A study published in Genome Biology discovered a signature of healthy ageing that could help detect Alzheimer’s disease decades prior to the onset of symptoms.
A new study, published in the open access journal, Genome Biology, may hold the key to predicting Alzheimer’s disease. The study, lead by James Timmons of King’s College, examined the RNA of healthy 65 year olds in order to develop a signature of 150 RNA genes that suggested “healthy ageing”.
This signature was detected with genetics probes produced by Affymetrix (NASDAQ:AFFX), a California-based biotechnology company. From this combination of genes, researchers calculated a healthy age gene score. This score has proved to be a reliable predictor for risk of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Variations in the score seem to account for differences in age-related health outcomes.
A more accurate predictor: chronological age versus gene score
Timmins points out that even though there’s a difference between biological age and chronological age, the latter often wins out, just because its easier to pinpoint. “We use birth year, or chronological age, to judge everything from insurance premiums to whether you get a medical procedure or not,” Timmons says. “Most people accept that all 60 year olds are not the same, but there has been no reliable test for underlying ‘biological age’.”
His study presents a possible alternative to this unreliable measure. He explains: “Our discovery provides the first robust molecular ‘signature’ of biological age. . . 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.”
Potential for Alzheimer’s prevention
Timmins’ study illustrated that patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s diseases had an altered healthy ageing RNA signature in their blood, suggesting a strong connection between the two. Researchers suggest that this signature could be used to test consumers who have a high risk of Alzheimer’s.
Such a test would be key, as researchers now hypothesize that the disease may begin to develop decades prior to any symptom development. Early detection could significantly slow the onset of these symptoms and, potentially, even work to prevent them entirely. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, an early version of this test may be primed for clinical trials as early as next year.
The early warning gene signature study has implications for a broad range of age-related health issues, spanning well beyond the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. Although gene sequences typically remain constant over the course of a person’s life, RNA activity changes as you age. Detecting these molecular changes offers a whole host of insights into the body’s process of ageing.
This is of particular importance to the new trend towards personalized medicine. By identifying a genetic signature, and monitoring how it morphs over time, medical professionals can tailor treatments to an individual’s personal genetic signature. This has the potential to radically transform the way we think about the role of preventative medicine and ageing.
Beyond that, the study also introduces a range of moral, financial, and policy decisions.
“It raises a number questions, no doubt, and strenuous debate, but we are judged by our age already so this might be a smarter way of doing it,” the BBC quotes Timmons explaining . “You might decide not to pay so much into your pension and enjoy your life as it is now.”
Securities Disclosure: I, Morag McGreevey, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.