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Brain Cancer Linked to Longer Telomeres

Update Date: Jun 09, 2014 07:05 PM EDT

Having longer telomeres has been linked to longer life and slower aging. However, longer telomeres may also increase the risk of developing brain cancer, according to new research.

Researchers at the University of California- San Francisco found that longer caps on chromosome ends may significantly boost the risk of developing deadly brain cancers called gliomas.

"There are clearly high barriers to developing gliomas, perhaps because the brain has special protection," senior author Margaret Wrensch, MPH, PhD, the Stanley D. Lewis and Virginia S. Lewis Endowed Chair in Brain Tumor Research at UCSF, said 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," said 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 a university release.

After analyzing DNA of 1,644 glioma patients and 7,736 healthy control individuals, researchers found that two telomere-related genes TERT and TERC increase the risk of gliomas.

While previous findings suggest that longer telomeres indicate exceptional health, they may also encourage tumor growth as cancer cells promote their own longevity by maintaining telomere length.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that "both longer and shorter telomere length may be pathogenic, depending on the disease under consideration," according to researchers.

The latest findings were published online in Nature Genetics on June 8, 2014.

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