New blood test measures how long you will live
Ever wonder how long you have to live? Now you can find out by taking a controversial new blood test.
Tue, May 17, 2011 at 07:58 AM
If you could find out when you were going to die, would you want to know? For those brave enough to answer "yes," science may be able to supply you with an answer, reports Physorg.com.
A controversial new blood test, set to hit the market in Britain this year, is capable of estimating your remaining lifespan by measuring the length of your telomeres — structures found on the tips of your chromosomes.
Telomeres are essentially the oil that keeps your DNA running smoothly and efficiently. Every time chromosome replication occurs in your cells, the ends of your chromosomes become shorter, deteriorating and becoming more susceptible to damage. Thus, rather than risk losing delicate genetic information during replication, your chromosomes come tethered with telomeres at their edges, which get shortened instead.
Researchers believe that lifespan can be roughly predicted based upon how long your telomeres are. The longer they are, the more replications you still have left. Your telomere length won't give you the exact date of your death, but it can reliably predict your projected lifespan within a narrow range — or at least, that's the premise of the new blood test.
The biggest obstacle to making the test available to consumers has not been the science, but the ethical and legal ramifications. Critics worry that the test will open a Pandora's box for the insurance industry. Health and life insurance companies could discriminate against people based upon their results, and possibly even refuse coverage to those with shorter telomeres. In the worst-case scenario, insurance companies could require applicants to take the blood test before offering them coverage.
There is also concern about how test results could alter one's behavior. Those who receive disappointing news could act irrationally, become depressed, or allow it to affect their life decisions in unpredictable ways.
Proponents of the test are quick to point out the many benefits test results could supply to responsible, health-conscious consumers. For instance, the test could boost the effectiveness of preventative care, and it could help doctors to become more proactive in treating and predicting the onset of conditions like Alzheimer’s, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Researchers think it's only a matter of time before the test becomes widely available. The test isn't cheap — it costs about $700 — but the cost is likely to decrease as the test becomes more available.
Also on MNN: