"It's surprising that one could develop a clock that reliably keeps time across the human anatomy," he admitted. "My approach really compared apples and oranges, or in this case, very different parts of the body: the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidney and cartilage."
While most samples' biological ages matched their chronological ages, others diverged significantly. For example, Horvath discovered that a woman's breast tissue ages faster than the rest of her body.
"Healthy breast tissue is about two to three years older than the rest of a woman's body," said Horvath. "If a woman has breast cancer, the healthy tissue next to the tumor is an average of 12 years older than the rest of her body."
The results may explain why breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Given that the clock ranked tumor tissue an average of 36 years older than healthy tissue, it could also explain why age is a major risk factor for many cancers in both genders.
Horvath next looked at pluripotent stem cells, adult cells that have been reprogrammed to an embryonic stem celllike state, enabling them to form any type of cell in the body and continue dividing indefinitely.
"My research shows that all stem cells are newborns," he said. "More importantly, the process of transforming a person's cells into pluripotent stem cells resets the cells' clock to zero."
In principle, the discovery proves that scientists can rewind the body's biological clock and restore it to zero.
"The big question is whether the biological clock controls a process that leads to aging," Horvath said. "If so, the clock will become an important biomarker for studying new therapeutic approaches to keeping us young."
Finally, Horvath discovered that the clock's rate speeds up or slows down depending on a person's age.
"The clock's ticking rate isn't constant," he explained. "It ticks much faster when we're born and growing
|Contact: Elaine Schmidt|
University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences