Chronic Disease and Aging Share Genetic Factors


The worldwide population of people age 60 and over is growing faster than all of the younger age groups. The result is a growing occurrence of chronic disease and lower quality of life which is challenging healthcare and economic systems. Scientists from Gero and MIPT have collaborated with researchers from the University of Edinburgh, PolyOmica and other institutions to analyze medical histories and genetic data of more than 300,000 people aged 37 to 73 which was made available by UK Biobank.

The study which has been published in Communications Biology, shows that the most prevalent chronic diseases share the common underlying mechanism which is the process of aging which is a mortality law known as Gompertz. The risk of death from all causes increases exponentially after age 40 and doubles at about every 8 years. Through analyzing the dynamics of the incidence of disease in the clinical data provided, the researchers observed that this dynamic was compatible with the Gompertz Mortality Law.

Health span can be used as a natural proxy for investigating the genetic factors which control the rate of aging which is called the holy grail target for interventions for anti aging. The researchers studied the genomes of the study group to help them understand genetic factors that are associated with human health span.

12 genetic loci (a fixed position on a chromosome) affecting a healthy life expectancy were discovered. A minimum of three genetic loci were found to be associated with the risk of a variety of diseases and health span at the same time and could therefore form the genetic signature for aging. Other genes were also found to be associated with disease and also with parental early survival. Other genetic variants predict death and are also involved in earlier onset of macular degeneration. Another chromosome locus was not seen to be associated with any incidence of disease at its full genome level, however it was affecting the health span of some of the studied individuals.

The team also found a number of genes associated with a number of complex traits of the skin such as the color of skin, eyes and hair, tanning and freckles and a variety of other diseases. Strong genetic correlations were also found between a variety of disease and health span including smoking, education level and parental age at death.

Studying longevity genetics is complicated due to limited availability of data sets containing clinical data of individuals who have been genotyped and have already reached their end of lifespan. Health span as a target phenotype offers a promising way to interrogate human longevity genetics by tapping research potential of large groups of living individuals with important clinical information.

To view the original scientific study click here: Identification of 12 genetic loci associated with human healthspan