The Path to Healthy Aging is in Your Blood
4 Min. Read | September 23, 2021
“By looking at every channel of data, including genetics—inherited and acquired—and numerous biomarkers, we can treat patients proactively instead of reactively. The future isn’t just about living longer, but better— by understanding our risks and mitigating them before we face the consequences of disease.” Dr. Salvatore Viscomi, GoodCell Chief Medical Officer
How measuring inflammation can identify disease risk and prepare you for the future
Biomarkers circulating in your blood, detected by a simple blood draw, can identify risks for developing diseases such as cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. These biomarkers may also point to actions that can promote healthier aging by earlier and more frequent screening, precision therapies or lifestyle changes.
Some novel biomarkers measure inflammation in our bodies. Recent research is finding that inflammation is the common denominator in numerous chronic diseases associated with aging. Other new exciting biomarkers may predict the development of Alzheimer’s in some people. And researchers have also been finding that dynamic changes in the genetics of our blood may promote abnormal inflammation throughout our body.
Detecting Early Warning Signs of Dementia
As one of the leading scourges of aging, Alzheimer’s has drawn the attention of scores of teams around the world looking for ways to predict risk early when intervention could be more successful. Several teams over the past year have reported on biomarkers circulating in the blood that can predict risk for Alzheimer’s or other dementias as much as two decades before symptoms. Researchers at Australia’s Edith Cowan University found that a protein normally found in the brain is released into the bloodstream by the cell damage in the very earliest stages of Alzheimer’s decades before outward symptoms develop.
A Finnish team at the University of Helsinki looked at 15 biomarker proteins in blood that they found were linked to cognitive decline and various forms of dementia, also 20 years in advance of the disease. Most important, six of those proteins can be modified by drugs currently prescribed for other conditions. The other proteins are now targets for discovering new therapies.
Inflammation as the Root of All Evil
New research has linked diseases of aging to inflammation and there is a new term for it: inflammaging. Inflammation serves a vital function – when inflammatory pathways function normally, they can help with healing of injuries and fighting off viruses and other infectious agents, but when the inflammatory systems are dysfunctional because of the amount or type of factors that are released in our blood, it can promote diseases throughout our body such as heart attacks and stroke and lead to a shorter lifespan.
A team of researchers from Stanford and the Buck Institute used machine learning to sort through reams of data gathered from 1,001 people to look for protein biomarkers most closely associated with inflammation. Then after reviewing the individuals’ chronological age and health, they developed an inflammatory age or iAge clock, which they published in the prestigious journal Nature. They found that levels of one immune-signaling protein, or cytokine, CXCL9 as a top contributor correlates most closely with iAGE. When they tested 9 people at least 99 years old, they found the average centenarian had an iAge 40 years younger – they had less of this marker of inflammation.
Markers of Inflammation Can Also Be in Your Dynamic Genetic Makeup
The key genetic indicators of inflammaging are actually found not in your inherited genes, but rather in the mutations acquired as we live, either through normal mistakes cells make when they replicate or through environmental stressors or lifestyle choices like smoking.
One type of acquired mutation process has the moniker CHIP, which stands for the mouth-full name clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential. The last part of the name, indeterminate potential, relates to the fact that CHIP has been linked to increased risk of many different diseases. Researchers have found that people with CHIP have a 4-fold increase in heart disease, a 13-fold increase in blood cancers and a 40 percent increase in risk for dying. People with CHIP can also have a harder time fighting off infections and are prone to auto-immune diseases.
We now have the ability to measure CHIP, which was first identified predominantly in older individuals, but new research is finding that this process can also be found in younger people who are at risk for premature cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disease. Because CHIP changes with age, we can also monitor when it develops and how it’s changing over time. GoodCell plans to offer such a test through physicians in the coming year.
Inflammation Can Be Tamed
Identifying abnormal inflammation whether found via tests for the iAge protein marker or the genetic CHIP test could lead to novel therapies to treat diseases that have been elusive with conventional therapies. New medications targeting the inflammatory pathways may be the solution for some people identified with dysfunctional inflammation. Furthermore, individuals can make lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation such as stopping smoking, losing weight and a healthier diet. Most importantly, more active monitoring of indicators of disease can allow for early detection and targeted treatment.