Within our cells, our DNA is organized into structures known as chromosomes. Telomeres are short repeating sequences of DNA, located at the end of our chromosomes that help to protect our genetic material. Throughout our lives, many of our cells will replicate and divide to replace other cells that have died. When our cells divide, our telomeres get incrementally shorter—meaning that the length of our telomeres is often correlated with our chronological age. If telomeres get too short, they can impair how a cell functions. This means that shortened telomeres can contribute to a variety of disease states. Fortunately, there are naturally-occurring biological processes that repair and lengthen telomeres, including the enzyme telomerase. For a more detailed, but general overview of telomeres and telomerase, click here.
Research suggests that telomere shortening can be accelerated by chronic stress, but can also be buffered or slowed by supportive psychological and social factors. This is what we will be exploring in this study.