A team from the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) and Cedars-Sinai has discovered a new way to measure cell age. The technique could improve current tumor screening and monitoring techniques.
According to some studies, over the years the cells lose particular chemicals that regulate cell activity. The process is progressive and measurable, easy to identify especially in the early stages of development. Nevertheless, these changes go on throughout life, determining the actual age of the person. They are also connected to the development of some forms of cancer.
The work in question is based on these concepts and on a 2011 study conducted by the authors themselves. At the time the team identified the areas of the genome in which these substances are lost, called methyl groups. However, the technique was applicable only to cancer cells. Therefore, a fee applicable to healthy cells was missing.
The cellular clock starts when our cells begin to divide and reproduce. Each division causes imperceptible changes in the genome, which accumulate over the years. The new method allows to cover all cell divisions, starting from the early stages of embryonic development. In this way it is possible to measure the genetic damage caused by age.
The link between tumors and loss of methyl groups in DNA has been established for years. It is known that it is much more common in tissues that reproduce very quickly, since rapid cell turnover facilitates the accumulation of errors. However, the mechanisms behind the phenomenon are largely unknown. The discovery highlighted the degeneration of cancer cells is an increased and accelerated version of normal cellular aging.