Targeting age-related diseases with biomarkers

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Chiara Herzog Chiara Herzog conducts research at the European Translational Onco
Chiara Herzog Chiara Herzog conducts research at the European Translational Oncology Prevention and Screening Institute (EUTOPS) and the Research Institute for Biomedical Aging Research at the University of Innsbruck. Patrick Saringer
Innsbruck researchers are making a major contribution to a new international concept for aging research. A new framework for so-called biomarkers makes it easier to define the biological process of aging. In this way, the researchers are also opening up new avenues for the prevention of age-related diseases.

As the world’s population ages, the prevalence of age-related diseases such as cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions is increasing. This places a significant burden on healthcare systems and social support networks, and leads to a steadily increasing demand for specialized care and resources.

Since the 1930s, research findings have suggested that the aging process can be delayed or even reversed in several ways. For example, limiting food intake over time can increase life expectancy in mice and prevent several age-related diseases. To apply these findings to humans and thus increase the number of healthy years of life, it is necessary to define, understand and be able to measure the biological aging process.

This is made possible by so-called "biomarkers" - objective biological measurements that provide information about a biological process and could thus help to measure the aging process in individual persons and to identify the risk of age-related diseases. However, because aging is composed of many different processes, there has been no consensus among experts on how best to apply biomarkers.

Two scientists from the University of Innsbruck, Chiara Herzog and Martin Widschwendter, together with researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Harvard University, USA) and more than 20 other experts in aging research, have now systematically adapted and extended existing biomarker discovery frameworks worldwide to define ’biomarkers of aging’ and their clinical applications. The paper was published today in the renowned journal "Cell".

Living longer and healthier through aging research

Biomarkers are reliable biological characteristics that can be objectively measured and thus allow conclusions to be drawn about the state of health. These can be, for example, individual molecules, clinical or functional measurements (e.g., walking speed or body mass index), or even digitally recorded measurements - for example, from fitness trackers. While several molecular or clinical biomarkers of aging have been proposed in recent years, none has yet gained clinical acceptance.

"Aging research has the potential to help us live longer, healthier lives," says Chiara Herzog, a researcher at the European Translational Oncology Prevention and Screening Institute (EUTOPS) and the Research Institute for Biomedical Aging Research at the University of Innsbruck. "In this work, our consortium has for the first time brought about agreement among international expert:s on how we can study biomarkers of aging. This joint work has simultaneously identified important research directions for the future." Herzog is one of the study’s first authors and part of the international consortium. "Our new approach lays the foundation for robust biomarkers for aging research that will benefit the population and have clinical applications." Such biomarkers could be used, for example, to track the individual effectiveness of preventive measures, such as diet, smoking cessation and exercise. The risk of age-related diseases can also be identified.

"Epigenetic marks on DNA, for example, which are shaped by aging and environmental influences and regulate the activity of our genes, are promising biomarkers that could allow us to tailor our health care and preventive measures" also emphasizes Martin Widschwendter, Professor of Oncology and Prevention at the University of Innsbruck and head of EUTOPS.

By classifying the pros and cons of various existing biomarkers, the team was also able to compile a list of criteria that researchers can use to determine whether a candidate biomarker might be useful in a particular case. Key criteria include a biomarker’s generalizability: often biomarkers are developed in Europe and the U.S., but they should work in all populations regardless of ethnicity. The researchers:also propose standardized protocols to prepare a biomarker for clinical use. The first symposium of the new consortium, which Herzog is helping to organize, will be held in San Francisco in December 2023. "We are looking forward to working with international experts to facilitate new insights for aging research and then to bring them to application here in Tyrol."


Biomarkers of aging for the identification and evaluation of longevity interventions.Mahdi Moqri, Chiara Herzog, Jesse R. Poganik, Jamie Justice, Daniel Belsky, Albert Higgins-Chen, Alexey Moskalev, Georg Fuellen, Alan A. Cohen, Ivan Bautmans, Martin Widschwendter, Jingzhong Ding, Alexander Fleming, Joan Mannick, Jing-Dong Jackie Han, Alex Zhavoronkov, Nir Barzilai, Matt Kaeberlein, Steven Cummings, Brian Kennedy, Luigi Ferrucci, Steve Horvath, Eric Verdin, Andrea B. Maier, Michael P. Snyder, Vittorio Sebastiano, Vadim N. Gladyshev and Biomarkers of Aging Consortium. Cell. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.cell.2023.08.003