Imagine a blood test that could spot whether you are ageing too quickly.
New research suggests it's not the stuff of science fiction anymore.
The scientists analysed plasma – the cell-free, fluid part of blood – from more than 4 200 people between the ages of 18 and 95, and found a link between 373 proteins and ageing.
"We've known for a long time that measuring certain proteins in the blood can give you information about a person's health status – lipoproteins for cardiovascular health, for example," said study senior author Tony Wyss-Coray. He's co-director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Stanford University in California.
"But it hasn't been appreciated that so many different proteins' levels – roughly a third of all the ones we looked at – change markedly with advancing age," he added in a university news release.
The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.
"Proteins are the workhorses of the body's constituent cells, and when their relative levels undergo substantial changes, it means you've changed, too," Wyss-Coray explained. "Looking at thousands of them in plasma gives you a snapshot of what's going on throughout the body."
The findings suggest that physical ageing doesn't occur at a steady pace, but is uneven and has three distinct surges – ages 34, 60 and 78.
A blood test in the pipeline
At those ages, there are spikes in levels of specific proteins in the blood with noticeable changes, according to the researchers.
Eventually, a blood test for these proteins might be able to identify people who are ageing more rapidly than normal and at increased risk for age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or heart disease.
Such a test might also help identify drugs or other factors that slow or speed ageing, the study authors said.
However, any clinical use of such a blood test is at least five to 10 years away, the researchers noted.
"Ideally, you'd want to know how virtually anything you took or did affects your physiological age," Wyss-Coray said.
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