It has been tested and observed that some people with shorter immune cell telomeres face a greater risk of catching a cold. LA Times retrieved and reported this information from a study recordered in JAMA. The job of a telomere is to protect a chromosome from damage serving as a DNA cap. Every time cell division occurs, the telomeres shorten. Once it reaches a point of being so small, the cell can no longer divide which eventually leads to it dying. Studies in previous years have linked shorter telomeres with disorders such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia. What the researchers were trying to find in their study was if the length of telomeres factored into young healthy adults obtaining more acute, common illnesses.
In order to support this hypothesis, they gathered a group of 152 healthy adults from the Pittsburgh area ranging from ages 18-55, to conduct the experiment. Their first step was to collect blood from each individual to measure telomere length in white blood cells. Participants were placed in quarantine for six days and were given nasal drops containing a virus that causes the common cold that would infect them within 24 hours. Results of the experiment yielded that 105 of 152 (69%) people were infected with the virus and of that 69%, 33 people (22%) developed a cold.
The results concluded that shorter telomeres in four types of blood cells allowed for a greater chance of being infected. The strongest link occurred in a type of T-cell called CD8CD28-cells. Shorter telomeres in this type of cell was associated with getting a cold and the connection between this relationship grew stronger with increase in the age of the participants. From these results, the researchers inferred that a virus infecting T-cells with shorter telomeres would not make new cells as fast as cells with longer telomeres making it harder for the body to destroy virus-infected cells. Since this data was preliminary, this is only the beginning of research done with telomeres and we are likely to see more done to help establish a definite relationship between telomere length and the common cold and other illnesses.