Launch of Index At-Home Biological Age Test: Interview with Dr. Morgan Levine, Yale School of Medicine and Head of Bioinformatics at Elysium Health

By | November 19, 2019

Elysium Health, a life sciences company selling health products with a particular focus on interventions that target fundamental processes of aging, has developed the Index at-home biological age test. The company claims that the test allows users to determine their biological age at home, and provides science-backed healthy living recommendations that may be able to impact overall health.

Aging is the largest risk-factor for a huge array of diseases and health issues, and, indeed, mortality. Identifying, monitoring, and modifying the factors involved in the aging process could help clinicians to increase patient lifespan and overall health. The factors that contribute to aging are varied, and include oxidative damage in our cells, epigenetic changes, and telomere length. Such factors can be measured, and these data may be used to calculate our biological age.

Biological age is distinct from our age in years, and two people who are the same age in years can have different biological ages because of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle differences. Put simply, people age at different rates. Measuring their biological age could give someone important information about their health outlook, which they could then potentially improve by changing their lifestyle or environment.

Researchers have been studying biological age, but typically they have focused on aging trends in large populations of people. Elysium Health claims that Index is a more accurate and reliable measure of biological age at the individual level. The test examines DNA methylation sites that have been associated with biological aging. 

To design the Index test, Elysium collaborated with Dr. Morgan Levine, who is a professor at the Yale School of Medicine and heads Bioinformatics at Elysium Health. Medgadget had the opportunity to ask Dr. Levine some questions about the technology.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the distinction between chronological age and biological age.

Dr. Morgan Levine, Yale School of Medicine and Elysium Health: While chronological age marks the number of years you’ve been alive, biological age reflects your genetics, accumulated lifestyle factors, other health determinants like demographics, diet, and exercise habits, and other factors. Index can be used to assess your overall health and wellness by providing you with your cumulative rate of aging and your biological age, which is a measure of the average age at which your body is expected to perform

Medgadget: How might knowing their biological age be useful to someone? Can lifestyle changes have a big impact on this?

Dr. Levine: In addition to your cumulative rate of aging and biological age – the age at which their body is expected to perform – the report also includes general recommendations for healthy living and lifestyle factors that have been shown in epidemiological research to be associated with the epigenetic clock. While there’s no guarantee that these changes will improve biological age, by taking the test regularly, customers can use it to determine how their rate of aging changes over time and to see if lifestyle and other changes made can impact how they age in the future. While not everything is within your control, there are a number of factors that contribute to biological age that people can control and change.

Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the Index test, and how it works.

Dr. Levine: Index is an at-home saliva test. You take it by collecting your saliva sample, registering your kit online, and returning your sample to the lab to be processed. The results of the test are based on DNA methylation, which is a chemical modification that often occurs at sites of the genome known as CpGs. We assess methylation levels at over 100,000 of these CpGs and then combine all this information using algorithms that have been designed to model age-related methylation patterns that are indicators of both age and health and wellness. In general, rather than looking at individual locations in the genome, this method assesses the overall pattern of genome-wide DNA methylation to calculate the biological age of an individual, which can be contrasted against chronological age to provide insight on the person’s cumulative rate of aging.

Medgadget: What factors is the test measuring, and how easy is it to calculate someone’s biological age from the results?

Dr. Morgan Levine: Index allows an individual to capture the cumulative impact of genetics, life events, lifestyle, and environment – essentially, a variety of factors that affect the epigenome.

A lot of work went into developing the algorithm that is used to calculate biological age. However, now that we know which CpGs to include and how to mathematically combine the information across them, calculating an individual’s result is relatively easy. After we measure methylation levels for an individual, we simply plug them into the algorithm and very quickly, get back a biological age and cumulative rate of aging.

Medgadget: Might the test be useful in assessing what factors affect aging, or determining if an intervention to reduce someone’s biological age has been successful?

Dr. Morgan Levine: In the future, we hope to be able to make more personalized health recommendations based on someone’s Index results. For now, even though we always recommend that people consult their physician before changing their health routine, the test can be used to see if lifestyle and other behavioral changes can impact their future biological age and rate of aging.

Through epidemiological research, we’ve identified lifestyle and environmental factors that on average characterize people with lower biological ages. We’ve laid out some of these more “controllable” factors in the Index report so people can use that information to see if they can impact their age in the future.

Link: Elysium Health homepage…


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