New blood test can accurately measure biological aging in a clinical setting

European researchers has unveiled a groundbreaking test that can precisely gauge biological aging within a clinical environment. The breakthrough emerged during a study focused on the aging effects of chronic kidney disease.

This innovative test is an epigenetic clock, a sophisticated biochemical assessment that examines DNA to assess how well the body is aging in comparison to its chronological age. What makes it truly exceptional is that it has been validated to provide accurate results in clinical settings, regardless of whether it’s applied to healthy or unhealthy tissue.

The research was spearheaded by a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. Their findings have been published in the Journal of Internal Medicine as part of a broader investigation into how chronic kidney disease and its treatments affect the aging process, under the title “Epigenetic clocks indicate that kidney transplantation and not dialysis mitigates the effects of renal aging.”

To carry out their research, the team examined over 400 patients with chronic kidney disease in Sweden, alongside approximately 100 matched individuals from the general population, to gain a deeper understanding of how the disease impacts aging. They used various tests, including blood biomarkers, skin autofluorescence, and epigenetic clocks. These clocks were utilized to measure the changes in the biological age of about 47 patients one year after receiving a kidney transplant or starting dialysis treatment. The healthy tissue of 48 controls was also studied for comparative purposes.

The results revealed that patients with chronic kidney disease exhibit accelerated biological aging, which persists even during dialysis treatment. Remarkably, only kidney transplantation was found to slow down the patients’ biological clocks.

However, despite the consistency in the results from various epigenetic clocks, the researchers discovered that none of the existing clocks could accurately perform in a clinical setting. They displayed varying degrees of inaccuracy when applied to healthy tissue over time.

To address this issue, the team developed a new and more precise epigenetic clock, named the Glasgow-Karolinska Clock. The outcomes from this new clock align with what medical professionals observed in patients with chronic kidney disease and can also accurately evaluate healthy tissue. This study represents the first practical test of epigenetic clocks in a typical aging context and against clinical parameters.

As the human body ages, various factors trigger epigenetic changes and the removal of a chemical tag (DNA methylation) from the DNA. These changes are often associated with a range of age-related diseases, such as chronic kidney disease, cancer, and heart disease. Epigenetic clocks have been suggested as the “gold standard” for precise age measurement, surpassing an individual’s biological age because they can assess methylation tags on DNA.

Professor Paul Shiels, the lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow, remarked, “This study marks the first occasion in a clinical setting where we can accurately assess the degree of biological aging in chronic kidney disease patients, as opposed to their chronological age. Our findings, utilizing the new Glasgow-Karolinska Clock, demonstrate that these patients not only age faster than the general population but that their accelerated aging only decelerates after a transplant. Dialysis treatment appears to have no impact on this process.”

He added, “This also marks the first clinical test of epigenetic clocks, and the revelation that most of them are inaccurate when compared to medical evidence has led us to develop a new, more accurate test capable of precisely measuring methylation tags on DNA in both healthy and unhealthy tissue. We have proven its accuracy to the highest standards in a clinical setting.”

Peter Stenvinkel, a professor at the Karolinska Institutet, expressed his interest in the new tool for estimating the effects of interventions on biological age. He emphasized its potential for studying treatment strategies in patients with end-stage kidney disease, a group that experiences premature aging.

Source: University of Glasgow

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