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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 05/17/2011

Telomere test could predict how long you’ll live

You may have read about plans in Britain to bring to the market an over-the-counter blood-test kit that would allow you to learn your biological age -- and, from there, to estimate how much longer you might live.

The test, similar to ones already available in the U.S., measures the length of your telomeres. These are like caps at the end of each of your chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres are shortened. The more dividing that’s gone on, the more your body has aged. Hence, short telomeres suggest advanced age.

In 2009, three scientists shared a Nobel Prize for identifying telomeres and their likely role in aging.

The notion that telomeres might serve as a potential measure of life expectancy takes on a new aspect when the test kit moves out of the academic lab and into your living room.

The first question for anyone considering such a test has to be, of course, whether you really want to know how much time you still have. It might be reassuring to think you’ve got another 30 years in you, but what if you learn you only have 10? And what if you figure you’ve got plenty of time to tackle your bucket list, only to get hit by a bus tomorrow?

The next question is: Who else do you want to know how much longer you’re likely to be around? Your employer? Your insurance company? Your spouse or your kids? What if insurance companies started requiring telomere testing and adjusted their coverage accordingly?

It’s possible that therapies aimed at lengthening short telomeres or preventing their shortening in the first place will some day be available. Until they’ve been proven to work, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I want nothing to do with telomere testing, even if it proves to be extremely reliable. I don’t want to know how long my telomeres are or, by extension, how many years I might live. That seems like tempting fate.

How about you? Are you tempted to know how long your telomeres are? And what would you do if you knew how long you’re likely to live?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 05/17/2011

 
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