Unlocking the Mysteries of How Our Organs Age: A Groundbreaking Study by Stanford Medicine 

Apr 1, 2024

Our quest for longevity has long captivated the attention of both the scientific community and the general public, particularly the complex mechanisms of aging at the molecular level. Just as different parts of a car or aspects of a house show signs of wear at varying rates, so too do the organs within our body age at their own distinct paces. Stanford Medicine has made a significant leap in this field by developing a novel method to study the aging process of individual organs by analyzing specific proteins in our blood. This approach not only sheds light on the different aging rates of our organs but also facilitates the early identification of disease risks, paving the way for the development of strategies to manage age-related disorders.   

Age: More Than a Number  

Aging is the process through which the structural and functional integrity of our organs and tissues gradually decline, increasing our susceptibility to diseases, such as heart diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and various cancers. Scientists acknowledge the varying rates at which different organs age within the same body. This underscores the importance of distinguishing between biological and chronological age. The latter measures the passage of time since birth, whereas the former evaluates changes in molecular and genetic markers that reflect individual’s health, functionality and vulnerability to diseases, whether of the entire body or specific organs. Traditional methods of assessing biological age have relied on detecting molecular changes within DNA, providing a holistic estimate of a person’s biological age. The prospect of using a simple blood test to determine the biological age of specific organs marks a significant breakthrough. 

About the Study 

This pioneering study developed a minimally invasive approach to assess organ aging by analyzing nearly 5,000 organ-specific proteins of over 5,600 participants across five different cohorts. Employing the SomaLogic SomaScan technology and data from the Gene Tissue Expression Atlas, researchers have identified proteins that are predominantly associated with specific organs. Approximately 20% of healthy adults over the age of 50 show signs of accelerated aging in one organ, while 2% showed accelerated aging in multiple organs.  

By applying machine learning to the study data, the research team has developed eleven models of organ aging, each allowing the estimation of a unique biological age to key organs and tissues, including the heart, lung, kidney, liver, muscle, pancreas, brain, intestine, vasculature, immune system and adipose tissue. This enables the calculation of “age gaps” between an organ’s biological and chronological ages, providing a predictive measure of the risk for age-related diseases.  

Their findings demonstrate that organs aging prematurely significantly increase the risk of organ-specific diseases and overall mortality risk. For instance, individuals with evidence of accelerated heart aging have a 2.5 times greater risk of heart failure, while advanced aging in the brain and blood vessels predicts Alzheimer’s disease as accurately as specific biomarkers do. Similarly, premature kidney aging is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and hypertension. On the other hand, people with hypertension or diabetes have kidneys that are biologically one year older than their chronological age suggests. Additionally, those with atrial fibrillation or who have experienced a heart attack have hearts that are significantly older — three years and two and a half years, respectively – underscoring the connection between physiological stress and the aging of the individual organ. 

Implications for Future Healthcare 

This research portends a future where simple blood tests can accurately determine the aging status of our organs, advocating for a shift from the conventional, reactive and treatment-focused healthcare model towards a proactive, preventive approach. This new approach has the potential to significantly improve our lifespan and quality. It also encourages further exploration into the aging process and its links to diseases like Alzheimer’s. Additionally, the study underscores the likely impact of stress on specific organs, which potentially accelerates aging, resulting in a shift from compensated to decompensated aging phases. 

As the investigation into organ-specific plasma proteins and their roles in aging progresses, such findings could lead to the discovery of new drug targets and the development of more effective therapies targeting proteins linked to accelerated organ aging. Furthermore, the routine use of protein-based organ age scores could offer a novel method for monitoring the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions. 

A New Dawn in Understanding Aging 

In conclusion, Stanford Medicine’s research marks a significant advancement in our understanding of the aging process at the organ-specific level and its implications on health and illness. This groundbreaking work not only opens new avenues for improving lifespan and quality but also advances our understanding of aging and healthcare. It lays the groundwork for innovative strategies, promising to enrich our knowledge of aging through ongoing research. 

Stay Informed!

Stay informed about the latest regulatory announcements, upcoming events, trending accreditation news and other laboratory topics.

Translate »

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This