Abdullah Said, a PhD student in the department of cardiology, University Medical Center, Groningen in the Netherlands, presented data Tuesday at Scientific Sessions that showed support for a causal association between genetically determined shorter telomere length with overall cardiovascular disease, hypertension and common cancer development.
Previous research has shown an association between shorter telomere length and various age-associated cardiovascular conditions including coronary heart disease and heart failure, as well as high-grade glioma and other cancers.
“We believe that we add another piece of evidence that telomeres play a role in the development of cardiovascular and other age-associated disease and might not just be an innocent bystander or marker of biological ageing,” Said reported. “Our data suggest common genetic variants explaining a proportion of shorter telomere length also are associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
Said and colleagues performed a Mendelian randomization with genetic risk score analyses using seven single nucleotide polymorphisms previously associated with telomere length. They studied whether telomere length was associated with cardiovascular disease, overall cancer or mortality in individuals from the UK Biobank population. The UK Biobank study is a United Kingdom-based prospective cohort study of 502,664 adults 40-70 years of age. Genetic data were available for 152,249 patients, of which 134,773 were eligible for statistical analyses. Patients in the analyses were 39-73 years of age.
All analyses were adjusted for age, sex and principal components. The analyzed genetic variants associated with a shorter telomere length, per standard deviation shorter telomere length, were associated with a 14 percent increased risk for overall cardiovascular disease (95 percent CI, 5 percent-23 percent; p=0.004), a 16 percent increased risk for hypertension (95 percent CI, 7 percent-25 percent; p=0.002) and a 37 percent increase risk for
overall cancer (95 percent CI, 29 percent-45 percent; p<0.001).
Said noted that the effect sizes in the study are small, making the clinical implications of the study limited.
“We required more than 130,000 individuals to draw our conclusions,” Said explained. “However, they do provide us novel insights into biology, and they enhance our understanding of the association of telomere length and the development of cardiovascular diseases and cancer as well. We believe our findings are indeed valuable to research in the fields of telomere length, cardiovascular disease and cancer.”