This story has been updated from a previous version to add comments from the CEO of Fountain Therapeutics, a company developing therapeutics for chronic degenerative diseases by leveraging an AI-driven drug discovery platform that measures the age of cells and cellular resilience.
NEW YORK – Molecular diagnostics company Genomic Vision has launched the TeloSizer, a molecular combing service for detecting, imaging, and quantifying telomere length on single DNA molecules.
With this service, the company aims to help researchers find and confirm telomere-based biomarkers with greater speed and accuracy than would be possible with techniques such as fluorescence in situ hybridization or Southern blots.
TeloSizer derives its quantitative accuracy from a technique called molecular combing, also sometimes known as chromosome combing.
While ensemble approaches like FISH can average the characteristics of a collection of telomeres, the shortest telomeres exert the greatest effect on cellular senescence. By providing individual telomere measurements, molecular combing allows researchers to focus on those shorter elements.
The technique consists of stretching individual DNA molecules along silane-coated glass surfaces. The surface tension of a receding water-air interface provides uniform stretching force, without any need for DNA modification.
Telomere length predicts the onset of cellular senescence in vitro but its true diagnostic utility in human health and longevity remains under debate.
Despite strong associations with conditions such as dyskeratosis congenita, pulmonary fibrosis, and liver disease, among others, no diagnostic tests measuring telomere length have received regulatory clearance, nor has an approved drug targeting telomeres for therapeutic purposes reached market.
Notably, the only industry to heavily market telomere-targeted products is the nutraceutical industry, whose products are often classified as "functional foods" but not as medications.
Genomic Vision believes that a lack of quantitative precision has impeded efforts to understand the possible clinical applications of telomere length. The strength of its new service, the company says, is in helping to discover and validate telomere-based biomarkers. Although the service may eventually find its way into a clinical, potentially companion diagnostic setting, that is more of a long-term goal.
"We believe [that] what TeloSizer is delivering is the ability to precisely understand if a biomarker exists or not," Mark David Lynch, global commercial and marketing director at Genomic Vision, said in an interview.
"If there has been a hypothesis previously, that there may be a biomarker that could have clinical utility, TeloSizer will help the pharmaceutical companies, the biotech companies, the academic institutes … to convert that into some sort of clinical utility," he added.
William Greene, CEO of Fountain Therapeutics, a company focused on treating diseases by reversing the loss of cellular resilience, said that while telomere length as a biomarker isn't yet ready for "scientific prime time," a sensitive and quantitative way to measure telomere length could make a valuable research tool.
"With a tool like that," he said in an interview, "you can start to ask…do those cells [with shortened telomeres] have more susceptibility to different disease processes or disease states. Then you've got something to grab onto and start to build a case for telomere length in that disease."
Extending from that, one could ask whether telomere length within certain cells or tissues links individuals to disease states.
While Fountain Therapeutics takes telomere length into account when measuring characteristics of cellular health, that biomarker is just one of many that are considered in the company's AI-driven platform.
Although the Genomic Vision expects most interest in TeloSizer to come from large pharmaceuticals and biotechs, it anticipates that this will follow market proof coming from academic clients who will initially use the service.
Lynch said that Genomic Vision is engaged with "a few" academic institutions around the world, who have begun to use TeloSizer, although Lynch declined to name them for the time being. Publicizing these collaborations forms part of a planned marketing campaign, which the company is rolling out in stages.
TeloSizer forms the start of what Lynch calls a "proper roadmap" toward a greater market presence for Genomic Vision.
The company has been using it to gather whole-genome telomere information to develop a companion analytical tool called FiberSmart. FiberSmart facilitates telomere identification, pinpointing their presence within the genome.
"From a usability standpoint," said Lynch, "you don't have to spend any time finding the telomeres."
"That same artificial intelligence," he continued, "with the FiberSmart tied to TeloSizer, will help us and our clients to actually quickly identify biomarkers. So if we do want to go chromosome by chromosome in the future, which I think we do, then this will help us get there faster."