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How much time do you have? Your ‘inflammatory clock’ may have an answer

August 25, 2021

woman on smartphone leaning on wall with clock

Tick, tick, tick. It’s the sound of your immune system keeping track, or maybe dictating, the time you have left. The inflammatory aging clock, a new concept conceived by Stanford researchers, purportedly predicts issues like heart disease and frailty more accurately than your chronological age.

Everyone has a single theoretical inflammatory score that reflects the immune system’s typical decline later in life, according to the new research.

The inflammatory aging clock idea comes out of long-term studies of data on a variety of groups, including centenarians, as well as their genes, blood and frailty scores. The research adds to the body of knowledge on chronic inflammation, a condition of aging that causes organ damage and increases vulnerability to a wide range of diseases.

“Every year, the calendar tells us we’re a year older,” said David Furman, Ph.D., the study’s senior author. “But not all humans age biologically at the same rate. You see this in the clinic — some older people are extremely disease-prone, while others are the picture of health.”

Artificial intelligence flags cytokines

The study, detailed in Nature Aging, looked at immune system data from 1,001 healthy people ages 8 through 96 based on blood samples drawn between 2009 and 2016 for the 1000 Immunomes Project. With the help of artificial intelligence, researchers identified about 50 immune-signaling proteins called cytokines as the strongest predictors of inflammatory age. Measuring the levels of these cytokines can generate a single-number inflammatory score that correlates with likelihood of incurring a variety of aging-related diseases.

In a subset of participants age 65 and older whose blood was drawn in 2010, “inflammatory age proved superior to chronological age in predicting frailty seven years later,” says a Stanford news release. Activity levels of genes related to the inflammatory clock’s cytokines also correlated with all-cause mortality documented in the Framingham Study.

One cytokine dominates the clock

One cytokine, CXCL9, which rises steeply after 60, contributed more powerfully than any other clock component to the inflammatory-age score. CXCL9 has been implicated in cardiovascular disease, and reducing its levels has been shown to restore youthful function in blood vessels.

“Our inflammatory aging clock’s ability to detect subclinical accelerated cardiovascular aging hints at its potential clinical impact,” Furman said. “All disorders are treated best when they’re treated early.”

The inflammatory clock is  just the latest compelling finding derived from analysis of blood, genes and other data in large populations with the help of artificial intelligence.

At iSpecimen, we support research into populations and their blood, genes and immune system, providing researchers with whole blood, plasma, serum and other biofluids as well as hematopoietic stem and immune cell products from specific patients. Research organizations can procure samples from patients of specific age, gender, race, condition, blood type, BMI, smoking status, medical history, family history, and more.

Here’s hoping we see many more surprising discoveries with clinical implications – and from time to time can turn back the clock.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products and COVID-19 samples. You can join for free.