EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with the CEO of Titanovo on telomeres and future health solutions

03/16/2015 - 00:00

Kirk Nankivell

A startup company is looking to change the way we understand our health and longevity. They are in the midst of a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to bring this technology and understanding of telomeres to market.  We had the honor to discuss the upcoming implications and learn more about Titanovo's application and technology from its CEO, Dr. Oleksandr Savsunenko.

•     What are telomeres?

Telomeres are the protective endcaps to chromosomes, which correlate strongly to overall health and longevity. As a cell divides, the telomere becomes shorter, no longer adequately protecting the chromosome, until the telomere reaches the Hayflick limit and the cell ceases to divide. This is called cell senescence, and is the leading cause of apoptosis (cell death).

On a more positive note, because telomeres correlate strongly to health and longevity, we can actually get a fairly meaningful dataset for both end-users and researchers when measuring telomere length.

•     Why measure a telomere?

We want to see how certain environmental, genealogical, and lifestyle factors are correlated to telomere length and allow researchers to consider the possible causational relationship between them. We are also interested in looking at genetic factors, and have implemented that as a stretch goal to our campaign.

If we reach our Indiegogo stretch goal, we will also be able to determine how specific genes known to correlate to longevity are correlated to telomere length.

•     What important information do you get from measuring telomeres?

The test will initially screen for the mean telomere length of an individual’s buccal (inner cheek) cells. We will also be giving participants a survey, and will then correlate the results of a users’ telomere data with the survey. Participants will be able to see their results and how they compare with those in and around their demographics, making any health inferences they wish from that data. Meanwhile, researchers with access to the data will be able to determine potential causal relationships between those factors and telomere length. This can be used as a method for determining overall health outcomes.

Our long term goals rely on the expansion of our tests to include more data, not only from the survey, but also from further testing done on the samples. To exemplify this, we have the genetic stretch goal as stated before.

•     What type of health solutions do you foresee benefiting from this data?

At the entry level, there are already studies which correlate longer telomere length with factors including the Mediterranean diet, Yoga, and other factors. But conducting these studies as is means that researchers have to start at the very beginning – creating that dataset. We plan to advance research by allowing scientists to bypass that first-stage.

•     What's the main difference between genome sequencing and this?

Genomic sequencing is looking at the whole genome at once, or at smaller part of genome to identify certain genes, their mutations, or their polymorphisms. At the moment, full-genomic sequencing is above the reach of most consumer markets due to its price. It is also important to note that, due to the current technique used in genome sequencing (a shotgun approach), it cannot be used to determine telomere length. This is because telomeres consist of a constantly repeating pattern. Since it is not possible to assemble telomeres into a meaningful genome, this data is usually omitted.

Our method is focused and adapted primarily to telomeres, thus omitting all other genomic information. Also it should be mentioned that our technique in methodology is much different than that used for sequencing.

•     Why should I be a citizen scientist?

Participation of citizen scientists in these types of experiments can speed up the rate at which advances in medicine and health are made. So it isn’t just to help researchers, it is to help humanity. But this type of experiment is not just for citizen scientists, as we do provide meaningful data to our participants which can help them better their own personal health.

•     This is truly anonymous? Can my insurance company use this information against me?

Yes, the data gathered will absolutely be anonymous. That means that researchers will in no way be able to read the names of specific individuals who used our test. Our goal is to improve health outcomes both for individuals today and for society tomorrow.

Data will be stored in an encrypted secure vault without names of participants.

•     How did you come up with the name Titanovo?

We wanted something that really exemplified what we are working towards: improved research for a more fit humanity. So Titanovo co-founder Corey McCarren created the name as a mix between the Titans, who were Gods in Greek mythology, and the word novo, which means New in Latin.

•     How can I help this project?

Currently, directly supporting our Indiegogo campaign is the best way to back what we are trying to achieve. If you are unable to do so, sharing our campaign with friends and family is also highly-appreciated. On the other hand, we are always interested in collaboration, and encourage anyone with an interest in our project to reach out to us directly.