The recently concluded EU project of the 7th European Framework Program „Biomarkers of aging“/MARK-AGE determined the most relevant physiological factors of aging and combined them into a formula. The project involved 26 research groups from 14 countries and about 3,700 subjects. It is the largest of its type ever undertaken. The project received financial support from the EU Commission at the maximum level of 12 million Euros which underlines the significance of the subject of longevity both for leading research as well as the society. Professor Alexander Bürkle from the University of Konstanz coordinated the project. Dr Andrea Nestl from the Technologie-Lizenz-Büro (TLB) is responsible for the protection of the intellectual property developed by the project and for its commercialisation.
The biological age of a person can deviate significantly from the calendar age, depending on genetic predispositions, lifestyle and environmental factors. How far aging has progressed can therefore only be determined in a vague sense by referring to the calendar age of a person. More informative are however biological markers which measure age-related changes of the body. The extensive population study of MARK-AGE allowed for the first time the identification of a set of biomarkers related to the process of aging which, as a whole, provides a better measure of the biological age than each marker taken separately. It was surprising to find that the weighting of age-relevant markers is different for women than it is for men.
„The hope for individuals as well as for society is that based on the results of the analysis possible risks regarding later illness or disease may be recognized early and suitable preventive measures could then be taken. ‘Successfully aging’ in this sense means mainly healthy aging and prevention or better management of typical age-related diseases such as arteriosclerosis, Alzheimer and other neurodegenerative illnesses“, says Professor Bürkle. „Those who are biologically relatively young have the certitude that they are doing a lot of things right in terms of their lifestyle and this may encourage them to optimize it further.“
The aging formula is particularly valuable because it leads to an objective result which is based solely on blood and urine tests. Parameters that can potentially be manipulated by patients have been removed as part of the project to ensure that a reproducible and reliable result is achieved.
The formula for a long life will be available shortly. First, however, there is a need to simplify the analytical methods for some of the parameters so that they can be carried out routinely and easily by medical diagnostic laboratories.
Longevity as Benchmark
„The goal of the MARK-AGE study was to investigate as many parameters as possible for a specific individual. It was a matter of finding biomarkers which were independent of each other, in other words each biomarker taken separately is meaningful. Depending on their significance, the markers were ranked and combined into a generally valid formula“, Professor Alexander Bürkle explains.
During the large-scale 5 year study, samples from about 3,700 study participants from eight of the participating countries were analyzed by biochemical and molecular processes, an endeavour which required an incredible logistical effort. Most of the study participants were drawn from the general population and were between 35 and 74 years of age. As a comparison and as a positive control, the current study used the descendants of participants in a previous study, the large GEHA Study (GEnetics of Healthy Aging) of the 6th European Framework Program under the leadership of Professor Claudio Franceschi of the University of Bologna. The aim of the GEHA Study was to determine which genes were responsible for longevity. All GEHA participants were over 90 years old and very healthy and had at least one sibling with the same characteristics.
Each participating MARK-AGE research group focused on different known aging factors or discovered new factors. The samples were collected centrally in the MARK-AGE BioBank at the University of Hohenheim and were analyzed in a data base at the University of Konstanz.
Creator of Your Own Destiny
It has been known for some time that aging is not mainly determined by genetic factors over which individuals have no control but rather by factors that individuals can influence significantly, for example through a healthy lifestyle.
The bottom line is that influencing the aging process is to a major degree in the hands of the individual concerned. „Somebody who changes over to a healthy lifestyle can expect that within three months his or her test results from the aging formula will change for the better “, explains Professor Bürkle.
Dr Andrea Nestl, from the Technologie-Lizenz-Büro (TLB) in Karlsruhe, is responsible for the patent strategy, marketing and commercialisation of the invention. Dr Nestl says: „The theme of ‚Longevity and Healthy Aging‘ is of growing interest to society. We are convinced of the importance of this topic and its economic significance; we have therefore established a strong and strategic intellectual property protection regime. The valid biomarkers of the aging present a major advance for the preventative medicine. It does not only play an important role in an individual’s health but also represents an important contribution to addressing the aging of our industrial society.“