Telomere length seems to correlate nicely with the appearance and dysfunction of aging. Most diseases associated with aging so far are also correlated with short telomeres. This includes heart disease, cancer (in spite of the huge over expression of telomerase in many, if not all cancers) arthritis, and various forms of dementia.
In most cases, the white blood cell telomere length is an adequate marker, for this aging as well, even though it is not always directly related to the tissue affected by the disease.
Or is it? The effects of inflammation appear to be more global and widespread than originally thought, playing a role in heart disease, dementia, especially of the Alzheimer’s type, diabetes and cancer. Since the immune system is intimately involved with modulating the response of various tissues to inflammation and “immune senescence” is clearly deeply involved in aging, especially in the old, old white blood cells, might turn out to be the ideal measurement, after all, correlating on a predictable basis with the state of various tissues in the body. In this case “more research is needed” is actually totally valid and it is one question we as Telonauts would love to see answered in more detail, in the future.
The global improvement of disease outcomes, using things like Omega 3’s, makes this even more interesting and an area where our scientists need to focus more deeply.
The immune system also plays a pivotal role in removing sick, dead and dying cells. Chinese researchers have postulated that the removal of such cells may actually skew the standard telomere testing towards “too young”, as many of the cells with the shortest telomeres may be removed before they can be tested.
As of this moment, mean telomere length is of limited utility, since it is not looking at the most critical “shortest telomeres”. The short telomere test remains esoteric and unavailable, for all but the most well connected in the field.
The Chinese are proposing a new marker using standard technology know as ELISA that has been around for decades and should be easy, reproducible and possibly cheap enough to be widespread, to become more than a research tool.
The new test called CRAMP ELISA requires more work and testing, as well as commercial interest, to become a usable way to test telomere length. If this happens, however, it may be considerably easier than our current testing methods, although it may take a while before it amasses enough data to prove its worth. We’ll keep you posted!