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‘Practical aging biomarkers’

Public health research and investigations are based on collecting data, including

biological specimens, from defined groups and populations. The methods used must be

acceptable to the individuals under investigation, and they should be as less invasive and

harmful as possible, affordable and easy to obtain. DNA methylation levels and alterations in

long-life proteins investigated with very advanced laboratory methods might just support the

validity of public health research findings achieved by using ‘practical aging biomarkers’


. Some obviously well-funded research centers however, such as the Section of Molecular

Epidemiology of the Medical Center of Leiden University, in the Netherlands, which is under

the leadership of Prof. Eline Slagboom, included in their research about aging 6000

individuals aged 20 to 60 years and measured telomere length, methylation and gene

expressions (see E. Underwood in her review in Science 2015


). The aim is to identify the

best markers for determining the status of aging and risk of diseases. Research attempts from

less generously supported institutions might resort to another ‘metabolite in blood’. Among

the fast reacting proteins, α1-acid-glycoprotein has been singled out indicating age and a

higher risk of mortality

(15, 16)

. Also, this indicator is being used in the research of the

Slegboom group. If this serum protein proves to be a valid biomarker in geroscience, it would

be a cost effective tool for public health investigations which are not being generously


Ethical aspects of measuring the biological age

The importance of assessing ‘biological age’ cannot be overemphasized as it seems

when reading the euphemistic quotations from those working in the field. For example, Luigi

Fontana, is quoted as saying that biomarkers are “really, really important to move aging

research forward, because they could enable short-short term clinical trials of promising

antiaging drugs such as rapamycin”. Prof. Slagboom has mentioned that biomarkers of this

kind “could also help tease out which elderly people are healthy enough to benefit from hip

replacement or new medication, who needs extra support, training, or nutrition before such an

intervention, or who shouldn’t be treated at all” (quoted by


). Others, such as Prof. Sedivy

from the Brown University, USA, are not so empathic. He doubts that there will be a single

marker to determine the ‘true age’ of a person. He suggests that his colleagues should take a

more comprehensive approach, like when we are assessing a used car. Some of the parts of a

car are less critical than others and differ in importance as to whether the car still runs or not.

“If you blow a tire it is not so serious…but blow a transmission, and you are dead”.

An elderly person would probably support the view of Sedivy and be frightened by the

issues raised by Slagboom. At least in Germany it is made absolutely clear to the elderly that

they are a burden on society. Socialized medicine, as it is practised in quite a number of high

income countries is claimed to be a medical disaster because it results in a steep rise in

demand, overburdened doctors and health staff, deteriorating services and very long waiting


s 8 .

The epidemiological transition will force more and more countries to establish so-called

‘socialized’ medicine to at least meet the demand for treatment and care as much as possible.

In such a scheme the elderly might easily be pushed to the edge of the system by


(accessed June 7, 2016)