Epigenetic datasets collected in the Physicians’ Health Study leveraged for pioneer landmark research for longevity science.
NEOGEN Corporation and FOXO Technologies Inc have collaborated for an extensive epigenetic datasets research project examining the association between epigenetic aging and numerous behavioural, lifestyle, dietary and clinical risk factors, as well as major morbidity and mortality outcomes.
Co-led by FOXO’s Chief Science Officer, Brian Chen, PhD, MPH, and Howard Sesso, ScD, MPH at the Division of Preventive Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, the project consisted of the large-scale epigenetic profiling of the Physicians’ Health Study participants.
Longevity.Technology: The Physicians’ Health Study is a large-scale trial that began in 1982 and was started by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. With previously collected and stored blood samples and decades of data collected over long-term follow-up, the Physicians’ Health Study allows researchers to study the long-term risk factors and their associations with major health outcomes, including mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and more. In the 40 years since its inception, the Physicians’ Health Study has played a part in hundreds of high-impact, peer-reviewed papers.
So where do epigenetics come in to it? Well, your genes might be set in stone, but your epigenome – the chemical markers that sit above your DNA and switch genes on and off – changes throughout your life depending on diet, exposure to toxins (alcohol, smoking, pollution, &c.), stress, exercise and disease. These lifestyle and environmental factors cause methylation, a process where methyl groups become attached to the genes, influencing which ones are switched on or off. Epigenomes can be easily sequenced with saliva tests, and the number of methyl groups is an indicator of previous lifestyle choices and – of pertinent interest to the insurance sector – a predictor of future health and even lifespan.
NEOGEN develops and markets comprehensive solutions dedicated to food and animal safety, marketing diagnostic test kits to detect bacteria, toxins and disease. Driving the development of genomic solutions and diagnostics makes NEOGEN an excellent bedfellow for FOXO, a biotech aiming to make longevity science fundamental to life insurance by applying epigenetic science and AI to commercialise saliva-based biomarkers.
NEOGEN’s genomics team kicked off by processing more than 11,000 blood samples. The team extracted DNA and processed it on the Illumina EPIC Methylation Array and the resulting epigenetic dataset was then sent to FOXO for high throughput bioinformatic processing and analysis.
“NEOGEN and our genomics team are pleased to be a part of such an important project,” says Jason Lilly, Vice President at NEOGEN. “At the heart of our worldwide genomics operation is a desire to create systems and encourage decisions that are sustainable and improve our world and society. By contributing to research that aims to slow human aging acceleration, we are striving to help create a future where humans can live healthier and happier lives.”
“This research project has been a very exciting undertaking for both FOXO and NEOGEN,” said Brian Chen, PhD, Chief Science Officer at FOXO. “Together, we were able to process more than 11,000 samples at scale, which allows us to dramatically expand the frontiers of epigenetics and human health. On our mission to discover new links between epigenetics and various lifestyle and health conditions, it was important we had a partner who could provide the speed and quality of data-generation to suit our needs.”
“This scientific collaboration will examine the role of epigenetics on risk factors and long-term health outcomes in the Physicians’ Health Study to improve our understanding about the interplay of environment, lifestyle and the molecular underpinnings of aging-related outcomes,” adds Howard Sesso, ScD, Associate Epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “By leveraging our previously collected blood samples and long-term follow-up in a study of this size, we hope to generate important research discoveries and collaborations.”
The project results in the creation of one of the largest epigenetic datasets with decades of detailed follow-up phenotype data and is expected to pave the way to further in-depth epigenetics research, improving longevity and wellness for generations to come.
It’s a significant inflection point for the insurance industry; rather than underwriting and policy pricing being based on actuarial data, life insurance could be personalised and dependent on year-on-year choices. It would be rather like those car insurance policies that are based on your mileage; if you run your car or body into the ground, it’ll cost you, both financially and physically. The flipside is also true – regular epigenetic and biomarker checks that lead to lifestyle adjustments, supplement top-ups and preventative measures could extend your lifespan, should improve your healthspan and will be reflected in your insurance premium.
We’ll be catching up with FOXO LIFE’s Chief Product Officer Erin Sharoni next week – stay tuned!
READ MORE: Life insurance epigenetics start-up FOXO plans IPO via SPAC