In the aftermath of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are paying closer attention to their immune health. This is where glycans come in – the proteins you have probably never heard of form the building blocks of life and the immune system. Glycans are important to immune health as well as an indictor of biological age, and GlycanAge is a longevity company that is using glycans to test our biological age and help people improve their health.
What are glycans?
The surfaces of all cells are covered in a thick layer of glycans, which they need to survive. Glycans play a key role in keeping cells healthy but can also cause diseases, with the US National Academies stating that ‘glycans are directly involved in the pathophysiology of every major disease’ .
This is because glycans are involved in the inflammatory response of the immune system. Non-communicable diseases like heart attacks and stroke result from years of exposure to inflammation – one of the nine hallmarks of aging. Glycans are changeable; they respond to your lifestyle choices as well as your genes, known as epigenetics. Factors including poor diet or fitness, hormonal changes, environment, and ethnic background can cause an imbalance of pro-inflammatory glycans. This can lead to constant low-grade inflammation, accelerating the aging process and increasing the risk of disease. Glycans also become more pro-inflammatory with age, increasing this risk further.
Glycans have also been implicated in communicable diseases, like the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which relies on the glycan known as the S-glycoprotein for virus entry and cell fusion.
Glycans and biological age
Glycans are also linked to the aging of the immune system. Like most systems in the body, our immune system weakens with age, known as immunosenescence. Indeed, the majority of COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths occur in older people. The blame for this could partly lie with our glycans. Different glycans can attach to the main protein of the immune system, the antibody immunoglobin G (IgG), and change its function, making it either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. We need a balance of both for a strong immune system, but an imbalance can impact our health and how we age .
Glycans attached to immunglobins are very different in young people compared to those in old people. This is partly because of our chronological age (how many birthdays we have celebrated), as well as our biological age, influenced by individual lifestyle factors. We can track this by looking at the glycans on our IgG, which is one of the best predictors of future hospitalisation from a broad range of diseases including influenza, circulatory diseases, and metabolic diseases . By analysing glycans from the immune system as well as chronic inflammation, we can correctly calculate someone’s true biological age.
Testing your GlycanAge
This is where GlycanAge comes in. The company was created in 2016 as a spinout of Genos, the world’s largest research institute in this field. Genos has analysed over 150,000 people’s glycomes – their full glycans, similar to the DNA genome. The research team behind Genos at GlycanAge tests your immune system and inflammation using glycans on your IgG to count your biological age. By revealing what’s going on in our glycome, GlycanAge can help people age better and prevent age-related disease .
Improving your immune health
Glycans are quite a complicated topic but testing your own glycome doesn’t have to be. GlycanAge provide a quick and easy home blood test, which is sent back to their lab for testing to reveal your biological age. You will then receive your biological age results digitally, as well as guidance to improve your health and wellness. It is also possible to have a video consultation to help with your goals.
As Gordan Lauc, Professor at Genos labs attests, “GlycanAge is the first of the series of glycan markers, it can be used not only by clinicians but also end customers as well. While medicine is still focusing on treating disease, GlycanAge is helping people to navigate their own healthy ageing and prevent diseases.” .
Moving into menopause
Interestingly, GlycanAge is also expanding into an often underfunded and under-researched aspect of aging – menopause. Their studies show that the changes in oestrogen levels common to perimenopause and menopause also change the glycans on IgG. After approval from the FDA, GlycanAge will release MenoAge, one of the first reliable tests of oestrogen levels. Also awaiting approval is DiabRisk, which will predict the risk of developing type II diabetes .