Blood test measures healthy aging in humans

SAHMRI researchers are the first in the world to develop a ground-breaking new blood test to measure autophagy, the body’s process of recycling unwanted or damaged cells to stay healthy.

The research study, which sheds light on autophagy in humans like never before, has been published in the journal Autophagy.

A peek into biological aging

Dr Tim Sargeant, Neurobiologist at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), said the effectiveness of autophagy in an individual is the strongest indicator of how well they will age.

“Previous studies have shown that the better autophagy is, the less prone the individual will be to cancer and chronic disease.”

“We think the higher you score on this blood test, the longer you’re likely to live and live well.”

Dr Sargeant

Researchers are confident autophagy holds the key to improving outcomes for those with incurable neurological diseases like dementia by signalling risk factors for the condition earlier.

“If we can learn more about what causes the process of autophagy to stop and start, we can work towards creating life-changing interventions.”

Findings significant in other health fields

Dr Tim Sargeant
Dr Tim Sargeant

The research development is also greatly significant to the future of nutrition and dieting.

It’s widely held that factors such as food and fasting influence autophagy in the body, but science hasn’t been able to prove it in humans, until now. 

“This will lead to us being able to point definitively to what kind of fasting is most effective for people and exactly how much exercise they need to do to increase their autophagy,” explained Dr Sargeant.

“In our view, this is the new frontier of health research and our blood test is really the first step that opens the door to a new world.” 

How the test works

The test involves taking a person’s blood and splitting it into two tubes.

The chemical chloroquine is then added to one of the tubes to stop the autophagy process and by comparing this to the other sample, it’s possible to gage how efficiently autophagy is working.

The test is currently in the early stages of development and requires further investigation into its viability for use with patients.

Researchers are optimistic that autophagy measurement will eventually be included in the standard health check-up, like blood pressure and cholesterol tests.

“Our aim is for the blood test to provide clinicians with a baseline from which to experiment with preventative strategies to increase autophagy in their patients; including everything from lifestyle adjustments to drugs.”

The research was carried out in partnership with collaborators at SAHMRI and the University of Adelaide.

The team are currently undertaking investigations that focus on using the test to measure autophagy in those living with a wide range of diseases, with the aim of understanding how this impacts the disease process.