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New blood test can measure pace of ageing

The team behind a recent study has developed a new blood test which is able to measure the pace of ageing. Knowing how fast or slow an individual ages could help us tackle ageing-related health issues in the future. 

Ageing and health

As medical treatments and standards of living improve, populations around the world are getting older and older. However, we still know relatively little about ageing and the health problems it can bring. The burden of ageing-related diseases, both on individuals and on society, has demonstrated the need to discover new methods to slow or alter the ageing process.

Previous studies have shown that how quickly or slowly a person ages affects their health. This is called their pace of ageing. However, current methods to measure pace of ageing take years and requires a huge amount of data. This makes it relatively useless in clinical trials.

To address this issue, the scientists behind a recent study, published in eLife, developed a test that can measure an individual’s personal pace of biological ageing on a much faster timescale.

Tracking the pace of ageing

The team used data from 1,037 individuals who have been studied since birth between 1972-1973. This cohort is known as the Dunedin cohort after the New Zealand city where they were born.

The researchers tracked changes in the cohort over time in 19 biomarkers of organ-system integrity. These included declines in the cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems of each individual. The data was collected when the participants were 26, 32, 38 and 45.

Next, the team applied machine-learning tools to genome-wide DNA methylation data from the cohort. For each participant, the algorithms distilled all the data into one single measurement. They found that from just one blood sample, the tool could measure pace of ageing with high reliability. The researchers named this new test DunedinPACE.

Links to disease

The team then applied the DunedinPACE test to additional patient groups, in order to uncover links between pace of ageing and disease. Morbidity, disability and mortality were all associated with a faster pace of ageing. Individuals who rated themselves as having poor health also had faster DunedinPACE levels.

Unsurprisingly, the test found that the pace of ageing accelerated as individuals grew older. However, young adults who had experienced childhood adversity, such as exposure to poverty and domestic violence also had high DunedinPACE levels. As fast pace of ageing is associated with ill-health, these results suggest that in the future, the DunedinPACE test may be used to indicate early signs of disease in the young.

Implications

In conclusion, DunedinPACE represents a completely novel way to measure age. Unlike methylation clocks, which only measure current age, DunedinPACE measures the pace of biological ageing with high precision. However, the data used to develop DunedinPACE’s algorithm was relatively small and from a single country only. Therefore, it would be useful to include data from larger and more diverse samples in further studies.  

It is hoped that, in the future, DunedinPACE can be used to test the efficacy of techniques used to slow down ageing. Similarly, it could also be used to discover processes that accelerate ageing.

First author Daniel Belsky said:

“In sum, DunedinPACE represents a novel measure of aging that can complement existing DNA methylation measures of aging to help advance the frontiers of geroscience.”

Picture credit: Canva


More on these topics

Ageing / Biological Clock / Blood

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