A few months ago, Medgadget spoke with Jason Shelton, CEO of Telomere Diagnostics (TDx) about the new company’s TeloYears genetic test. Compared to other genetic tests, TeloYears assesses an individual’s telomeres, a biomarker that changes with age. TDx’s goal is to provide consumers a new way to quantify their aging progress through detailed insight about their telomere biomarker. By proactively identifying accelerated telomere shortening and more directly understanding the benefits of current lifestyle choices, individuals can make educated decisions related to factors like diet, activity, and exposure to environmental factors when planning for the future.
Medgadget was fortunate enough to try out the TeloYears diagnostic test firsthand. The following is a review of this editor’s experience, test results, and impressions.
After placing my order for the TeloYears at-home sample collection kit through the company’s website, I received the box in the mail about a week later. The compact kit included the following:
- Instruction pamphlet
- Two finger stick lancets
- Blood collection strip
- Storage and transport vial
- Alcoholic swab
- Gauze pad
- Adhesive bandage
- Clear baggie
- Additional small swab
- Pre-paid return mailing envelope
Everything was clearly labelled, though I did end up briefly mixing up the gauze pad and small swab later in the process.
The Collection, +1 Step for Marylanders
TeloYears is offered in all 50 states except New York. Maryland, where I am based, requires an addition of an extra step to the sample collection process. That is that residents are required to obtain a written approval of a primary care provider practicing within the state in order to complete and submit the sample kit for analysis. Luckily, TeloYears included the approval form when they sent my sample kit and the form is available online. I was able to obtain consent from my provider during my annual physical exam. My provider had no issue signing the consent form, but did encourage me to be cautious in making significant health and lifestyle decisions or changes based on a third party genetic test.
Since the sample kit advises not to collect the blood sample immediately after a meal, I waited until the morning after my provider had signed off on the consent form to complete collection. I first filled out the packaging and vial labels to designate my unique sample. Then, working with the middle finger on my non-dominant hand as suggested, I sterilized the surface of the finger and used a lancet to prick the surface. The first drop of blood is meant to be cleaned away before using the collection strip.
At first, I accidentally used the small swab instead of the gauze pad to do this, since both have a similar texture and the swab comes without any packaging. I recommend future users take a moment to open and lay out all components of the sample collection kit before starting the process to make for easy access.
I corrected my mistake, then held the collection strip near the pinprick to collect blood. The strip actually requires a decent sample volume to coat completely and I noticed I was having trouble generating enough blood, even when using the recommended technique of applying pressure to the finger to force more blood through the opening made by the lancet. I used the second lancet, provided as a backup for the exact situation I had found myself in, to create a second pinprick which, together with the first, easily generated enough blood to cover the collection strip. I placed it into the storage vial and sealed it before dropping it into the mailing envelope along with some of the other items from the kit, as requested for return with the sample. I swabbed the two pinpricks and covered with the adhesive bandage.
Within what felt like less than five minutes, the process was complete! Quick and easy. The envelope was in the mail that same day. All that was left for this part of the process was to wait and hope my minor blunders wouldn’t affect TeloYears’ analysis.
TDx’s CEO Jason Shelton gave us an overview of the science behind the TeloYears genetic test when we spoke with him earlier this year. To review, telomeres are long caps of repeating nucleotide sequences (TTAGGG) at the end of DNA strands that protect genetic information from damage and reorganization during cell division. The analogy TeloYears uses is that telomeres are like the plastic tips on shoelaces that keep the shoe lace threads from fraying.
Through the ongoing process of cell division, telomeres gradually shorten over time. Health and lifestyle factors that result in oxidative stress, such as poor diet and exposure to environmental toxins, have also been shown to reduce telomere length. When a telomere reaches a critically short length, the cell can no longer replicate and enters cellular senescence, a state of growth arrest. It is believed that the cumulative effect of cells reaching senescence leads to aging. Senescent cells, compared to younger cells, stop releasing proteins necessary for healthy tissues and begin secreting inflammatory cytokines that break down proteins. The macroscopic effects of these microscopic biological changes include physical changes such as wrinkled skin and decreased muscle mass, escalated vulnerability to diseases, and the onset of chronic conditions that are typically associated with aging.
One other quick science note before we dive in. The results provide a measure of average telomere length (ATL). ATL is technically synonymous with the T/S ratio, or telomere/single-copy gene ratio, a common method of determining telomere length from qPCR. The method is based on comparing the ratio between the amplified telomere repeat copy number and single-gene copy number of a test sample and known control sample. The single-copy gene used for the ratio is typically a “housekeeping” gene amplified along with the telomere. The result is a representative measure of telomere length reported by TeloYears as ATL. For more information on measuring telomere length, check out this journal article.
Luckily, no request for a repeat sample collection came through and a few weeks later I had my TeloYears report in hand. The report packet consisted of the TeloYears Blueprint for Aging Well and my TeloYears test results.
The Blueprint for Aging Well is a comprehensive packet of information that includes an overview of the science behind the TeloYears test, a self-assessment tool, information on health and lifestyle factors that have been shown to impact telomere length (diet, stress, physical activity, and sleep), and information on chronic diseases and other effects of shortening telomeres. To be clear, the Blueprint is provided with all TeloYears test results, meaning the information and suggestions within are general and not personalized to the individual user. This makes sense given that telomere length alone is insufficient to identify an individual’s driving factors for their result. Some testers may record longer telomeres due to a combination of good diets and physical activity, while other testers may record shorter telomeres due to deficiencies in any one of the four health and lifestyle factors described in the Blueprint. The self-assessment tool does make the Blueprint somewhat more personalized, though the tool is more directional than quantitative. Instead of giving a score, each question in the assessment points to a section of the Blueprint where you can get more information on that question topic, if it is something you should be working on. The information I found most interesting in the Blueprint was around pro- and anti-inflammatory dietary factors and details about the Mediterranean diet, which I had heard about previously but never really dived into. In part because I was already considering an improvement to my diet, the information from the Blueprint may nudge me towards making some different food choices in the future.
Now for the results. My report (scanned copy with redacted personal information seen above) was very straightforward. I had an expected ATL, or T/S ratio, of 1.03 but an actual ATL of 1.09. The expected number is based on the ATL of individuals who are the same gender (male) and age (27) as me. My ATL is closer to the ATL of males who are 24, making my “cellular age” younger than my actual age. The difference is significant enough that my telomere length is considered “better” than where I should be today and puts me into the 66th percentile of other males my age. As discussed above, this longer telomere length is a good thing, as it suggests the end caps protecting my DNA are not only intact but are more robust than 66% of other 27-year-old males. A general copy of a standard TeloYears report like the one shown in this article can be found here.
I was happy to see the positive results which reinforced that some of the steps I’ve taken in recent years to life healthier might have actually been paying off! Despite being above the average, after reviewing the results and reading the Blueprint, I came away with an understanding that there is room for improvement. As highlighted in the interview with TeloYears CEO Jason Sheltong, unlike other genetic tests, the TeloYears test is designed to be taken multiple times to assess the ongoing impact of health and lifestyle factors on an individual’s cellular health. I can see the appeal in quantifying the impact of lifestyle changes on one’s cellular health over time, though I believe the price point ($99) for just the test alone may limit the number of repeat testers. The company does offer a combination package of two test kits at a discounted price ($169) to incentivize retesting.
While I found the TeloYears test to be an insightful experience around a new way of quantifying my personal cellular health and aging progress, I found the results limited without another key aspect of the TeloYears offering that I did not engage in: TeloYears coaching. By engaging in TeloYears coaching, a tester can go beyond simply reviewing their test results with a live, one-on-one, personalized coaching session. The session allows the tester to dive deeper into the results with the TeloYears coach, who can contextualize the results by learning more about the tester themselves. Instead of the general Blueprint for Aging Well, the tester receives a Personalized Lifestyle Action Plan following the live session. While I found the test alone interesting but limited, this level of personal specificity seems like it brings the value of the TeloYears evaluation to a whole new level. Currently, a tester can purchase the combination TeloYears kit and coaching service for $199.