Measuring telomeres: buccal swab or blood-based?

Telomere length measurement can be done a variety of ways on cells throughout the body, but is most often done using a blood or saliva-based method. There are advantages to both, and are likely each appropriate for different clinical and research areas.

Titanovo is the only commercial entity to offer a buccal-swab based, non-invasive method for measuring telomeres, though there are a handful of companies using a cost-prohibitive blood-based telomere length measurement method. A question we often get asked is which method is better? What are the core differences between measuring telomeres by blood and measuring telomeres by saliva?

Aside from being more affordable, we find strong evidence that using buccal cells through a nylon swab is a viable proxy to measure telomeres throughout the body. This is because we use a special nylon swab that consists of 2-layers: the top layer is a nylon swab, capable of collecting buccal cells from the surface of the inner cheek, while the bottom layer is cotton swab that collect saliva with leukocytes, naturally occurring in the mouth. This provides us with a spectrum of different cells and their combination is a strong representation of the whole body telomere length.

Meanwhile blood-based methods only measure telomeres on leukocytes, as opposed to both leukocytes AND buccal cells.

Regardless, telomere length is correlated in various cells throughout the body, as evidenced by this paper published in Nature and widely cited: «Telomeres shorten at equivalent rates in somatic tissue of adults».

Of course the other advantages of using buccal cells is that it allows for non-invasive testing and inexpensive sample collection.

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