Commercial Services to Measure Telomere Length

If you can have a range of single nucleotide polymorphisms and other quirks of your DNA analyzed by mail and presented via an online service, then why not the same for the length of your telomeres?

Telomeres - the terminal caps of chromosomes - become shorter as individuals age, and there is much interest in determining what causes telomere attrition since this process may play a role in biological aging. The leading hypothesis is that telomere attrition is due to inflammation, exposure to infectious agents, and other types of oxidative stress, which damage telomeres and impair their repair mechanisms. Several lines of evidence support this hypothesis, including observational findings that people exposed to infectious diseases have shorter telomeres.

At least two nascent companies presently aim to commercialize telomere measurement technologies: Telomere Health and Life Length were recently featured in Scientific American:

"Knowing whether our telomeres are a normal length or not for a given chronological age will give us an indication of our health status and of our physiological 'age' even before diseases appear," says Maria A. Blasco, who heads the Telomeres and Telomerase Group at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center and who co-founded the company Life Length in September. Telomere research pioneer Calvin B. Harley, who co-founded Telome Health last spring with Nobel laureate Elizabeth H. Blackburn, considers telomere length "probably the best single measure of our integrated genetics, previous lifestyle and environmental exposures." Beginning as early as this spring, the companies will offer telomere-measurement tests to research centers and companies studying the role of telomeres in aging and disease; the general public may have access by the fall through doctors and laboratories, perhaps even directly.

I think that these initiatives are not so interesting in and of themselves, but should be considered as part of a powerful trend now underway. The marketplace for personal biochemical information supplied on demand, via mail and internet, will only grow as the underlying technologies become cheaper, more reliable, and possible to run at scale. One very desirable next stage in the evolution of this marketplace is to do away with the mail portion - the need to send samples in envelopes to a central processing location. The tools of analysis are becoming ever cheaper, and it won't be too many more years before it is cost-effective for most people in the developed world to produce raw data from their own biochemistries with desktop devices at home. The results will be sent over the network to be processed, analyzed, and matched against sophisticated databases owned by for-pay subscription services.

This vision will of course be fought against tooth and nail by the myriad entrenched interests in the command and control style medical systems of the Western nations - those who benefit from medical regulation at the expense of progress. These interests can't stop the internet, however, and nor can they regulate devices that connect to encrypted services outside the US. Distributed medicine, in which a great deal of the process of managing diagnosis and data collection rests with ordinary people, is the inevitable end result of falling costs in biotechnology and communication technologies. This is a good thing, and the sooner all opposed give up and go home, the better.

Comments

I had my Telomere length measured at the suggestion of my physician. She used the services of Repeat Diagnostics located in North Vancouver, BC.

Posted by: Alan Baron at April 1st, 2011 10:38 AM

I am interesting in getting my telomers measured. Is there a measuring service in California? Or the U.S.?

Posted by: Craige at December 4th, 2011 9:03 AM

I am intersted in having my telomeres measured. I live in PHX AZ..also, is there technology in place that we at my antiaging center could purchase to test our clients?

Posted by: Jodi Yates at January 15th, 2013 1:30 PM

I would like to measure telomere length in a sample from South Africa

Posted by: Avri Davidoff at March 5th, 2016 1:01 AM

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