In a study published in the October 21 issue of Genome Biology*, a team of scientists from UCLA reveal their latest research into the human body’s biological clock. The preliminary findings of the study suggest promising advancements in the field of anti-aging, as the researchers believe they have found a way to measure the age of human tissues.
The team of researchers, led by human genetics professor Steven Horvath, used methylation to develop an epigenetic clock to measure the effects of aging on various bodily tissues. Methylation is a natural process in which DNA is altered over time in response to aging. The team used over 8,000 tissue samples to identify 353 DNA markers in 51 types of cells and tissues. These markers change throughout an individual’s lifetime, from birth until death. The markers were then used to create an age-predicting software that can be used to assess the condition and disease potential in most cell and tissue types.
To give you some idea of the implications of this research, Horvath’s team discovered that women’s breast tissue ages at a faster rate than the rest of their bodies. Cancerous tissue is, on average, 36 years older than other tissues from the same body.
Right now the study purely proves a correlation, not a causative effect. This means that we know aging and disease go together, but we don’t know which causes the other. Will this research lead to a “fountain of youth”? Anything is possible. But right now the hope is that we now have a powerful diagnostic tool to aid in the prevention or early treatment of age-related diseases.
In the near future, we may be able to compare various tissue samples from one patient, and use the results to fight disease. For example, if we see accelerated aging in one tissue, we can begin looking for causes of that to fight impeding disease – or begin early treatment, if necessary.
In the more distant future, this new research could provide more insight into how and why we age, and lead to exciting advancements in the anti-aging field of medicine.