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In search of better biomarkers of aging

Nalini Raghavachari
Health Scientist Administrator,
Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology (DGCG)
Chhanda Dutta
Chhanda DUTTA,
Chief, Clinical Gerontology Branch,
Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology (DGCG)

The authors wish to thank their colleague Max Guo, health scientist administrator, Division of Aging Biology, for his collaboration on this post.

Statistical trends show that by 2050, approximately a quarter of the world population will consist of older adults. This forecast highlights the need for strategies to promote healthy aging and the development of biological markers that can identify which individuals are at increased risk for age-related conditions and disabilities.

The risk and progression of multiple aging conditions can be influenced by several fundamental mechanisms and processes such as damage and repair of tissue components, alterations in cellular bioenergetics, and changes in genomic structure and function. Thus, the discovery of biomarkers — whether circulating in the body or in specific organs and tissues — can help us track and better understand how these mechanisms and processes affect long-term health outcomes. Biomarkers could also lead to better ways of testing new therapies to treat or prevent age-related conditions.

With this immense scientific potential in mind, NIA seeks to support technological innovations that make new biomarker discoveries possible. Among the areas we hope to develop are:

  • High-throughput ways to analyze blood and its components
  • Translational research on crucial methodologic issues for collection and storage conditions for human biospecimens to assess the activity of specific cellular pathways
  • Development of statistical methods that will help researchers evaluate the relationships of mechanistic markers to aging-related outcomes
  • Research to understand the relationships between levels of a marker in one tissue compared with other organs and tissues

NIA’s Predictive Biomarkers Initiative

In 2019, NIA launched the Predictive Biomarkers Initiative and established an innovative research network focusing on the development and validation of high-throughput assays to examine several aging-related processes through biomarker detection and validation. This network is currently assessing and refining analytical methods, developing and validating markers of multiple aging mechanisms, testing variability of markers in human populations, and establishing relationships between biomarkers and aging-related traits from a variety of longitudinal cohort studies and/or clinical trials.

There is exciting progress being made already! Project highlights include:

  • Biomarkers focusing on cell-specific profiles and mechanistic measures in blood and skeletal muscle biopsies
  • Validating and optimizing the use of the epigenetic clock as a biomarker of healthspan and lifespan using blood and saliva samples
  • Applying state-of-the-art proteomics technologies to identify and refine robust senescence-related biomarkers
  • Investigating viral burden and systemic inflammation as predictive biomarkers for chronic disease and frailty
  • Validating non-invasive single-cell imaging technologies as reliable biomarkers

Interested? Check out our cleared concepts and webinars

We were pleased to see three research concepts related to predictive biomarkers approved at our fall National Advisory Council on Aging meeting. These concepts could grow into future funding opportunities and are an excellent gateway to learning more about this exciting field:

NIA’s Research Centers Collaborative Network (RCCN) works to make NIA-supported resources like the Predictive Biomarkers Initiative available to the broader aging science community, and foster collaborations across other NIH-funded programs. If you’d like to dive deeper, we hold biannual webinars in partnership with the RCCN. Our most recent webinar is archived and viewable online at

We are ready to collaborate with interested investigators! Visit the Predictive Biomarkers Initiative site to learn more or leave a question or comment below.


Submitted by James Andrews on November 03, 2021

Thank you for this exciting post. I have an interest in biomarkers of sarcopenia. Which group in the Predictive Biomarkers Initiative is looking at biomarkers of aging in skeletal muscle biopsies? I went to the website but could not tell.

Submitted by Nalini and Chhanda on November 22, 2021

In reply to by James Andrews

Thank you for your comment. Each of the projects in the network focuses on the development and validation of markers based on different aging mechanisms. The investigators are also interested in understanding the prognostic value of these markers when measured in blood and tissues for a variety of health outcomes and in diverse cohorts. Additional details on the network projects are available at: Aging Mechanistic Predictive Markers Network

Thus it would be possible for the network investigators to explore the markers they are developing in muscle biopsies from a cohort who have been well characterized for sarcopenia. Please also feel free to contact either us directly to discuss your research interests.

Submitted by Shara Reihani on November 04, 2021

Our team is active in biomarker studies as it relates to bioaging in hemopoietic transplant patients. However it seems our R01 applications are not facing enthusiasm as it relates to biomarker studies. In our recent R01 submissions we just took out all the biomarker and metabolomics aims. Are there any upcoming RFAs that would have an emphasis on aging biomarkers?
Thank you.
Best regards,

Thank you for your comment. NIA does not have any new initiatives on aging biomarkers at the present time. Nevertheless, NIA continues to be interested in the development of new predictive markers based on aging mechanisms and we encourage investigators to contact us about their ideas. 

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