How Old Is Your Brain? The Answer May Not Be as Simple as You Think

Brain Health

Longevity researchers are looking at how to slow down or reverse aging at the cellular level.

Longevity may be the most important trend we’ve ever experienced. It’s driven by — and in turn, it affects — everything from health to housing, money to technology, lifestyle to social policy. There’s so much to be aware of — and it’s just getting started! Now you can keep up with all the latest developments in this weekly column.


With increased frequency, I’m coming across articles reporting on new longevity-related research studies and product developments that seem, at first reading, to be impossibly futuristic. Then I reflect that, as a layman, I shouldn’t be expected to understand all, even most, of the science. The mere fact that this kind of research and thinking is going on, in the first place, is enough to make it interesting … and worth passing along to you.

Here is a good example.

This article reports on a project being carried out by “leading longevity company” Elysium Health, working with the University of Oxford to “discover unique epigenetic measures of brain aging.”

“Epigenetic” refers to changes in the cell’s DNA that are caused by external factors, which could include diet, disease, obesity, stress, drugs or other influences. These influences do not alter the actual DNA sequence, but they can affect how your body reads a DNA sequence, turning certain genes “on” and “off.” Epigenetic reprogramming is a red-hot area of longevity research right now, with many efforts under way to try to slow down or reverse aging, and to promote longevity at the cellular level.

In this case, the focus is the brain. “Using two years’ worth of clinical trial data that allows objective comparison of epigenetic changes against MRI images, the researchers are studying the underlying epigenetic patterns of different stages of brain health. The collaboration aims to identify new measures of brain aging, including measures for specific regions of the brain, and will explore the impact that brain health has on an individual’s biological age.”

I had no idea that “measures of brain aging” was even a topic, and that there might be different degrees of aging in different regions of the same brain.

The article quotes Elysium CEO Eric Marcotulli: “There is no test for brain atrophy, and there certainly is no breakdown by region. MRIs are great, but they are also invasive, costly and not available to many people … Our goal is to be able to test anyone in any setting, in the form of a saliva or simple blood test, and to generate the same results in a single instance that currently requires multiple MRI scans. We want to create a scalable solution that doesn’t take two or more years — one that can tell someone’s detailed rate of atrophy by region, for instance in the hippocampus or the temporal lobe, in near-real time.”

I’m not going to attempt to summarize the rest of the article here, but I urge you to read it in full. It has a lot of interesting information about the company itself and its business strategies, but for me the big takeaway is the drive toward being able to better measure biological aging at the micro level — to do it more quickly and more accurately, and at scale — which in turn could lead to more personalized health and medicine.

The money quote, from Marcotulli again:

“In the next five to 10 years, we aim to be able to have a person take an Index test as their first step, and then be effectively given a personalized regimen that is today impossible to do, from nutrition through to therapies.”

Add this to the constantly growing list of research topics to keep watching closely.

David Cravit is a Vice-President at ZoomerMedia, and Chief Membership Officer of CARP. He is also the author of two books on the “reinvention” of aging. You can check out some of his other writing here.