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Posted: November 25, 2008

Feeling Older Lately? Thinking Younger May Actually Impact Aging

"You're only as old as you feel," aging adults like to tell one another. In fact, there may be something to that.

Scientists at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, California, say they have identified for the first time biomarkers of aging which are highly predictive of both chronological and physiological age. Their research appears in the online edition of the journal Aging Cell.

 

Biomarkers are biochemical features that can be used to measure the progress of disease or the effects of treatment. The Buck research involves nematode worms, micro-arrays that measure changes in gene expression, and complex computer algorithms. This is the first step toward identifying similar biomarkers in humans which would provide a means of scientifically validating anti-aging therapies.

 

Chronological and physiological ages are rarely in sync, the researchers say. Determining chronological age in both worms and humans is easy – simply count forward from birth.

 

Determining physiological age remains subjective because it is based on how someone looks or functions. Some 70-year-old humans function at the level of those in their 50's, while others join the frail elderly sooner than would be expected.

 

C. elegans, the nematode worm, is a similar creature. With an average lifespan of three weeks, some nematodes remain spry much longer than their similarly-aged brethren, while others show signs of premature aging.

 

Buck researchers were able to predict the age of the worms by doing whole-genome expression profiles of 104 individual wild-type worms covering the entire nematode lifespan and correlating that profiling with age-related behavior and survival. The study revealed a suite of genes that are actively involved in the aging process. The research was the largest study of aging utilizing gene profiling to date.

 

"This is the first evidence that physiological age can be predicted non-subjectively," said Simon Melov, PhD, Buck faculty member and lead author of the study. "This is a first step; our results were not perfect, but we were able to predict the ages of the animals 70% of the time, which is far better than anything that has been done before."

 

The findings have major implications for age research in humans. Examining biomarkers over time would provide a scientific baseline for clinical trials of anti-aging medicines, which is currently impossible to determine given the lengthy lifetime of human beings. The technology would also provide a means of determining whether someone is aging faster or slower than would normally be expected.

 

Melov and his Buck Institute colleagues are considering several options for further studies. The next step is to do a larger study involving wild-type nematodes to see if the same suite of genes remains active in the aging process and to see if the predictive rate can be increased.

 

Melov also plans on utilizing this biomarker technology in studies involving humans who undertake various forms of exercise over a set length of time. Melov published a study in 2007 showing that regular strength training reversed aspects of aging in skeletal muscle in healthy seniors.

 

"I am optimistic that we will be able to pursue this line of research further," said Melov. "Research into the biology of aging in humans has been hampered by the lack of irrefutable biomarkers that correlate with the aging process. I am confident that at some point there will be a non-subjective method of determining how old someone is with a high level of confidence."

 

(Article courtesy of ConsumerAffairs.com)

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