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HealthWatch: Bay Area Scientists Develop DNA Stress Test

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – Bay Area scientists have come up with a test that might turn out to be as important as getting a cholesterol checkup, or even taking your blood pressure.

The simple test looks at your DNA and tells you if you may have a health concern, especially if you’re stressed out.

It’s a test that interests working mom Lisa Aliferis. Her days are jam-packed.

She gets up early, gets her two kids up “feed ‘em breakfast, get ‘em dressed, get ‘em out the door, get them to school and then I go to work”, said Aliferis.

CBS 5 HealthWatch followed Aliferis one weekend morning and witnessed the whirlwind firsthand. On this day, both her children had a soccer game at the same time but in different fields. She and her husband John each took a kid, and steered towards the game.

“Stress is a constant part of my life,” said Aliferis, “And mostly it plays out in this feeling of always having to be somewhere exactly on time and having very little leeway.”

That makes the working mom wonder if all this stress is taking a toll on her health. As early as this fall, she may be able to find out in the privacy of her doctor’s office.

Scientists believe they can identify and help treat problems caused by stress by taking a bit of your blood – even a little saliva – and, then looking carefully at a critical part of your DNA. That critical part is called a telomere.

Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your DNA.

Dr. Calvin Harley is with Telome Health of Menlo Park. His company has developed a test that can accurately measure the length of an individual’s telomeres.

CBS 5 HealthWatch asked him why length is important enough to measure. Harley replied, “Very short telomeres are what are behind a lot of different age related diseases.”

Telomeres naturally shorten as we get older. But chronic stress can speed up the shortening. And shortened telomeres can put you at a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, even dementia.

The good news is that telomeres are the one part of your DNA that you can actually change, according to the scientists.

“They can shrink or increase in length depending upon your life style and risk exposures,” said Harley.

This test is currently used only in research, but the scientists believe if physicians can prescribe the test, like a cholesterol test, that their patients can get an annual telomere checkup.

Dan Hunt is the interim CEO with Telome Health. “If you have very short telomere length and or you monitor your telomere length and they’re rapid reductions in the telomeres, it may be indicative there’s a health problem,” Hunt said.

Your doctor may then prescribe a better diet, exercise, even stress reduction – all which may slow down the shortening of your telomeres, or even boost their length.

Hunt said research shows that a change may occur in as little as four months. Telome Health hopes to get the test certified later this year. Each sample that gets tested may cost about $200.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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  • Hank Warren

    Just wait until the gov’t/insurance companies get their hands on this. Corrupt medical field, yet another violation of our rights. Add it to the list of gov’t violations of our right:
    They violate the 1st Amendment by placing protesters in cages, banning books like “America Deceived II” and censoring the internet.
    They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns.
    They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by molesting airline passengers.
    They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars for foreign countries.
    Impeach Obama and sweep out the Congress.
    (Last link of Banned Book):

    • Bob

      umm…. good old bushy started other wars obama didn’t.. you wacko

  • Fanny Forbes Franklen

    Unless you have an advanced degree in biochemistry you will be as clueless as 90% of MD’s that know nothing about biochemistry.

    Just ask any MD what is … Adenosine cyclic 3′, 5′-monophosphate-dependent protein kinase from human platelets? Then wait for the silence.

    Seek real science, not witch doctors that can only prescribe drugs pushed on them by former cheerleaders who are recruited as pharmaceutical reps.

    • Bob U

      Wow, you got that right about the pharma reps. They hire for looks as much as for the ability to peddle drugs to physicians. In fact looks + selling skills go hand in hand when selling to physicians. It’s tough to get 10 minutes of their time, so pharma companies have sought out the beautiful people among us. Is it any wonder the USA has the most sick people among the most advanced nations of the world?

  • Paul

    this is absolutely bs! telomeres in human CANNOT be elongated since human somatic cells DO NOT have working telamerase, the enzyme needed for telomere elongation unless this cells are cancerous!

    talking about junk science, you have a TYPICAL example! c’mon CBS, verify your reports!!!

    • Arnie

      Don’t be silly. The dinosaur media doesn’t have the money to check facts. The MSM is slipping away. Look at the wonderful job they did parroting the “facts” concerning the bin Laden assassination. Still not a single shed of real evidence. And look at “World Net Daily” today, which just did an expose on the Obama birth certificate, using experts who convincingly make the case that it’s a fake and a very poor one at that. The big networks appear to disseminate the news just as they receive it, especially if it comes from a government agency. Gee, it must be true, if it comes from the government. They should be more skeptical, but they just might not have the money needed to have enough fact checkers and investigative journalists on staff.

  • Barry Vance

    Actually, telomeres can be elongated via teleromase activation. Google TA-65 as well as Sierra Sciences.

  • Paul

    Barry, yes, telomerase activation can elongate telomeres; but that’s unnatural and does not happen in our bodies unless, as i said, the cells become cancerous. activatin of telemerases has unknown side effects which may lead to serious health problems.

    most science report claim that telomeres are linked to aging (which is still largely a science mystery). but the actual direct link is not found yet, so activating telomerase in hoping to prolong life or enhance health is science at infancy at best. but this CBS video claims that telomerase can grow back on is absolutely outrageously misleading.

  • Patient A

    Gee..I can tell you she stressed just by hearing about her morning/day. No expensive DNA test necessary. Just like frivolous lawsuits are causing insurance rates to rise, so does frivolous medical testing. What I want to know is if they have a ‘stupid’ test, but again…I think I can discern that pretty well already.

  • John C

    Don’t they have drugs to treat stress toom

  • Michael McC

    As I understand it there is normally telomerase actiivity in several cell types (stem cells, hair follicle cells, some white blood cells,, and germ cells) and there may be somes (though not enough in the latter to maintain telomere length) in other normal tissue types. If this is the case you might see telomere lengthening under some metabolic conditions.

    Presuming stress shortens telomeres (especially if it does it without cell reproduction) you might also see “lengthening” in periodically renewed tissues (like platelet cells) when the stress is removed and new generations of stem cell offspring mature with less shortening.

    Since the article is about the development of a way to measure the telomere length (which would be the first cheap way to detect lengthening) and the line about lengthening seems to be a quote from one of the researchers, I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.

  • tanstaafl

    Sounds like another crock. DNA testing is useful if you want to find out whether or not you’re carrying a certaini trait, usually inherited.

    But this ? stress shortens telomeres ? I’d save my money, or the money of anyone who might be paying for it.

    There’s a sucker (or 50 suckers) born every minute.

    (And mom, slow down, a constantly hectic schedule simply isn’t worth it.)

    The doctor is out, 5 cents, please.

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