CLL Support Association

Telomeres (DNA 'shoelace' ends) - You CAN change their length

Telomeres (DNA 'shoelace' ends) - You CAN change their length

Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, the first Australian woman awarded a Nobel Prize, is currently visiting my city and the local press took the opportunity to interview her about her award winning work on the the role of the enzyme telomerase. Telomeres are the 'end caps' on DNA strands, like the plastic ends on shoelaces that stop them from fraying, or in the case of DNA, allow cells to divide while holding the important genetic material intact. Telomerase, the enzyme that Professor Blackburn co-discovered, stops these telomeres from shortening and can even lengthen them. Thus influences on the effectiveness of telomerase also influence the length of a healthy lifetime or 'lifespan.'

In the interview Professor Blackburn said that "there are studies showing that if you live a generally healthier lifestyle, exercise, reduce stress and have social support, we start to see telomere maintenance is better". She also mentioned that Omega 3 is related to improvement in telomere length and "it has been observed over and over again that in those that do pretty decent exercise you see their telomere length is better, especially in settings of seems to offset stress".

When asked "Can people over do it?", she responded, "...if you overdo exercise, we see the telomere maintenance worsen".

She then went on to state "People are now saying the biggest cardio disease risk factor is not genes, it is socio-economics. Telomeres lie at the central node of all this." This is behind Professor Blackburn's current interest in looking at the the role meditation can play in replenishing telomeres.

The newspaper article grabbed my attention because a study has shown that in CLL, "Short telomere/high telomerase profile was independently associated with more rapid disease progression."


5 Replies

Interesting. I haven't watched the video yet but I understood that Telameres are associated with chromosomal abnormality, e.g. I have the 11q22 deletion and short telameres. I do keep fit and well and thought that they are 'fixed'.

Nice to know that they can improve.


I wish as a CLL patient I was given more advice as to what I can do to help myself from the consultant. Because its only your own Dr who can tell whats the right amount of exercise or the right amount of green tea or anything else. For myself I am very motivated to stay healthy and would do anything to help. Best wishes


I'm sure that wish for more individual advice is widely held! Unfortunately with the huge variability in how CLL expresses itself, along with variations in exercise tolerance, etc, I'd say that the only realistic solution is for each of us to learn how our own bodies respond, i.e. be more in tune with what our bodies are telling us. That's very hard when the feedback is too delayed to be of any use. I got really frustrated trying to find the right level of exercise after my bout with CMV. I'd keep overdoing it (feeling fine when exercising) and then have to endure the frustration of day or two of being too flat to do much of anything.

For anything that puts a potentially toxic load on the kidneys and liver, again individual variability (along with the influence of other medications you need to be on) means you really need to monitor your liver and kidney health through blood tests. Another good reason to keep your medical team informed of what you are taking in an attempt to improve your health.


It is looking like POT1 ( protection of telomeres ) gene mutation on chromosone 7 plays a role in telomere disfunction in CLL...

Not certain exercise will change this, but it might...


More from Dr Blackburn

"In a compelling conversation with science presenter Robyn Williams, Dr Blackburn shared the passion and insights that have driven her towards her celebrated scientific achievements. She described the journey from her childhood scooping up jellyfish in Tasmania, to her career as an internationally acclaimed microbiologist, and to the moment she was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Dr Blackburn reflected on women in science, and on the role of science in policy-making, as well as on her scientific discoveries which are transforming our understanding of human health. She examined the interface between science and society, referring to her dismissal from the President’s Council on Bioethics and the commercialisation of biological data."


Appealing to those with a strong interest in the biology field, Dr Elizabeth Blackburn also presented an Occasional Hawke Lecture covering new perspectives on the roles of telomeres and telomerase in human diseases and health.

Video is over an hour long and there is also a podcast


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