are highly controversial, the company sells a blood test for 500 euros, which analyzes the nature of the telomeres to determine the biological age and the risk of certain diseases. “Life Length” has been offering telomer analysis as a service since September 2010. Since then, criticism of this commercial use of telomer analysis has not left. Although the telomeres allow some conclusions to be drawn about the state of the body, critical medical experts believe that the informative value is too low to sell the results as a service. At this point, the whole offer looks a bit like fortune telling, because the Telomer analysis does not make reliable forecasts. Therefore Professor Thomas von Ziglinicki from Newcastle University (Great Britain) emphasized to the "Bild": "The public sale of such tests is premature, I would not do it", because the result unsettles the patient and is not particularly medically helpful.
Send in a blood sample to determine your biological age Undeterred by any criticism, "Life Length" continues its business model and success seems to prove the company right. Apparently people are also interested in inaccurate statements about their possible life expectancy and the risk of illness. Interested parties receive a questionnaire and a contract by email, which they have to fill out and then go to their family doctor for blood sampling. The blood sample together with the questionnaire and the contract will be sent back to “Life Length”. The company then determines the proportion of short telomeres as an indicator of biological age and also offers a comparison with the results of other test subjects. In addition, “Life Length” customers receive advice on a healthy lifestyle that is said to have a positive effect on telomeres. Criticism of her business model, due to possible inaccuracy, lets Dr. Marie Blasco does not apply. Because "if we know whether our telomeres have a normal length - according to our actual age - then we also know whether our body is in good health and that even before illness occurs," emphasized the co-founder of "Life Lenght ". A poor test result could also serve as a “wake-up call” to the patient, as if “the doctor determined that the patient had high cholesterol or high blood pressure,” added Life Lenght CEO Stephen Matlin.
Business model for determining life expectancy finds imitators According to media reports, the success of the new business model with the calculation of biological age has also prompted a second expert in the field of telomer research to offer this service in the future with an own company in the USA. Together with the pioneer of telomere research Calvin B. Harley, Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn from the University of California at San Francisco founded the company "Telom Health" in Menio Park, California, at the end of the year for a telomere test for the general public to be able to offer commercially. Elizabeth Blackburn received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discoveries of the function of the enzyme telomerase. Carol Greider from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which at that time received the Nobel Prize together with Blackburn, was already massively criticizing the new business model. She criticized the low prognostic value, which also had no consequences for the patients and only served the economic benefit of the laboratory operators.
Massive criticism of the informative value of the telomer analysis Hans-Joachim Lipps from the Institute of Cell Biology at the University of Witten / Herdecke also criticized the new business model with the telomer analysis against “Stern.de”. "There is a certain connection between the age and the length of the telomeres (...), but the future of a person or his susceptibility to diseases cannot be derived from this," said the expert. According to Lipps, the aging processes are too complex to attach to the telomer indicator alone. The examination tells the patient "at most that they are a bit older, but you can also see that from the wrinkles or the gray hair," emphasized the specialist. However, the warnings are unlikely to prevent many customers from using Telomer analysis to determine their biological age. Because card reading, horoscopes and fortune telling also enjoy continued popularity despite their dubious informative value. (fp)
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