How young is your heart?

Progress toward sussing out the biological ages of our various organs

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As anyone who’s getting on in years knows, some of our body parts show their age sooner than others. Aching knees and backs are hard to miss. What’s not so obvious is what’s going on with vital organs like hearts, lungs and brains.

New research led by Stanford Medicine investigators offers a path toward a blood test that would sort which organs remain sprightly and which are aging extra fast.

“By monitoring the health of individual organs in apparently healthy people’s bodies, we might be able to find organs undergoing accelerated aging and to treat people before they get sick,” said the study’s senior author, Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, the D. H. Chen Professor II of neurology.

According to the study of blood samples from 5,678 people, published in December 2023 in Nature, about 1 in every 5 reasonably healthy adults 50 or older is walking around with at least one organ aging much more quickly than its counterpart in others the same age. That person is at higher risk for diseases associated with that organ and for dying.

The silver lining: The results of a simple blood test might be able to guide treatments well before clinical symptoms manifest.

For this investigation, the researchers assessed the levels of thousands of proteins in people’s blood, found that nearly 1,000 of them originated within a single organ, and tied aberrant levels of those proteins to corresponding organs’ accelerated aging and susceptibility to disease and mortality.

The team next came up with an “age gap” for each organ: the difference between the organ’s actual age and its estimated age based on the protein levels specific to it. Having an accelerated-aging organ carried a 15% to 50% higher mortality risk in the next 15 years, depending on the organ affected.

Outwardly healthy people with accelerated heart aging incurred heart failure 2.5 times as often as people with normally aging hearts. Those with “older” brains were 1.8 times as likely to show cognitive decline over five years as those with “young” brains.

The organ-aging test will need several years of further refinement and clinical testing before it can be made commercially available. Wyss-Coray and colleagues have started a new company, Teal Omics, to expedite development of the test, and Stanford University’s Office of Technology Licensing has filed a patent application related to this work.

Read the full story here. Image by freshidea/AdobeStock Images