Secrets of youth, based on prevention

June 26, 2014
Secrets of youth, based on prevention

Metabolites found in our blood are linked to ageing and can signpost the risk of developing age-related diseases. This may help avoid such risks and reduce the rate at which we age biologically.

We age in two ways. There is the ageing we count by clock and calendar. And then there is biological ageing. The latter is written into our genes. But, it is also influenced by our lifestyle and history. And while we cannot stop time ticking by, there may be ways to test for our biological age and take steps to slow it down. Now, the EU-funded project,EurHEALTHAgeing, due to be completed in 2015, aims to track our biological age and future health prospects, by looking for special tell-tale molecules in our blood. Ultimately, it may be possible to find steps to slow our biological age down.

"We are trying to predict healthy ageing by taking a blood sample and looking at certain compounds in there," says scientific coordinator Ana Valdes, a senior lecturer in statistical genetics at King's College London and associate professor at the faculty of medicine and health sciences at the University of Nottingham, in the UK. "We hope that in a few years we will be able to look at your molecular profile and tell you about your risks for certain disease. And whether you will age healthily or not," she tells

Genes have a say in how we age, but much more significant is the wrapping that goes around those genes. This wrapping includes special chemical groups that can cloak our genes, in a process called DNA methylation. And cloaking alters which genes are active at any given time. What determines methylation, and thus gene activation, is our lifestyle. Things like diet, experiences, exercise, our environment, our exposure to pollutants. Such, so called epigenetic changes can affect our biological age—whether we age faster or slower, healthily or unhealthily.

By examining special biomarker molecules in the blood—such as molecules resulting from human metabolism reactions, referred to as metabolites— project researchers hope to spot tell-tale signs of these . Deciphering these molecular imprints, knowing what risks they are signposting and then taking steps to avoid these risks could help us age slower and better.

"We cannot yet offer a diagnosis, but the idea would be to find a panel of metabolites that can predict [ageing]. You take a , look at the DNA and say what your risks are," says Valdes. "We could tell someone in their 40s that they have these markers and are at a higher risk or cardiovascular disease. And that they would benefit most from intervention, which might be weight loss, reducing salt intake or whatever it may be," she explains to

Project researchers have already discovered one particular metabolite that is strongly linked to age. But it is also linked to lung function, bone mineral density and birth weight. The discovery came when the blood of 6,055 people was examined, all of whom came from a registry of twins in the UK. Stored blood samples from a large group of Finnish people born in 1966 and in 1986 are also being used in the search for clues, along with a group of people born in Hertfordshire, in the UK, in the 1930s.

One expert commends the project's approach. It offers a path to "better insight into the traits that influence the ," says Wolfgang Wagner, leader of the stem cell biology and cellular engineering research group at RWTH Aachen University Medical School, in Germany. "This may also help to improve healthy ageing," he adds. He recentlyreported a way of testing the of blood by looking at DNA methylation changes. And he holds an alternative view to ageing than the mere increase of unfavourable cellular changes: "Ageing might rather be considered as a developmental process rather than accumulation of stochastic cellular defects," he tells

Another expert welcomes such work, which can contribute to a better understanding of longevity "We must figure out why some people live so long, that is the secret we must reveal," says Gil Atzmon, an associate professor in the division of endocrinology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, News York, USA. "We think it is about the interaction between our DNA and the environment. If there is a miscommunication between where your DNA predicts you to live and your environment, you will die earlier," says Atzmon. "When we understand why some people live so long and healthily and the interaction between our environment and DNA, then we can translate that into a treatment for people who don't live long, healthy lives. That could be a drug, a supplement, it can be food, sunlight or whatever," he concludes.

Explore further: Rate of aging may be determined in the womb and linked to birthweight, study reveals

Related Stories

Rate of aging may be determined in the womb and linked to birthweight, study reveals

July 8, 2013
Scientists have found that key metabolites in blood – chemical 'fingerprints' left behind as a result of early molecular changes before birth or in infancy – could provide clues to a person's long-term overall health ...

Chronic inflammation accelerates ageing

June 25, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Inflammation could be a key factor in the ageing process academics at Newcastle University have found, and the discovery could help scientists identify new ways of delaying ageing.

Key genes that switch off with aging highlighted as potential targets for anti-aging therapies

April 19, 2012
Researchers at King's College London, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, have identified a group of 'ageing' genes that are switched on and off by natural mechanisms called epigenetic factors, influencing ...

Spanish and Japanese centenarians reveal a genetic key to longevity

May 9, 2014
The genes of 894 men and women over the age of one hundred in Spain and Japan have revealed that the secret to longevity, at least in southern Europe, lies in a variant on chromosome 9p21.3, which had already been associated ...

New evidence for epigenetic effects of diet on healthy aging

December 6, 2012
New research in human volunteers has shown that molecular changes to our genes, known as epigenetic marks, are driven mainly by ageing but are also affected by what we eat.

Anti-diabetic drug metformin slows aging and lengthens lifespan

June 2, 2014
A study by Belgian doctoral researcher Wouter De Haes (KU Leuven) and colleagues provides new evidence that metformin, the world's most widely used anti-diabetic drug, slows ageing and increases lifespan.

Recommended for you

Scientists provide insight into genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders

July 21, 2017
A study by scientists at the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) is providing insight into the genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. In this research, the first mouse model of a mutation ...

Scientists identify new way cells turn off genes

July 19, 2017
Cells have more than one trick up their sleeve for controlling certain genes that regulate fetal growth and development.

South Asian genomes could be boon for disease research, scientists say

July 18, 2017
The Indian subcontinent's massive population is nearing 1.5 billion according to recent accounts. But that population is far from monolithic; it's made up of nearly 5,000 well-defined sub-groups, making the region one of ...

Mutant yeast reveals details of the aberrant genomic machinery of children's high-grade gliomas

July 18, 2017
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital biologists have used engineered yeast cells to discover how a mutation that is frequently found in pediatric brain tumor high-grade glioma triggers a cascade of genomic malfunctions.

Late-breaking mutations may play an important role in autism

July 17, 2017
A study of nearly 6,000 families, combining three genetic sequencing technologies, finds that mutations that occur after conception play an important role in autism. A team led by investigators at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Newly identified genetic marker may help detect high-risk flu patients

July 17, 2017
Researchers have discovered an inherited genetic variation that may help identify patients at elevated risk for severe, potentially fatal influenza infections. The scientists have also linked the gene variant to a mechanism ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 27, 2014
"This wrapping includes special chemical groups that can cloak our genes, in a process called DNA methylation. And cloaking alters which genes are active at any given time. What determines methylation, and thus gene activation, is our lifestyle."

Detailed in Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model.

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.