The ability to predict disease may sound unreal, but researchers believe they may have found a tool that can help them predict when in someone’s life disease is most likely to occur. This new biological clock was developed by scientists as UCLA looking to get a better idea of how our body ages and what that age indicates for the future.
Steve Horvath, the lead author of the study and bioinformatician at UCLA, worked with other researchers to develop a way to use DNA to determine the age of tissue within the body.
After scouring more than 8,000 DNA samples from 51 different tissues and cells, they came up with a way to measure DNA methylation, which is the process by which genes are controlled and changed by the body to serve a new purpose.
The researchers discovered how to use DNA methylation, or DNAm, to determine the age of tissue within the body. They found that despite the fact that different parts of our body are all the same age in years, some parts age much more rapidly than others.
Looking at Tissue
Breast tissue in women, for example, typically tests two to three years older than the woman’s chronological age. Researches suggested this might be the reason that breast cancer is the cancer that most commonly afflicts women.
In the same regard, embryonic stem cells have an age of essentially zero when measured. UCLA has applied for a provisional patent for the DNAm biological clock.
By using this technology and comparing the age of certain tissues to the individuals’ chronological age, scientists may one day be able to determine which organs are aging at a rapid rate and are therefore more likely to experience disease.
According to the study, our bodies age at different rates throughout our life.
“The clock’s ticking rate isn’t constant,” Horvath said. “It ticks much faster when we’re born and growing from children into teenagers, then slows to a constant rate when we reach 20.”
Horvath and the other researchers involved in the study, which was published in the journal Genome Biology, are looking to see whether or not this knowledge of tissue age can determine the effect that supposed anti-aging medications and solutions are actually doing their job. For now, though, they are still working through the mechanisms of measuring tissue age and determining how it impacts our body’s health.