The cells of the body contain telomeres. These can be considered to be the "end caps" of DNA strands. You could say they prevent the strands from "fraying". Through the years, the telomeres wear down and recent studies in mice suggest this process may help indicate the development of Type 2 diabetes.
On Tuesday at the University of Pennsylvania, medical researcher Mary Armanios spoke about her latest results in telomeres and diabetes - showing how the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas shut down when their telomeres erode to the end. That understanding, she said, could lead to new approaches to treat or prevent the disease, which is growing more prevalent.
Armanios, who works at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, said she became interested in studying telomeres after meeting a college-age man with gray hair, lung problems, and bone-marrow failure, all caused by a genetic disease called dyskeratosis congenita. People with the disease have very short telomeres, so their aging clocks run out of time unusually fast.
Genetically engineered mice, with unusually short telomeres, have been shown to quickly develop diabetes. Shorter telomeres don't need as much time to wear down to the critical level. It is known that tumor cells generate telomerase, an enzyme that helps build up telomeres. Unfortunately, it is cost-prohibitive to synthesize teloerase ... and it can increase risk of cancer. Telomerase is active in 98% of all cancer cells and a method to block its action is a potential "cancer cure".
Several years ago, for example, researchers linked exercise to longer telomeres, and now there's evidence that healthy diet also keeps our DNA healthy and our telomeres long.