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Markers that reveal the correct biological age

Researchers at the University of Ulm have discovered a number of proteins that reveal the biological age of a person. The scientists now hope to use these biomarkers in clinical applications. These biomarkers might be used to adapt the treatment of older people to their individual biological age.

This group of proteins was identified by Karl Lenhard Rudolph, head of the Max Planck Research Group for Stem Cell Ageing, Hong Jiang, a doctoral student from Hangzhou (China), and Harald Mischak from the company Masaiques Diagnostics in Hanover, Germany. These markers are proteins that are released by cells with damaged DNA strands and telomer dysfunction.

This substantiates the telomer hypothesis

Telomer shortening destabilises chromosomes, and cells lose their ability to divide. A: Metaphase chromosomes; the telomers are dyed red. Some chromosome ends lack telomer signals (thin arrows), which cause chromosomes to fuse (thick arrows). B: Fused chromosomes breaking apart during anaphase in intestinal tumour pre-stages. C: Simplified model of cell ageing that is caused by telomer shortening. As the telomer lengths decrease substantially, DNA damage signalling pathways will be activated, including the p53/p21 signalling pathways. As a result, the cells are no longer able to divide and die. (Photo: Rudolph)
This substantiates Rudolph’s long-held hypothesis that the accumulation of DNA damage contributes to the ageing of cells and tissue. A particular form of DNA damage is the shortening of telomers, which are the end pieces of human chromosomes. Telomers are needed to keep the chromosome stable and protect it. In the course of ageing, telomers become so short that they lose their protective function. As a result, the chromosomes become unstable and the cells irreversibly lose their ability to divide.

The same blood markers substantiate Rudolph’s hypothesis

Prof. Karl Lenhard Rudolph. (Photo: University of Ulm)
Rudolph and Hong Jiang found out that the shortening of the telomers along with DNA damage, which they induced through radiation, led to an overlapping reaction in the human cells. In both cases, the affected cells released marker proteins. “One interesting observation was that the same proteins can also be measured in human blood and that a significant increase can be shown to be associated with ageing and age-related diseases,” said Rudolph.

The biomarkers can be of use in medical applications. In addition, they can also be used to test behavioural intervention, food supplements and pharmacological therapies to delay the ageing processes.

The Ulm researchers’ discovery is quite important in terms of the demographic development in Germany and other countries. Thanks to medical progress, improved hygiene, food and better living conditions, people in Germany and other first world countries have far greater chances of becoming 70, 80 or older than was the case just 100 years ago.

The number of age-related diseases increases

There is another side to this positive development, however: an increasing number of people are suffering from age-related diseases. In hospitals, medical doctors find it difficult to decide which therapies older people can cope with. This is particularly true for therapies that require people to have a very good ability to regenerate, for example from surgery and the radio- or chemotherapy of tumours.

Chronological age does not necessarily correspond with biological age

The Ulm researchers’ discovery might be rather useful in determining the biological age of a person because one’s chronological age (in years) does not necessarily correspond to one's biological age because some older people have an exceptional ability to regenerate, even better than some younger people. The development of markers would provide the researchers with information about a person’s biological age and regenerative ability and be used for the individualised therapy of a patient. In addition, these markers might provide information about a person’s risk of developing age-related diseases and be used for the clinical testing of preventive measures.

Source: University of Ulm, 12 August 2008 (wp – 18 August 2008)
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/markers-that-reveal-the-correct-biological-age