Telomeres Explained

Explainer videos for clinicians and researchers

Educational: research, writing, production

Repeat Diagnostics approached us with a clear goal: to create a series of videos on the topic of telomeres and telomere measurement. We researched, wrote, filmed, and animated six videos to complete the series, aimed at medical professionals and patients alike. The series covers a wide range of topics, including how telomeres and telomerase are linked to aging, cancer, and telomere biology disorders.

What are telomeres? Telomeres are protective caps, found at the ends of our chromosomes. They’re thought to play a major role in aging by limiting the number of times most of the cells in our body can divide. They help protect our genome and defend our bodies from developing cancer.

It’s believed that telomeres play a role in aging. When telomeres become too short, it triggers our body’s DNA damage response, signaling our cells to undergo senescence or apoptosis (cell death). Telomeres shorten with each cell division because of the structure of DNA itself, called the ‘end replication problem’.

Telomerase helps maintain telomere length in our cells, influences how our bodies age, and why we develop diseases like cancer. If cells had enough telomerase, telomeres might not shorten at all. But in most somatic cells, it’s present in very low amounts — only enough to slow the telomere shortening down.

Telomere Biology Disorders (TBDs) are also known as Short Telomere Syndromes or telomeropathies. They are characterized by genetic deficits affecting telomere maintenance and by the presence of very short telomeres. Research in this field helps improve diagnosis and treatment for people with TBDs.

People with either very short or very long telomeres are at increased risk of developing cancer – this is called the Telomere Length Paradox. Telomeres can act as a defense mechanism to prevent tumor  growth by stopping cell division when they are too short, however, this mechanism is not perfect.

Accurately measuring telomere length is important for the diagnosis of telomere biology disorders, for research into how telomeres affect health span and aging, and their links to cancer. RepeatDx specializes in Flow FISH, which can measure the telomeres in many different blood cell types at the same time.

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