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Ageotypes – The Key to Personalized Medicine?

For many years, regular readers of this blog have heard me bang away at the boring-sounding but important fact that people age at dramatically different rates.

Unlike infants, whose normal walking, talking, feeding themselves, etc. development can be tracked within a month or so, people grow old at different ages. Some are creaky in their fifties while others may retain the stamina common to a young person well into their eighties or even nineties.

It is important to know that, to understand that in ageing, one size does not fit all. Now it appears that it may not be true of only of ageing in generalized.

If research published last week in Nature Medicine [pdf] holds up under further testing, discovery that our individual organs may age differently from one another shows promise for future development of personalized medicine.

As journalist Sharon Begley reports in STAT, the Stanford University School of Medicine researchers

”...conclude that just as people have an individual genotype, so too do they have an 'ageotype,' a combination of molecular and other changes that are specific to one physiological system.

“These changes can be measured when the individual is healthy and relatively young, the researchers report, perhaps helping physicians to pinpoint the most important thing to target to extend healthy life.”

Biologist Michael Snyder, who led the Stanford study, explains that within an individual, some systems age faster or slower than others:

“'One person is a cardio-ager, another is a metabolic ager, another is an immune ager,' as shown by changes over time in nearly 100 key molecules that play a role in those systems. 'There is quite a bit of difference in how individuals experience aging on a molecular level.'

“Crucially, the molecular markers of aging do not necessarily cause clinical symptoms. The study’s 'immune' agers had no immune dysfunction; 'liver agers' did not have liver disease. Everyone was basically healthy.

“If aging is truly personal, understanding an individual’s ageotype could lead to individualized, targeted intervention. 'We think [ageotypes] can show what’s going off track the most so you can focus on that if you want to affect your aging,' Snyder said.”

So far, the research team has identified four ageotypes: immune, kidney, liver and metabolic but there are really more, they say, because some people may meet the criteria for more than one ageotype.

Obviously, there is a lot more work to be done before ageotypes can be used to create personalized medical treatment for patients. As LiveScience reports

”Snyder and his co-authors plan to follow the study participants to see how their aging profiles morph over time.

“They also aim to develop a simple ageotype test that could be used in the doctor's office to quickly assess a patient's health status, and potentially point them toward the best possible treatment options.”

The study was small, just 43 participants. So why am I telling you about this when it is unlikely to be developed enough to help most of the people who read this blog?

The first reason is that in the days after I read about it early last week, I kept going back to reread the news stories. Then a long-time blog friend, Chuck Nyren, sent me one of the stories.

And most of all, I'm posting this because I read a lot of health news about old people and it's not often I feel researchers are on to something as important as this could be.

Science breakthroughs almost never happen full-blown. If you recall the story from school, it is said that Thomas Edison tried 1,000 times before he came up with a viable light bulb.

When a reporter confronted him with all those failures, Edison said, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."

I figure the Stanford scientists have a lot of steps to go and I wish them well. What a great difference this would make for health care.


I take with a grain of salt anything that comes from Live Science. In 2013 they ran a story about Colorado's floods and it was full of factual errors. I wrote to both the publication and the author but neither responded and the story remained (and remains) uncorrected.

Aside from that, I've often thought I wouldn't want to know if genetic testing showed I was likely to get such-and-such a disease. I'd worry myself to death waiting for the disease to strike. Still, it's interesting to learn why people age at different rates and in different ways.

Such an interesting article. I'm going to read the report carefully, it sheds a new light or, at least, brings a new perspective on ageing
Thank you Roni!

"So far, the research team has identified four ageotypes: immune, kidney, liver and metabolic but there are really more, they say, because some people may meet the criteria for more than one ageotype."

I'm confused by metabolic. Do they really mean obesity, anorexia, other eating disorders, or what?

I'm with Susan, on the "I don't wanna know" scale. Life is so precarious as it is,
and, dammit, I'm doing all I am ever going to do to stay healthy. Well, actually, a bit less, what the heck, when death gets closer no matter what, why not have a piece of chocolate cake?

Metabolic likely has to do with your level of insulin resistance and how likely or unlikely you are to get diabetes.

We have a gentleman my age (74) here who gets up every morning at 5am and walks around our 14 acre property. And that's before breakfast. On the other hand, he's a loony old coot whose conversation jumps from topic to topic at the blink of an eye. I have found, in life, everything is a trade-off. We are what we are my friends. We are what we are.

Seems like common sense and something we all know anyway, but perhaps emphasizing aging differences to heighten awareness and promote thoughtful assessments and treatments, something not always, or not often done, for older people--or many people, for that matter.

Interesting. I live with 250 other old people and it's clear that people age at different rates. Don't know about the various systems, just in toto.

Most of us—Ronni’s readers—are of an age where we know from life experience that we are all very different in how we age and we don’t really need scientific evidence to prove that. But it’s great that scientists are publishing this kind of research for the people who need it and who we need to know this: our doctors, caregivers, young friends, etc. I found the articles interesting and hope this line of research is pursued.

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