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’Death clock’ gene hunt success for University of Leicester medical scientists


Medical scientists at the University of Leicester have announced they have narrowed the search for the ’death clock’ gene in humans. Their study relates to a hunt for a gene that has important implications for aging and cancer as well as other age-related diseases.

The gene controls the length of human telomeres - repeat DNA sequences that cap a chromosome. Each time a human cell divides, the cap shortens. When it gets too short, cells die. Telomere length therefore acts as a ’death clock’
People vary considerably in the length of telomeres they are born with.

The Leicester team, comprising members of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, Health Sciences and Genetics linked inter-individual differences in telomere length to a region on Chromosome 12 and identified what they describe as a ’strong candidate’ for the ’death clock’ gene. To help locate the gene, the Leicester researchers examined 383 adults comprising 258 sibling pairs.

The authors state in The American Journal of Human Genetics: "Identification of the gene involved and elucidation of its mechanism of action could have important implications for our understanding of chromosomal assembly, telomere biology, and susceptibility to age-related diseases."

Professor Nilesh Samani, Professor of Cardiology at the University of Leicester, who headed the research team added: "Our interest in this area is linked to our work on coronary heart disease where we have shown that shorter telomere length is associated with coronary atherosclerosis and risk of premature heart attacks. However, telomere biology is relevant to many other conditions, including cancer where telomere length is maintained, and hence finding of a major gene that regulates telomere length and understanding how it works could have wide implications."

In addition to Professor Samani, the research team included Dr Mariuca Vasa-Nicotera, Mr Scott Brouilette, Dr Massimo Mangino, Professor John R Thompson, Mr Peter Braund, Ms Jenny-Rebecca Clemitson, Ms Andrea Mason, Mrs Clare L. Bodycote, Dr Stuart M. Raleigh and Professor Edward Louis.

Ather Mirza | alfa
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