We all measure our age in years, but results of a study lead by researchers at Kings College in London found what may be a better measurement of age – your genes.
Using RNA-profiling to measure and compare gene expression in thousands of tissue samples, the researchers were able to develop what amounts to “a biomarker for biological age” and an accurate classifier of young versus old muscle and brain tissue.
“Most people accept that all 60 year-olds are not the same, but there has been no reliable test for underlying ‘biological age,’” said James Timmons, of King’s College London and lead author of the new study.
Essentially the researchers have come up with what they say is a better measurement for age, recognizing that some of us age better than others and a look at these biomarkers shows it. Using this biomarker panel and scoring individuals based on these 150 RNA markers, could help identify people who are more at risk for age-related diseases, according to researchers. The panel may also offer better ways to gauge the effectiveness of anti-aging treatments.
“This new test holds great potential … it may help improve the development and evaluation of treatments that prolong good health in older age,” said Dr Neha Issar-Brown, a program manager for population health sciences at the UK’s Medical Research Council, which helped fund the study.
While the research offers a promising new way to measure how we age, it doesn’t look at genes associated with disease or extreme longevity, which has been the focus of much of the research around aging. While several small studies have found genetic variants that may play a role in healthy aging, larger broader genome wide studies have yet to find variants strongly associated with longevity. And yet genetics clearly plays an important role, but so too does environment and lifestyle.
For instance, some studies have focused at so-called “Blue Zones” – regions where people tend to live long lives – and parsing out the kind of environment, social interactions and diet that might contribute to healthy living. But each of these efforts add more to our understanding around aging, chipping away at uncovering just what distinguishes those who “age well” from those who don’t, and why. Some researchers are even changing how we study aging in general, looking at it in the same way as we look at disease, and, like disease, approaching it as something that can be treated.
A wonderful new article in Science looking at a proposed clinical trial to test the drug Metformin, which has long been used to treat type 2 diabetes, as a treatment for several age-related diseases. The proposal, by a group of respected experts in human aging, is important because it pushes the FDA into new territory. Instead of looking at a single disease, the agency would evaluate a treatment for multiple diseases and frankly some of the unavoidable consequences of getting older.
This effort isn’t about ending aging, the researchers say. As one of the researchers, S. Jay Olshansky, of the University of Illinois, said in the Science article: “The goal is the extension of the period of healthy life.”