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Large-scale genetic study may provide new insight into aging, age-related chronic diseases

WHAT:  An international team of scientists co-led by researchers from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is reporting the discovery of nearly 1,500 age-related genes, most of which have not been previously identified. The study, one of the largest of its kind to explore genes associated with aging, could spark new insights into the aging process and age-related chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke. The findings could, for example, provide new targets for developing drugs to delay or prevent age-related diseases. The study, which is partly funded by the NHLBI, appears in the online issue of Nature Communications

Aging is a well-known risk factor for many chronic diseases. Researchers believe that only a handful of genes control aging, but the exact number is unknown. 

In the current study, scientists analyzed genes in blood samples from 14,983 individuals of European ancestry. The scientists studied nearly 12,000 genes that can be reliably measured in human blood, or roughly half the known human genes. The effort identified 1,497 genes that appear to be expressed in different levels at different ages. Many of the genes appear to work together in processes such as generating the energy supply of the cells (mitochondrial function) and metabolism, as well as in the stability and flexibility of cells, the scientists say. The genes should provide a rich source of data for future aging studies.

The international investigative team was led by scientists from NHLBI and Erasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam (The Netherlands). The team also included scientists from the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, as well as dozens of other institutions from around the world. The study was funded in part by NHLBI (R01HL105756) as well as the European Commission, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research Investments, the Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Aging, and the Netherlands Genomics Initiative/Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

WHO:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D., Head, Biomedical Informatics, NHLBI Population Sciences Branch of the Framingham Heart Study, is available to comment on the findings and implications of this research.

CONTACT: For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact the NHLBI Office of Science Policy, Engagement, Education, and Communications at 301-496-4236 or (link sends e-mail).



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