Washington: Scientists have developed a new technique to measure the health of human genetic material in relation to a patient`s age.
The technique may lead to the development of a "genetic thermometer" to assess a patient`s health in relation to other individuals of the same age, researchers believe.
The method was demonstrated by the laboratory of Dr Gil Atzmon at New York`s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The technique published in Journal of Visualised Experiments (JoVE) measures telomere length.
Recently, telomeres have gained attention because they serve as "caps" to chromosomes. As such, they mark the ends of genetic material and ensure that genes do not degrade as cells divide.
Starting with the first replication of DNA and division of a fertilised egg, chromosomes shorten because the DNA replication process is imperfect. Certain organs, like the stomach or skin, are composed of tissues that reconstitute themselves frequently.
In these organs, and in young individuals, the telomerase enzyme extends telomeres with each division, negating chromosomal shortening that would otherwise occur. Telomerase activity declines as people age, and as a result telomeres shorten and can be responsible for age related afflictions and some cancers.
Overall health can impact how quickly these telomeres degrade.
"Think of telomere length as though it was a thermometer. It measures the health of your genetic material," Atzmon said.
"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," Atzmon said.
Adoption of this technique will allow clinicians to monitor a patient`s health as they are treated, by comparing telomere degradation of a sick patient to other patients with that disease and to determine if treatment is slowing degradation.
"Telomere length and telomerase function impacts several realms of biological and medical research - from preventative ageing models to cancer treatments," Kira Henderson, JoVE Editor and Director of Review, explained.
"Maintaining the telomere is a pre-requisite to extending life and improving long-term health. It is our hope that the application of this JoVE video-article will elucidate relationships between disease state and telomere function and encourage advancement in this important field of study," Henderson said.