Toxins in the environment might make you older than your years

May 28, 2014

Why are some 75-year-olds downright spry while others can barely get around? Part of the explanation, say researchers writing in the Cell Press journal Trends in Molecular Medicine on May 28, is differences from one person to the next in exposure to harmful substances in the environment, chemicals such as benzene, cigarette smoke, and even stress.

While the birth date on your driver's license can tell you your , that might mean little in terms of the biological of your body and cells. The researchers say that what we need now is a better understanding of the chemicals involved in aging and biomarkers to measure their effects.

"The rate of physiologic, or molecular, aging differs between individuals in part because of exposure to 'gerontogens', i.e., environmental factors that affect aging," said Norman Sharpless from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We believe just as an understanding of carcinogens has informed cancer biology, so will an understanding of gerontogens benefit the study of aging. By identifying and avoiding gerontogens, we will be able to influence aging and life expectancy at a public health level."

In the future, blood tests evaluating biomarkers of molecular age might be used to understand differences amongst individuals in aging rates. Those tests might measure key pathways involved in the process of cellular senescence or chemical modifications to DNA. In fact, Sharpless said in the interest of full disclosure that he has founded a company to commercialize of aging.

From a perspective, is likely the most important gerontogen, Sharpless said. Cigarettes are linked with cancers but also with atherosclerosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and other diseases associated with age. UV radiation from the sun makes us older too, and Sharpless and his colleagues recently showed that chemotherapy treatment is also a strong gerontogen. With the aid of a mouse model that they developed, his team is prepared to study these gerontogens and others in much greater detail.

The researchers call for a concerted research effort to understand the clinical uses for molecular tests of aging as well as the epidemiology of accelerated aging.

"We believe the comparison of molecular markers of aging to clinical outcomes should begin in earnest," Sharpless said. For example, he asked, can biomarkers to aging predict toxicity from surgery or chemotherapy in patients in whom chronological age is already a known risk factor?

Sharpless does caution against making tests of molecular age available to consumers and patients directly. "The potential for miscommunication and other harm seems real," he said.

Explore further: Test detects molecular marker of aging in humans

More information: Paper: Trends in Molecular Medicine, Sorrentino et al.: "Defining the toxicology of aging"

Related Stories

Test detects molecular marker of aging in humans

June 16, 2009

In 2004, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center announced a crucial discovery in the understanding of cellular aging. They found that as cells and tissues age, ...

A mouse model to evaluate potential age-promoting compounds

December 16, 2013

While there are well-established mouse models to identify cancer-causing agents, similar models are not available to readily test and identify age-promoting agents. Recently, a mouse strain (p16LUC mice) was developed that ...

Team shows cancer chemotherapy accelerates 'molecular aging'

March 28, 2014

Physicians have long suspected that chemotherapy can accelerate the aging process in patients treated for cancer. Using a test developed at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to determine molecular aging, UNC oncologists ...

Researchers examine intersection of aging, chronic disease

May 15, 2014

A new collection of articles appearing in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences examine how the basic biology of aging drives chronic disease. Together, they highlight the value of ...

Recommended for you

Basic research fuels advanced discovery

August 26, 2016

Clinical trials and translational medicine have certainly given people hope and rapid pathways to cures for some of mankind's most troublesome diseases, but now is not the time to overlook the power of basic research, says ...

New method creates endless supply of kidney precursor cells

August 25, 2016

Salk Institute scientists have discovered the holy grail of endless youthfulness—at least when it comes to one type of human kidney precursor cell. Previous attempts to maintain cultures of the so-called nephron progenitor ...

New avenue for understanding cause of common diseases

August 25, 2016

A ground-breaking Auckland study could lead to discoveries about many common diseases such as diabetes, cancer and dementia. The new finding could also illuminate the broader role of the enigmatic mitochondria in human development.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.