Genetic Thermometer Could Assess Overall Health
May 23, 2013

Measuring The Health Of Human Genetic Material In Relation To A Patient’s Age

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new technique featured in the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) could lead to the development of a "genetic thermometer" that could assess a patient's health in relation to other individuals.

The method developed by the laboratory of Dr. Gil Atzmon at New York´s Albert Einstein College of Medicine measures telomere length, which serve as the "caps" to chromosomes. Telomeres mark the ends of genetic material and ensure that genes do not degrade as cells divide.

“Think of telomere length as though it was a thermometer. It measures the health of your genetic material,” Dr. Atzmon explains. “It tells you how fit you are in relation to the age you are. If you have longer telomeres you are in good shape, if you have shorter telomeres you are less fit for your age and are not in good health.”

Telomerase activity eclipses as people age, and as a result telomeres shorten and can be responsible for age related afflictions and some cancers. An individual's overall health can impact how quickly these telomeres degrade.

“Telomere length and telomerase function impacts several realms of biological and medical research- from preventative aging models to cancer treatments. Maintaining the telomere is a pre-requisite to extending life and improving long-term health," said Dr. Kira Henderson, JoVE Editor and Director of Review.

JoVE films and edits videos of researchers performing new experimental techniques to allow students and scientists to learn them quickly. The journal has published video-protocols from an international community of over 8,000 authors in the fields of biology, medicine, chemistry and physics.

“I published in JoVE because I want more people to use the technique. As we [the medical community] collect more data, we can build a better index of age and health by population, and more accurately place a patient on the right spot in a continuum," said Dr. Atzmon. He added that he hopes the publication will impact the aging community by classifying health relative to an individual's age.

Henderson hopes the research team's JoVE video-article will elucidate relationships between disease state and telomere function.