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Front Genet. 2017 Nov 22;8:164. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2017.00164. eCollection 2017.

Translating Measures of Biological Aging to Test Effectiveness of Geroprotective Interventions: What Can We Learn from Research on Telomeres?

Author information

1
Department of Biobehavioral Health, Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, United States.
2
Department of Population Health Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, United States.
3
Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Duke University, Durham, NC, United States.

Abstract

Intervention studies in animals suggest molecular changes underlying age-related disease and disability can be slowed or reversed. To speed translation of these so-called "geroprotective" therapies to prevent age-related disease and disability in humans, biomarkers are needed that can track changes in the rate of human aging over the course of intervention trials. Algorithm methods that measure biological processes of aging from combinations of DNA methylation marks or clinical biomarkers show promise. To identify next steps for establishing utility of these algorithm-based measures of biological aging for geroprotector trials, we considered the history a candidate biomarker of aging that has received substantial research attention, telomere length. Although telomere length possesses compelling biology to recommend it as a biomarker of aging, mixed research findings have impeded clinical and epidemiologic translation. Strengths of telomeres that should be established for algorithm biomarkers of aging are correlation with chronological age across the lifespan, prediction of disease, disability, and early death, and responsiveness to risk and protective exposures. Key challenges in telomere research that algorithm biomarkers of aging must address are measurement precision and reliability, establishing links between longitudinal rates of change across repeated measurements and aging outcomes, and clarity over whether the biomarker is a causal mechanism of aging. These strengths and challenges suggest a research agenda to advance translation of algorithm-based aging biomarkers: establish validity in young-adult and midlife individuals; test responsiveness to exposures that shorten or extend healthy lifespan; and conduct repeated-measures longitudinal studies to test differential rates of change.

KEYWORDS:

aging; biological aging; biomarkers; geroscience; telomere

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