If it's up to bioinformatician Georges Janssens, you'll soon be able to see on your cell phone how fast your biological clock is ticking - and learn which personal lifestyle factors can keep you healthy. That possibility may stem from recently published research - with data from both humans and worms - from the Genetic Metabolic Diseases laboratory at Amsterdam UMC.
Some people age physically early, while others remain remarkably young and fit. This is where the difference between calendar age and biological age comes into play. The calendar age is immutably fixed from birth, while the biological clock is determined by all sorts of processes that apparently 'tick' faster in some people than in others. Some people age physically early, while others remain remarkably young and fit. This is where the difference between calendar age and biological age comes into play. The calendar age is immutably fixed from birth, while the biological clock is determined by all sorts of processes that apparently 'tick' faster in some people than in others.
Measuring instrument for ageing
How quickly the biological clock is adjusted depends on all kinds of factors. For example, certain genes, metabolic processes or how often body cells have already divided. Georges Janssens, who is researching aging with his research group, was looking for a general and quickly accessible measuring instrument to predict aging. He found that exercise apps that everyone has on their mobile phones are excellent for this purpose, according to a publication in 'Frontiers in Aging' by himself, colleague Rebecca McIntyre and others.
Bioinformatician Janssens: "Based on a database with annually collected lifestyle data from thousands of Americans, we developed a program using machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence. MoveAge predicts your biological age on the basis of your exercise pattern. We see a relationship between less than average exercise, accelerated biological aging and higher mortality. And also a relationship between more than average exercise, delayed biological aging and less mortality. Exercise seems to be an excellent measure to predict aging. Measuring movement based on the apps on your smartphone is much simpler, cheaper and faster than examining genes, cells or metabolic processes."
But there is more. Janssens: "We looked in the database to see whether the people followed who stayed fit and healthy for longer might have had a different diet or taken different medications. We saw that these 'biologically younger' people consumed more magnesium and vitamin E and ate more fiber. That's not to say they are causative factors; we need to find out more."
When it came to medication use, alpha blocker doxazosin stood out. This drug can be taken for high blood pressure and urinary problems with an enlarged prostate. Our analyses show that doxazosin use is linked to an exercise pattern that is more active than average. Here too the question arises whether the drug plays a causal role in the inhibition of the biological clock. Janssens: "The great advantage of our research group is that we can switch directly from epidemiological data to research in mice or worms and biomolecular research in cells or tissues. In this case, we looked at what the drug does in the 1-millimeter lab worm C. elegans. We see not only that the worms live longer when given doxazosin, but also that they remain more active later in life. It improves - at least in the worm - both longevity and health duration; the period without disease."
That last aspect is important. Extending life span by years of disease and infirmity doesn't sound appealing. But if, in extending life, the very period of illness before the end of life is shortened, that would be interesting. "Indeed, scientific research on aging now increasingly includes health duration," Janssens says. Based on this research, the group also wants to develop an app of its own. Based on the data provided by the database on eating and lifestyle, advice can be given in that area to age (more) healthily. The more data that becomes available - also through this app - the more accurate the MoveAge program can become.