Proteins in the Blood Tell The Story of Your Biological Age

It turns out a few hundred of the several thousand proteins circulating our blood stream are actually quite an accurate prognosticator for age.  Scientists are saying that a new study could help to determine biological age—which is sometimes not the same as your temporal age—and what we can do with that information to improve health. 

Research call this collection of proteins the “proteomic clock.”  Effectively a timeline of the progression of proteins in the body, this clock relies solely on measurement of protein levels, which fluctuate every year.  The discovery is still new, so while it is quite a nifty find, it is also still quite novel.  However, researchers now hope that they can better understand these proteins and, more importantly, eventually use this information to gauge the success of potential drug treatments or help develop new protein-based cocktails that might rejuvenate the body. 

The study observed 2,925 proteins in human blood, collected from more than 4,200 adults between the ages of 18 and 95.  From this data, researchers narrowed down the protein options to 373; apparently these are the ones associated with predictive age. 

Based on these blood samples, some people appeared (biologically) to be older or younger than their actual (chronological) age.  Wyss-Coray explains that this means some people appear to be biologically younger, exhibiting higher cognitive abilities and better physical strength.

Lead study author Tony Wyss-Coray comments, “We’ve known for a long time that measuring certain proteins in the blood can give you information about a person’s health status—lipoproteins for cardiovascular health, for example.”

Indeed, long-standing research confirms that the protein composition in blood plasma changes as we age.  This is why some studies have shows that swapping the blood from young mice into older mice appears to provide youthful restoration in some of their organ systems.  

The DH Chen Professor II and co-Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Stanford University goes on to say, “Proteins are the workhorses of the body’s constituent cells, and when their relative levels undergo substantial changes, it means you’ve changed, too.  Looking at thousands of them in plasma gives you a snapshot of what’s going on throughout the body.”

Of course, aging—as a biological process—is not quite that simple.  There are a handful of pathways involved with this process; and scientists still do not understand them all.  The hope with this study, at least, is that we may start to grasp the manipulation of the aging mechanism in terms of staving off various diseases. 

The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature Medicine.