The US$700 test that tells you how long you’ll live

testA blood test that can tell you how fast you are ageing – and how long you will live – will become available commercially in the UK later this year. The test measures vital structures on the tips of a person’s chromosomes, named telomeres, which scientists believe are one of the most accurate and important indicators of the speed at which a person ages. Scientists behind the €500 (US$700) test said it will be possible to tell whether a person’s “biological age” – as measured by the length of their telomeres – is younger or older than their chronological age.

Some scientists already question the value of the test and ask whether there should be stronger ethical controls over its use. Together with concerns about how people will respond to a test for how “old” they truly are, some scientists worry that telomere testing may be taken over by unscrupulous organisations attempting to hawk unproven anti-ageing remedies and other frauds. The test results might also be of interest to companies offering life insurance policies or medical cover that depend on a person’s lifetime risk of becoming seriously ill or dying prematurely.

Elizabeth Blackburn, of the University of California San Francisco, an Australian who was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering the significance of telomeres, said: “Checking your telomere length is a bit like weighing yourself: you get this single number which depends on a lot of factors. Telomere length gives a sense of your underlying health. We see telomere shortening in diseases of ageing – like heart disease and cancer.” ~ Independent, May 16; New Scientist, May 4


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