Chronological age is now generally accepted by academics as being a poor means to identify how a person is aging. Far more useful is a person’s biological age in evaluating how fast someone is aging.

Biological age is assessed using indicators known as aging biomarkers, and as rejuvenation biotechnology draws ever nearer, there is an urgent need for more effective biomarkers. As well as finding effective biomarkers, another challenge in the field of aging research is seeking consensus among academics as to which biomarkers are the best ones to use.

Ok, but why does that matter?

Being able to accurately assess how someone is aging could help them and their healthcare provider to optimize their personal health strategy. It could help to highlight potential problem areas of health before they become serious, for example.

Imagine a biomarker system that was able to show that a particular organ was aging faster than the others in a patient; this could allow a doctor to devise a preventative health strategy to help maintain their patients health.  

The other important use for aging biomarkers is to determine the efficacy of therapies that address the aging processes, such as those employed by rejuvenation biotechnology to prevent or reverse age-related diseases.  

A new biomarker system

Today we will talk about a new study and progress in developing a system that can determine the functional age of cells[1]. The researchers lead by Jude M. Phillip have reported success in creating a system that can assess a wide range of cellular and molecular factors in one comprehensive biomarker panel.

Unfortunately, once again the research is behind a paywall; you can read about our views on this in our interview with Alexandra Elbakyan the owner of Sci-Hub, a website devoted to removing paywalls and barriers to sharing scientific knowledge.

The results of the study show that the biophysical properties of cells, such as cell movement and structural features, are good indicators of functional age, perhaps even better than the factors cells secrete as their gene expression changes with age.

The team examined dermal cells taken from beneath the skin surface from both male and female patients between 2 and 96 years of age. They combined some of the typical biomolecular hallmarks of aging and added additional biophysical biomarkers of aging cells all in one study.

A new focus on functional cell age

Most researchers thus far have focused on tissue and organ function, secreted factors, and genetics and epigenetics as biomarkers. However the cells themselves have received less attention with the exception of senescent cell biomarkers.  

The researchers aimed to correct this shortfall by examining the biophysical properties of cells, including their ability to move, their flexibility, and their structure. The reason they focused on this was their understanding that age-associated changes, such as loss of muscle strength, decline of lung capacity, and so on, are secondary to changes in the cells themselves; thus, they aimed to justify the value of cell-based biomarkers to assess a person’s biological age.

The researchers were able to divide patient samples into three groups: those whose cells reflected their chronological age, those who cells were functionally older, and those whose cells were functionally younger. The researchers also demonstrated that the biophysical properties of cells were a more accurate measure of age relative to methods that analyse cell secretions, cell energy, and methylation patterns.

Conclusion

We welcome the addition of another powerful aging biomarker which could be added to a comprehensive panel to determine the efficacy of interventions against the aging processes as well as help physicians maintain patient health. Such approaches could be combined with other functional aging tests such as the H-Scan or the updated version being developed as part of a fundraising project at Lifespan.io. 

The work could also potentially help clinicians create more successful skin grafts by matching the cell characteristics of the donor and the graft site. Other potential applications include the toxicology screening of cosmetics as well as predicting the progression of age-related diseases.

The results need to be tested in larger -scale studies. but so far the results are robust and show great promise. Excellent news, as the more aging biomarkers we have the better for research.  

Literature

[1] Phillip, J.M., Wu, P., Gilkes, D.M. et al.Biophysical and biomolecular determination of cellular age in humans. Nature Biomedical Engineering Article number: 0093 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41551-017-0093

CategoryBlog, Research news
  1. July 25, 2017

    Do you think a Lifespan.io fundraiser for the development of a Spherical Nucleic Acid for detecting one or more of these biomarkers might be a good idea?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_nucleic_acid

    “The FDA-cleared Verigene System, commercialized by Nanosphere, is now sold in over twenty countries. This technology allows the detection of markers for many diseases, including infectious disease and cancers, with a sensitivity and selectivity far exceeding that of conventional diagnostic tools. Indeed, the Verigene is transforming patient care by transitioning molecular diagnostic screening from centralized, often remote, analytical laboratories to the local hospital setting, which dramatically decreases the time required for diagnosis. Further, the Verigene has enabled the identification of new markers for Alzheimer’s disease,[26] HIV,[32][33] and cardiac disease[34][35][36] as well as new tests for the early detection of a variety of forms of prostate cancer.”

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