A blood test could soon tell who is at risk of age-related diseases, dementia and death and even how long they might live, a new study found.
A combination of specific biomarkers or chemicals in the blood could help predict those who will live into a healthy ripe old age or become ill as the body ages.
The tests for these patterns could provide an early warning signs of diseases even before symptoms develop, Boston University scientists said
Results were based on biomarker data collected from the blood samples of almost 5,000 participants in the Long Life Family Study.
Scientists found about half had an average "signature," or pattern, of 19 biomarkers.
A smaller groups of people had specific patterns of those biomarkers that deviated from the norm and were linked with increased risk of particular medical conditions, levels of physical function, and mortality risk eight years later.
For example, one pattern was associated with disease-free ageing, another with dementia, and another with disability-free ageing in the presence of cardiovascular disease.
The study generated 26 different predictive biomarker signatures according to the study published in Aging Cell.
Instances where similar biomarker data were available from the long-running Framingham Heart Study allowed for about one-third of the signatures to be replicated.
Lead authors Professors Dr Paola Sebastiani and Dr Thomas Perls said: "These signatures depict differences in how people age, and they show promise in predicting healthy ageing, changes in cognitive and physical function, survival and age-related diseases like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
"It sets the stage for a molecular-based definition of ageing that leverages information from multiple circulating biomarkers to generate signatures associated with different mortality and morbidity risk."
Professor of of biostatistics Dr Sebastiani added: "Many prediction and risk scores already exist for predicting specific diseases like heart disease.
"Here, though, we are taking another step by showing that particular patterns of groups of biomarkers can indicate how well a person is ageing and his or her risk for specific age-related syndromes and diseases."
Professor of medicine Dr Perls said: "We can now detect and measure thousands of biomarkers from a small amount of blood, with the idea of eventually being able to predict who is at risk of a wide range of diseases- long before any clinical signs become apparent."
Prof Sebastiani added the findings may speed up the development of drugs and treatments to prevent or delay age-related diseases since clinical trials "may not have to wait years and years for clinical outcomes to occur."
Instead, trials may be able to rely on biomarker signatures much earlier "to detect the effects, or absence of effects, that they are searching for," she said.
She and Prof Perls said researchers are just beginning to break ground on the usefulness of biomarker signatures.
He said: "Following all the recent advances in genetics, the science of proteomics and metabolomics is the next big revolution in predictive medicine and drug discovery."