Scientists identify link between faster ‘biological’ ageing and risk of developing age-related diseases such as heart disease and cancer

Posted by er134 at Mar 27, 2013 04:52 PM |
University of Leicester leads team studying telomere length in chromosomes

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 27 March 2013

Photograph of Professor Nilesh Samani available from pt91@le.ac.uk

An international team of scientists led by the University of Leicester has found new evidence that links faster ‘biological’ ageing to the risk of developing several age-related diseases - including heart disease, multiple sclerosis and various cancers.

The study involved scientists in 14 centres across 8 countries, working as part of the ENGAGE Consortium  (list of research teams is give below).  The research is published online today (27th March) in the journal Nature Genetics.

The project studied a feature of chromosomes called telomeres. Telomeres sit on the end of our chromosomes – the strands of DNA stored in the nucleus of cells. The telomeres shorten each time a cell divides to make new cells, until they reach a critical short length and the cells enter an inactive state and then die. Therefore telomeres shorten as an individual gets older. But, individuals are born with different telomere lengths and the rate at which they subsequently shorten can also vary. The speed with which telomeres wear down is a measure of ‘biological ageing’.

Professor Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology at the University of Leicester and Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit, who led the project said:  “Although heart disease and cancers are more common as one gets older, not everyone gets them - and some people get them at an earlier age. It has been suspected that the occurrence of these diseases may in part be related to some people “biologically” ageing more quickly than others.”

The research team measured telomere lengths in over 48,000 individuals and looked at their DNA and identified seven genetic variants that were associated with telomere length. They then asked the question whether these genetic variants also affected risk of various diseases. As DNA cannot be changed by lifestyle or environmental factors, an association of these genetic variants which affect telomere length with a disease also would suggest a causal link between telomere length and that disease.

The scientists found that the variants were indeed linked to risk of several types of cancers including colorectal cancer as well as diseases like multiple sclerosis and celiac disease. Most interestingly, the authors found that in aggregate the seven variants also associated with risk of coronary artery disease which can lead to heart attacks.

Professor Samani added: “These are really exciting findings. We had previous evidence that shorter telomere lengths are associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease but were not sure whether this association was causal or not. This research strongly suggests that biological ageing plays an important role in causing coronary artery disease, the commonest cause of death in the world. This provides a novel way of looking at the disease and at least partly explains why some patients develop it early and others don’t develop it at all even if they carry other risk factors.”

Dr Veryan Codd, Senior Research Associate at the University of Leicester who co-ordinated the study and carried out the majority of the telomere length measurements said: “The findings open of the possibility that manipulating telomere length could have health benefits. While there is a long way to go before any clinical application, there are data in experimental models where lengthening telomere length has been shown to retard and in some situations reverse age-related changes in several organs.”

Ends


NOTES TO NEWSDESK:

For interviews, contact Professor Nilesh Samani at the University of Leicester on:  (+44) 116 2044758 or njs@le.ac.uk or Dr Veryan Codd (vc15@le.ac.uk)

 

The research institutions involved in the project:

University of Leicester, UK

Estonian Genome Centre, University of Tartu, Estonia

Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, Netherlands

University of Helsinki, Finland

Helmholtz Centre, Munich, Germany

Leiden University, Netherlands

Imperial College London, UK

King’s College London, UK

Vrije University, Amsterdam, Netherlands

University of Groningen, Netherlands

Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia

Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

University College London, UK

University of Milan, Italy

 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).

This article/paper/report presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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