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European-wide search for biomarkers of ageing

Physical activity in the fresh air, healthy nutrition, less stress, more relaxation and no permanent sleep deficiency – is there a secret recipe for eternal youth? Prof. Dr. Alexander Bürkle, a health professional working in the biological faculty at the University of Constance, answers this question with a smile. “I don’t think there is a secret recipe for eternal youth; but science and research already know a lot about the factors that lead to or even speed up ageing processes,” explained Bürkle.

In the new EU research project, MARK-AGE, Alexander Bürkle along with many teams of scientists from all over Europe are aiming to identify the powerful biomarkers of human ageing.

The project involves 26 research groups from universities, national research centres and companies in 14 European countries. The scientists will examine 3,700 volunteers from different European regions over a period of 5 years, both men and women between 35 and 74 years old. The scientists are hoping to use these investigations as the basis for identifying biomarkers of human ageing. In Germany, the volunteers will be recruited in the city of Esslingen in the south. A group of researchers from the project will be looking to find men and women who are willing to be subject to thorough testing over a five-year period.

The ageing process – most likely many causes

The team of scientists is especially interested in the combination of different factors and wants to develop a global view on the whole range of factors involved in ageing. Bürkle: “People do not age at the same speed. A person’s ‘biological age’ can differ considerably from their ‘calendar age’. In our project, we are looking for what are referred to as the ‘biomarkers of ageing’. Many different tools have already been suggested for use as biomarkers of ageing, however, there are huge differences and hence the reliability is low.

At present, there is no one single suitable method that could reliably measure biological age. One plausible reason for this is that the process of ageing has many causes and affects many different organs in the body.” The strategy of the project is to determine a broad range of known and new parameters in all volunteers in parallel. Initially, the volunteers will undergo a physical examination. Then a whole range of specialised biochemical and molecular investigations of body fluids such as blood, urine and saliva will be carried out. Suitable biostatistical methods will be used to pinpoint the highly significant parameters. These mathematical-statistical analyses will be carried out by the professors Michael Berthold (Department of Computer and Information Science) and Michael Jung (Department of Mathematics and Statistics) at Constance University, who are also part of the European project. The goal is to develop a formula to explain biological ageing.

The advantages are obvious, particularly with relation to the comprehensive topic of preventive medicine. “The methods will enable the identification of those who age more quickly than others as early as when they are in their 40s. Close monitoring and specific changes in peoples’ lifestyles might be an effective way to prevent age-related diseases,” said Bürkle.

In their previous research, Bürkle and his group of researchers at the University of Constance particularly focused on the cellular repair of nuclear DNA damage. Bürkle uses human leukocytes for his examinations. “We already have far-reaching knowledge on what happens in cells when processes that lead to the destruction of the cells are launched. The body has its own, very effective and specialised tools to protect itself against cell destruction. We very much assume that the speed and complexity of the DNA repair mechanisms in the cell are decisive in determining the speed of the ageing process. The MARK-AGE project will provide us with further important insights into these processes,” said the physician.

Source: University of Constance - 11th April 2008 (P)
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/european-wide-search-for-biomarkers-of-ageing