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9 February, 2010
Gene variant links to early ageing
Scientists have found specific genetic variants which may explain why some people age earlier than others and say their findings have important implications for understanding cancer and age–related diseases.
Dutch and British researchers analysed more than 500,000 genetic variations from human gene maps and found that people with particular variants near a gene called TERC were likely to be biologically older by 3 to 4 years.“What our study suggests is that some people are genetically programed to age at a faster rate.The effect was quite considerable in those with the variant,” said Tim Spector from King’s College London, who co–led the study.
In the study, the scientists explained there are two forms of aging – chronological aging, counted in years, and biological aging, in which the cells of some people are older, or younger, than their chronological age. “There is accumulating evidence that the risk of ageassociated diseases including heart disease and some types of cancers are more closely related to biological rather than chronological age,” said Nilesh Samani, a cardiology professor at Britain’s Leicester University, who worked on the study.
The researchers studied structures called telomeres – protective caps on the ends of chromosomes whose length is associated with cell aging. Fraying or shortening of telomeres can lead to premature aging and cancer, a finding that helped win the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine for three US scientists who discovered an enzyme, telmorase, that helps prevent such fraying.
Scientists have known for some time that the TERC gene, which regulates the length of telomeres, plays a key role in aging and cancer, but Spector said the importance of this study was that it identified particular variants of it in humans that suggest earlier aging is more likely.