Chronic Inflammatory Aging Clock

By Arvind M. Dhople, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Florida Tech

The “i Age” clock measures biological age, which can be higher or lower than actual chronological age based on the person’s health.  It does so by assessing whether chronic inflammation is present in the body by identifying specific protein markers released during the inflammatory process.  So, a new type of age ‘clock’ can assess chronic inflammation to predict whether someone is at risk of developing age-related disorders such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease.  The clock measures ‘biological age’, which takes health into consideration and can be higher or lower than a person’s chronological age.

                So, the inflammatory aging clock (i Age) is one of the first tools to use inflammation to assess health.  Other age clocks have used epigenetic markers and chemical groups that tag a person’s DNA as they age.  The researchers who developed i Age hope that, because inflammation is treatable, the tool could help doctors determine who would benefit from intervention – potentially extending the number of years a person lives in good health.  The study “is a further reinforcement of the fact that the immune system is critical, not only for predicting unhealthy age, but also a mechanism driving it”.

                i Age is based on the idea that as a person ages, their body experiences chronic, systemic inflammation because their cells become damaged and emit inflammation-causing molecules.  This ultimately leads to wear and tear on their tissues and organs.  People who have a healthy immune system will be able to neutralize this inflammation to some extent, whereas others will age faster.

                To develop i Age, the researchers at Stanford University in CA analyzed blood samples from 1,000 people aged 8 -96, which aims to investigate how signatures of chronic, systemic inflammation change as people age.  The researchers used the participants’ chronological ages and health information, to identify the protein markers in blood that most clearly signal inflammation.  In particular, they pinpointed immune-signaling protein, as a top contributor; it is mainly produced by the inner lining of blood vessels and has been associated with the development of heart disease.  They say that this protein being a key component of i Age gives new credence to the adage that “you’re only as old as your arteries”.

                After developing it, the researchers tested i Age by collecting the blood of 19 people who had lived to at least 99 years old, and using the tool to calculate their biological age.  On average, the centenarians had an i Age 40 years lower than their actual age, aligning with the idea that people with healthier immune systems tend to live longer.

                When examining this protein as a biomarker of systemic inflammation, researchers grew human endothelial cells which make up the walls of blood vessels, in a dish in the lab and artificially aged them by letting them dividing repeatedly.  The researchers saw that high levels of the protein drove the cells into a dysfunctional state.  When the team silenced expression of the gene that encode the protein, the cells regained some function, suggesting that protein’s harmful effects might be reversible.

                It caught early, “inflammation is one of the best things they can treat”.  They have developed amazing anti-inflammatory tools, so they think it’s a biological process that they have a lot of knowledge about and can target easily.  They envisions a future in which anyone can undergo inflammatory biomarker profiling on a regular basis to keep tabs on their risk of developing age-related disease.  “If they can control aging in a more impactful way, they think they can have a more graceful aging process”.