January 09, 2018 | News | Suessmilch Lecture

Biomarker-based metrics of general health and aging for population surveys: theory and progress

On January 16, 2018, Alan Cohen from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, will give a lecture at the MPIDR about biomarker-based metrics of general health and aging.


There is substantial interest in the use of biomarkers to generate objective, generalized measures of health status and biological age in population surveys, clinical trials, etc. Measures such as the epigenetic clock and allostatic load are promising but present cost and/or feasibility hurdles to implement at large scales. Using theory on physiological complexity and aging biology, our lab has been developing metrics based on statistical integration of some of the simplest and easiest blood-based biomarkers (blood counts, blood proteins, electrolytes, etc). Using the principle that homeostasis is a physiological "norm" that can be approximated by the average biomarker profile, we have developed metrics of dysregulation as a deviation from this norm. The resulting metrics can be interpreted as either an index of general health or biological age, and have the following properties: (1) They are not calibrated to age or health status, so they are not circular for making inferences on the effects of environment on health and aging; (2) They increase with age within individuals; (3) They predict mortality, health outcomes, and functional status net of age; (4) They are relatively insensitive to the precise choice of biomarkers, demonstrating that aging is in fact a breakdown in homeostasis of complex systems; and (5) They can be tailored to specific physiological systems as needed. We believe these metrics represent both a practical tool for population surveys and an important advance in understanding the underlying biology of aging

About the speaker

Alan A. Cohen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Sherbrooke and a member of the Centre de recherche sur le vieillissement and the Centre de recherche clinique. His research interests include evolutionary demography, the physiology of aging, the evolution of regulatory networks, and statistical methods. He has a BS in Biology and Asian Studies from the University of Michigan (1999) and a Ph.D in Ecology and Evolution from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (2007). He completed post-doctoral work at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Sherbrooke.

Time and Venue

Tuesday, January 16, 2018, 3 p.m., in the Institute's seminar room 005.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.