A study led by Center for Child and Family faculty fellows Daniel Belsky and Terrie Moffitt  which found that some people grow old significantly faster than others, was named the No. 4 news story of 2015 by Science News.

The paper, published the week of July 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared a panel of 18 biological measures that may be combined to determine whether people are aging faster or slower than their peers.

Dan Belsky

Dan Belsky

The data comes from the Dunedin Study, a landmark longitudinal study that has tracked more than a thousand people born in the same town between 1972-73. Health measures like blood pressure and liver function have been taken regularly, along with interviews and other assessments.

“We set out to measure aging in these relatively young people,” said first author Belsky, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. “Most studies of aging look at seniors, but if we want to be able to prevent age-related disease, we’re going to have to start studying aging in young people.”

Belsky said the progress of aging shows in human organs just as it does in eyes, joints and hair, but sooner. So, as part of their regular reassessment of the study population at age 38 in 2011, the team measured the functions of kidneys, liver, lungs, metabolic and immune systems. They also measured HDL cholesterol, cardiorespiratory fitness and the length of the telomeres—protective caps at the end of chromosomes that have been found to shorten with age.

Based on a subset of these biomarkers, the research team set a “biological age” for each participant, which ranged from under 30 to nearly 60 in the 38-year-olds.

According to Science News, “The finding tapped into a mystery that has long captivated scientists and the public alike…”

Read more about it on Duke Today.

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