Longer Telomeres may Increase Brain Cancer Risk

First Posted: Jun 10, 2014 01:06 AM EDT

A recent study published in the journal Nature Genetics shows that having longer telomeres may slow the aging process. However, longer ones can increase the risk of brain cancer cells called gliomas, according to researchers at the University of California-San Francisco.

"There are clearly high barriers to developing gliomas, perhaps because the brain has special protection," said senior author Margaret Wrensch, MPH, PhD, the Stanley D. Lewis and Virginia S. Lewis Endowed Chair in Brain Tumor Research at UCSF, in a news release. "It's not uncommon for people diagnosed with glioma to comment, 'I've never been sick in my life.'"

"Though longer telomeres might be good for you as a whole person, reducing many health risks and slowing aging, they might also cause some cells to live longer than they're supposed to, which is one of the hallmarks of cancer," added lead author Kyle M. Walsh, PhD, assistant professor of neurological surgery and a member of the Program in Cancer Genetics at UCSF's Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, according to the release.

For the study, researchers analyzed DNA from 1,644 glioma patients and 7,736 healthy control individuals. They discovered that two telomere-related genes TERT and TERC increase the risk of gliomas.

Though previous findings have suggested that longer telomeres increase good health, these findings suggest that they may encourage cancerous tumor growth. In fact, researchers believe that the study results suggest that "both longer and shorter telomere length may be pathogenic, depending on the disease under consideration."

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