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Esslingen scientists to recalculate human age

The actual age of a person not only depends on the date he or she was born. Biological age, which is far more important in determining lifespan, can so far only be estimated rather than precisely calculated. The European MARK-AGE research project is working on finding a solution to this problem. Esslingen plays a major role in this project for two reasons: the structure of the city and the company BioTeSys.

Some 80-year-olds are so fit that they are still able to win physical fitness competitions; others, however, already have difficulties walking at the age of 50. It would very much appear that the ageing process progresses differently in different individuals. But what factors explain the differences between the biological and chronological age of people?
Dr. Jürgen Bernhardt, CEO of BioTeSys © private
Is the difference exclusively due to a person's genetic makeup or do environmental influences or personal lifestyle play a far greater role? The EU-funded MARK-AGE research project, which involves 26 research groups from 14 countries, is focusing on these and other ageing-related questions. The project also involves researchers into ageing from the University of Constance and Hohenheim as well as from the Esslingen-based company BioTeSys GmbH.

In view of increasing life expectancy, the process of ageing is becoming an important issue from a scientific point of view. “MARK-AGE aims to define criteria to make it possible to reliably determine a person’s biological age,” said Dr. Jürgen Bernhardt, CEO of BioTeSys. Knowing a person’s biological age would enable the specific medical treatment of people in whom age-related alterations occur earlier than normal, in the hope that the occurrence of certain diseases can not only be delayed, but ideally completely prevented.

An ideal city for the researchers into ageing

MARK-AGE is currently recruiting 3,700 people from 35 to 75 years of age from all over Europe, including 400 in Germany. The project is also recruiting people with typical age-related diseases such as diabetes or hypertension. “We not only want to focus our investigations on healthy people, but we also want to obtain a representative cross-section of the European population,” explained Christiane Schön, food scientist at BioTeSys and in charge of BioTeSys’ contribution to the MARK-AGE project. Only people suffering from acute cancer, chronic liver inflammation (hepatitis) or HIV infection are excluded from the study for scientific reasons. “This broad approach enables us to identify age-associated biomarkers that are valid for the general public,” highlights Bernhardt.
One of BioTeSys’ responsibilities is the recruitment of the German study collective. “This is a huge challenge, both for organisational and technical reasons,” said Bernhardt referring to the fact that blood, and urine samples along with mouth mucosa smears have to be obtained and prepared for subsequent analyses. In addition, questionnaires on the daily habits of the study participants have to be distributed, analysed and encoded.

For many years, BioTeSys has been successfully carrying out clinical trials in the fields of nutrition and cosmetics. “We have built up a lot of experience. And we can now benefit from our previous experience in the ongoing MARK-AGE project,” said Bernhardt. Esslingen, where BioTeSys has its headquarters, was chosen as a recruiting centre. “The study protocol required a medium-sized city in which all business sectors are represented – from industry to commerce, universities and agriculture. And Esslingen fulfils these requirements almost perfectly,” said Schön. The feedback from the inhabitants of Esslingen is excellent. “100 people contacted us after reading an article about the project in the local newspaper,” said Bernhardt who is sure he will be able to recruit the remaining 300 volunteers. “The city of Esslingen is right behind us. After all, the results of the MARK-AGE project are of immense public interest.”

Preventive medicine enters a new era

BioTeSys is not only in charge of recruiting volunteers and collecting samples. The company is also involved in the analysis of the different biomarkers. Numerous parameters have to be determined for every study participant, including classical blood pictures as well as oxidative stress markers. For comparative reasons, each work group is focusing on a limited number of markers. BioTeSys is in charge of determining the intracellular vitamin content in the mouth mucosa of all 3,700 MARK-AGE study participants. The test was developed by BioTeSys and is currently the only of one its kind available. “This tests helps us to obtain information on the actual vitamin supply of cells,” explains Bernhart. The vitamin concentration in blood does not always correlate with the intracellular vitamin status. “In a study involving undernourished people, we have already discovered that there are huge differences between the people examined, including genetic differences,” said Bernhardt.

All biomarkers analysed in the MARK-AGE project have already previously been associated with ageing processes. However, the variability between individual markers is so great that it has previously been impossible to develop a reliable test to determine an individual’s biological age. MARK-AGE now hopes to investigate the large number of different parameters in a common context. “The use of biostatistical methods will open up the possibility of potentially detecting new correlations in the complex mechanisms of ageing,” explains Bernhardt. MARK-AGE’s long-term goal is to go one step further: the researchers are hoping to use the biomarkers to develop a formula that will enable them to determine the biological age of a person as precisely as possible. For preventive medicine, this would herald the onset of a new era. 

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/esslingen-scientists-to-recalculate-human-age