You might know your chronological age, but do you know your "molecular age"? A newly found chemical in the human body could indicate how old your body actually feels, acting as a marker for aging in the body.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina have found a protein, called p16INK4a, that is tied to aging. In a forthcoming article in Aging Cell, the team describes this protein's presence in the human blood stream. Higher amounts of the protein are also tied to tobacco use and inactivity. Interestingly, the study found that inactivity contributed more to this aging marker than a high body mass index, which seems to show that activity slows down aging more than preventing obesity does.t
The research team says that this discovery could help with stabilizing organ transplants, recovery from surgery, or cancer treatment. As of now, it's a way to see just how far your body has aged molecularly, regardless of how you have aged chronologically. It also might lead to further development of age-prolonging procedures.
Aging is traditionally coupled with a process called "senescence," which is generally understood to be the wearing out and breaking down of cells over time. There are many theories of aging, but many biologists theorize that the effects of aging are a naturally evolved part of life. The corollary to this is that aging (or even death) isn't necessarily a requirement for life. It might be something we can prevent entirely.
The research into prolonging peoples' lives is expansive. A group called the Methuseleh Foundation is constantly working to cure aging, and a governmental agency, the National Institute on Aging, is working on the problem as well. This new research, which gives researchers a tool for documenting and measuring the aging process, could eventually contribute to longer lives for humanity.
Test detects molecular marker of aging in humans [UNC School of Medicine, via Science Daily]