According to research published in the journal Genome Biology, scientists at King’s College have detected a ‘gene signature’ which could be used to measure the ageing process more accurately and predict the onset of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The researchers developed a genetic profile of healthy ageing by looking at the RNA (which is the molecule that carries genetic information around a cell) of 65-year-old volunteers. With this data they were able to create a ‘healthy age gene score’ which was used to compare individuals and predict their individual health risks.
The study’s lead author, James Timmons, explains the findings and the practical uses of the gene signature.
‘We use birth year, or chronological age, to judge everything from insurance premiums to whether you get a medical procedure or not. Most people accept that all 60-year-olds are not the same, but there has been no reliable test for underlying “biological age”.
‘Our discovery provides the first robust molecular “signature” of biological age in humans and should be able to transform the way that “age” is used to make medical decisions. This includes identifying those more likely to be at risk of Alzheimer’s, as catching those at “early” risk is key to evaluating potential treatments.’
The researchers demonstrated that Alzheimer’s patients had an altered RNA signature, and as a result a lower healthy age gene score in their system, which suggests a link with the disease. Because early intervention is crucial in the treatment in Alzheimer’s, the study’s authors say that their scoring system could be used to determine entry into clinical trials for preventative treatments years in advance.