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Blood test detects biological age, risk of dementia

14 September 2015

By Chris Hardy

Appeared in BioNews 819

A blood test designed to assess how well somebody is ageing could be used to predict whether or not they are likely to develop certain illnesses, like Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers based at King's College London took muscle-tissue samples from healthy 65-year-olds, and were able to identify 150 genes associated with healthy ageing. The activity of these genes working together, termed a 'gene signature', reliably distinguished whether somebody was young or old.

Lead author Professor James Timmons, said: '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".'

Using this procedure in a sample of 70 Swedish patients, the researchers noted that, despite being the same age, there were large differences in this gene signature. This gene signature was also present in other samples, including skin and brain tissue.

'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,' said Timmons.

Importantly, people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease also had an altered gene signature. 'This is the first blood test of its kind that has shown that the same set of molecules are regulated in both the blood and the brain regions associated with dementia,' Timmons added.

However, an article published on the NHS Choices website argued that any firm conclusions about treatment or diagnosis would be premature, stating: 'Overall, the study is of interest, but it is too soon to suggest to the general public that they could have a blood test to determine their age and risk of types of dementia such as Alzheimer's.'

The research was published in the journal Genome Biology.


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A genetic test based on 31 markers could be used to predict at what age an individual is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease...
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Researchers looking at multiple genes have developed risk scores that could identify those most likely to develop Alzheimer's disease in later life...
21 December 2015 - by Dr Ashley Cartwright 
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07 December 2015 - by Chris Hardy 
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05 May 2015 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
A genetic driver of the ageing process has been discovered by creating cells that mimic Werner's syndrome, a very rare disease that causes premature ageing...
02 February 2015 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
A genetic variant may not only help some people live longer, but also changes the way their brain ages, a study suggests....
01 December 2014 - by Chris Hardy 
Common variants of immune-related genes have been linked with memory performance...
26 August 2014 - by Claire Downes 
Researchers have identified a connection between DNA methylation and Alzheimer's disease, gaining a further understanding into the underlying causes of this neurodegenerative condition....
08 April 2013 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
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