University of Oulu, 2016

Blood-based biomarkers of life expectancy found – first step towards personalised treatments

Researchers of the University of Oulu have participated in a study that identified a combination of blood-based biomarkers that were associated with life expectancy consistently across five European countries.

The scientists searched in the blood of 44,168 individuals for biomarkers that are indicative of a person’s remaining lifespan in general population and elderly cohorts. After an extensive analysis, they arrived at a set of 14 biomarkers that together provide an indication of the remaining lifespan within the next five to ten years in the life of the participants. These biomarkers include for example, various amino acids – the building blocks of proteins – and levels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, fatty acid balances and inflammation.

Identifying vulnerable people for more rigorous follow-up

The blood-based measurement is intended as a first step towards a more personalised treatment and a first step towards clinical utility, explains Professor Johannes Kettunen from the University of Oulu.

“Our next objective is to study whether we could utilize the biomarker panel to identify individuals in high-risk patient settings for more thorough follow-up. Such information has not been available before and we will evaluate the value of these results for patient care in follow-up studies.”

Not yet for the individual

The study leader Professor Eline Slagboom from the University of Leiden stresses that there is still some way to go.

“The result of the measurement currently says something about the general state of health of the more than 44,000 people in our study. That’s all well and good, but we can’t say anything yet about the risk of a specific condition or the risk for an individual. For example, does the result say anything about the immune system, the metabolism, muscle strength or cognition? And what advice is appropriate in this context? As long as we don’t know what we’re looking at exactly, we can’t base any advice on it, and we can’t apply the measurement in the clinic.”

However, the researchers do now have a starting point and they are working on answering these questions.

According to the researchers, the method by which the biomarkers are measured, developed in Finland, is easy to perform and affordable when applied in large study populations. The measurement can therefore be performed in ongoing studies with large numbers of community dwelling and hospital-based elderly people.

The large-scale study was possible through an international collaboration of biobanks, Universities and research institutes. The researchers describe their results in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Would you like to know more? Read the open-access article: A metabolic profile of all-cause mortality risk identified in an observational study of 44,168 individuals.

Further information:

Professor Johannes Kettunen, University of Oulu,

Last updated: 21.8.2019