Leicester scientists to unlock the secrets of the biological clock

A new study led by the University of Leicester will investigate the how the length of tiny pieces of DNA called telomeres play a part in the biological ageing process.

The pioneering work is led by the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences's Sir Nilesh Samani (pictured), British Heart Foundation (BHF) Professor of Cardiology and Dr Veryan Codd, Lecturer in Cardiovascular Molecular Biology, working with colleagues at the University of Cambridge.

Telomeres cap the ends of each chromosome and shorten each time a human cell divides. Eventually, they shorten enough to signal to the cell that it is time to die. Interestingly, some people are born with shorter telomeres than others and some people have telomeres that shorten more quickly than others.

The scientists speculate that people who "biologically" age more quickly than others, as indicated by their telomere length, may develop diseases like heart disease and cancer at an earlier age, while others remain healthy to an advanced age despite similar lifestyles (which play a part in the development of disease).

The £2 million study is the largest of its kind ever undertaken and will help improve understanding of the biological ageing process. It is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). It uses samples from UK Biobank, a major national health project that is following the lives of 500,000 volunteers who donated blood and provided lots of information about their health and lifestyles for research over many years.

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