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.