New test reveals biological age and could predict the onset of Alzheimer's

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A new molecular test can indicate how well a person is ageing and could help predict if a person is at risk of dementia years in advance, according to research published in the journal ‘Genome Biology’.


Researchers at King’s College London have revealed that the genetic test is able to provide a person with an ‘ageing score’ based on genetic markers found in their blood.  


Lead author of the study, Professor James Timmons at King’s College London, said: “Given the biological complexity of the ageing process, until now there has been no reliable way to measure how well a person is ageing compared with their peers. Physical capacity such as strength or onset of disease is often used to assess ‘healthy ageing’ in the elderly but in contrast, we can now measure ageing before symptoms of decline or illness occur.


“We now need to find out more about why these vast differences in ageing occur, with the hope that the test could be used to reduce the risk of developing diseases associated with age.”


A seven-year collaborative study, funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Medical Research Council (MRC) used a process called RNA-profiling to measure and compare gene expression in thousands of human tissue samples.  


The ‘activation’ of 150 genes in the blood, brain and muscle tissue were found to be a hallmark of good health at 65 years of age.


With these findings, researchers could then create a reproducible formula for ‘healthy ageing’ to identify how well a person has been ageing when compared to others born the same year.  


The researchers found an extensive range in ‘biological age’ scores of people born at the same time indicating that a person’s biological age is separate and distinct to his or her chronological age.


Individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease were found to have an altered RNA signature in their blood and a lower healthy age score.


A low score was found to correlate with cognitive decline, implying that the molecular test could translate into a simple blood test to predict those most at risk of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

However, a person’s score was not found to correlate with common lifestyle-associated conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, and is therefore likely to represent a unique rate of ageing largely independent of a person’s lifestyle choices.  


Researchers have suggested that the molecular test could alter cancer screening, enable more suitable donor matching for older organ transplants and could also provide a more efficient way to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-ageing treatments.


Dr Neha Issar-Brown, programme manager for population health sciences at the MRC, added: “Whilst it is natural for our bodies and brains to slow down as we age, premature ageing and the more severe loss of physical and cognitive function can have devastating consequences for the individual and their families, as well as impact more widely upon society and the economy.


“This new test holds great potential as with further research, it may help improve the development and evaluation of treatments that prolong good health in older age.” 


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