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Researchers Closing In On 'Death Clock' Gene

It holds important clues to both cancer and aging

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 17, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- British researchers say they've narrowed the search for the 'death clock' gene thought to be key to cancer, aging and age-related diseases.

The University of Leicester scientists studied the genetics of 383 adults, and say they have located a strong candidate for the gene in a region on Chromosome 12.

The 'death clock' gene controls the length of human telomeres. These are repeat DNA sequences that cap a chromosome. Every time a human cell divides, this cap shortens, and when the cap gets too short, cells die. There's great variation in the length of telomeres that people are born with.

The findings appear in the current issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics.

"Identification of the gene involved and the elucidation of its mechanism of action could have important implications for our understanding of chromosomal assembly, telomore biology, and [individual] susceptibility to age-related diseases," the study authors wrote.

"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 [hardening of the arteries] and risk of premature heart attacks," research team leader Nilesh Samani, a professor of cardiology, said in a prepared statement.

"However, telomere biology is relevant to many other conditions, including cancer, where telomere length is maintained," he said. So, "the finding of a major gene that regulates telomere length and understanding how it works could have wide implications."

More information

The Alliance for Aging Research has more about genetics in aging.

SOURCE: University of Leicester, news release, Nov. 17, 2004
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