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Are ageing clocks the next level in wellness?

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For millennia, humans understood the importance of fitness and wellness to be a measure of physical fitness attained by eating well and exercising. It’s a simple and effective formula that we all understand. But it’s one that we knew in our heart of hearts was flawed. If we all eat the same healthy foods and do the same exercises but our bodies respond differently, how can this be all it takes to be fit and healthy?

As technology advances, our understanding of wellness has become increasingly sophisticated. We’re beginning to understand the uniqueness of our bodies and discover the many influences over our health at a micro level – from hormones to genetics. But we still have a long way to go.

One mode of intervention that’s being explored by scientists and technologists is the ‘ageing clock’ – a term used for testing that uses epigenetic markers to predict your biological age (as opposed to your chronological age) or act as a speedometer tracking how quickly you are ageing. An ageing clock may discover you have a chronological age of 51 years old, and a biological age of 35 years old, or vice versa. Or it may determine that you’ve aged more in the last two years of your life than you did in the previous 10, for example.

Discussing the process in a recent paper, the MIT Tech Review explains:

“Most aging clocks estimate a person’s biological age based on patterns of epigenetic markers—specifically, chemical tags called methyl groups that are layered onto DNA and affect how genes are expressed. The pattern of this methylation across thousands of sites on DNA seems to change as we age, although it’s not clear why.”

By measuring these chemical tags, we can tell how far along the ageing scale our biology is. Ageing clocks can even be used at an organ level, to assess the age of your individual organs. It’s a potentially important precursor towards providing the kinds of personalised care that could make a huge impact on our wellbeing and our lifespan. The possibilities for preventative and predictive intervention are vast. Imagine being able to predict when an organ might fail years in advance, ensuring you appear on an organ donor list sooner, for example.  Or understanding what specific and unique actions you can take to slow the ageing process.  But we’re not there yet. Current interventions taking place are, essentially, guess work and scientists developing ageing clocks admit they haven’t reached their full potential. While they provide a benchmark of wellness, we haven’t yet addressed how to effectively improve on it. We need more data.

While ageing clocks currently rely predominantly on saliva or blood samples, wearable tech provides the opportunity to speed up data collection with the use biomarker tracking. As the most wide-reaching facility providing the means to track a range of health measurements over a prolonged period of time, this enormous volume of data can be used to assess how our bodies respond to interventions. It could identify the starkest or most common improvements and help to develop anti-ageing systems, combinations of treatments and preventative measures on both an individualised level and at scale.  

Ageing clocks work on the basis of comparison and so the more data can be collected, the more we can compare and learn. Collaboration to create and combine shared data sets is going to be vital to accurately and effectively assess data and develop successful solutions.

But to what end? Putting aside the philosophical consideration of whether we want to ‘live forever’ or not, looking and feeling younger will always be an ambition of the human race. We’re living longer than ever before, so it’s more important than ever that we’re able to stay healthy for longer. Innovators in this space have an exciting opportunity to provide great influence over generations to come.

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