Massachusetts researchers have developed new epigenetic clocks designed to more accurately predict how people age and to gauge the effectiveness of aging interventions to increase longevity.

Investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is part of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system and a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, unveiled the new epigenetic clock, a machine learning model designed to predict a person’s biological age using DNA structure. The new model cannot only predict biological age but also distinguishes between genetic differences that may slow or accelerate aging and evaluates the effectiveness of anti-aging interventions with increased accuracy, according to the researchers.

According to the study’s authors, previous epigenetic clocks have been used to predict biological age (the actual age of human cells) using DNA methylation patterns. However, those models often lacked causal insights into factors that can cause individuals to age faster or slower such as genetic factors, chronic disease or lifestyle factors like diet and smoking.  

“We have created the first clock to distinguish between cause and effect,” corresponding author Vadim Gladyshev, PhD, a principal investigator in the Division of Genetics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a news release. “Our clocks distinguish between changes that accelerate and counteract aging to predict biological age and assess the efficacy of aging interventions.”

The researchers established a new framework to introduce causal information into epigenetic clocks, resulting in the creation of the DamAge and AdaptAge clocks that track both detrimental and adaptive DNA changes. DamAge correlates with adverse outcomes, including mortality, while AdaptAge is associated with beneficial adaptations.

Scientists tested their models using data collected from 4,651 individuals in the Framingham Heart Study and the Normative Aging Study. They found that damage, caused by chronic conditions such as cancer or smoking cigarettes, contributes to an increased risk of death while protective changes to DNA methylation such as age-related interventions or lifestyle changes may contribute to a longer lifespan.

“Aging is a complex process, and we still do not know what interventions against it actually work,” Gladyshev in the release. “Our findings present a step forward for aging research, allowing us to more accurately quantify biological age and evaluate the ability of novel aging interventions to increase longevity.”Findings of the study appeared in the journal Nature Aging


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