Concerns grow over DNA test that determines your lifespan

 

Scientists and medical ethicist are warning of the dangers posed by a new blood test for determining how fast someone is ageing, as revealed by The Independent yesterday.

The £435 test, due to go on sale to the general public in Britain later this year, measures the length of a person's telomeres, the structures on the tips of the chromosomes which get progressively shorter with age. Short telomeres are linked with age-related diseases and premature death.

Experts are worried that people may misunderstand the limitations of the test, which purports to measure a person's true "biological" age rather than the usual chronological age. They are also concerned that the information may be used by insurance companies and organisations trying to sell fake anti-ageing remedies.

"I'm sceptical and concerned about this test mainly because of the lack of evidence that this information is useful and yet this test touches on really significant issues, such as predictions of life expectancy," said Colin Blakemore, an Oxford neuroscientist and former head of the Medical Research Council.

"My pressing concern is just how reliable these tests are in terms of anything significant. We need to know an awful lot more before we make predictive statements. People worry about how predictive it is."

Thomas Von Zglinicki, a professor of cellular gerontology at Newcastle University, said that it is not yet clear how accurate such telomere tests are when applied to individuals. "To sell this to the public is premature and I will not buy it," Professor Von Zglinicki said.

Medical ethicist Piers Benn, formerly of Imperial College London, said there are wider philosophical dangers of using a test that may estimate how long a person has left to live.

"If we knew when and how we will die, that would influence the way we lived; we shape our future in the light of the uncertainty in which we live," Dr Benn said.

"We need to avoid the fatalism which says that I'm going to die on a certain date so why should I give up smoking or avoiding bad foods."

The Independent revealed yesterday that the Spanish company behind the test, Life Length, is in discussions with a company that operates in Britain to market the test over the counter later this year.

The test's inventor, Maria Blasco of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid, said the test is accurate in detecting dangerously short telomeres which are linked with age-related diseases and premature death.

"We know that people who are born with shorter telomeres than normal also have a shorter lifespan. We know that shorter telomeres can cause a shorter lifespan," Dr Blasco said.

But Josephine Quintavale, of the pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, warned that such tests might be used to marginalise the elderly.

"Sadly, the elderly are already not the most popular members of society when it comes to healthcare allocation and I could definitely foresee a culture of not spending resources on those with short telomeres," she said.

Telling signs

* Telomeres are structures that cap the ends of the cell's chromosomes to stop them from "fraying". They get progressively shorter each time the cell divides until they become so short the cell dies.



* Measuring the length of a person's telomeres is a useful way of determining an individual's "biological" age, rather than their chronological age. A telomere test could therefore be used to assess a person's risk of age-related diseases and premature death.



* Drawbacks to a telomere test focus on how accurate it really is and what information it can provide. Some experts are concerned that they may be used to market anti-ageing products, or they may change the way people live if they believe they have only a certain amount of time before dying.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border