Findings could lead to deeper understanding of why we age, and to medical laboratory tests and treatments to slow or even reverse aging
Can humans control aging by keeping their genes long and balanced? Researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, believe it may be possible. They have unveiled a “previously unknown mechanism” behind aging that could lead to medical interventions to slow or even reverse aging, according to a Northwestern news release.
Should additional studies validate these early findings, this line of testing may become a new service clinical laboratories could offer to referring physicians and patients. It would expand the test menu with assays that deliver value in diagnosing the aging state of a patient, and which identify the parts of the transcriptome that are undergoing the most alterations that reduce lifespan.
It may also provide insights into how treatments and therapies could be implemented by physicians to address aging.
“I find it very elegant that a single, relatively concise principle seems to account for nearly all of the changes in activity of genes that happen in animals as they change,” Thomas Stoeger, PhD, postdoctoral scholar in the Amaral Lab who led the study, told GEN. Clinical laboratories involved in omics research may soon have new anti-aging diagnostic tests to perform. (Photo copyright: Amaral Lab.)
Possible ‘New Instrument’ for Biological Testing
Researchers found clues to aging in the length of genes. A gene transcript length reveals “molecular-level changes” during aging: longer genes relate to longer lifespans and shorter genes suggest shorter lives, GEN summarized.
The phenomenon the researchers uncovered—which they dubbed transcriptome imbalance—was “near universal” in the tissues they analyzed (blood, muscle, bone, and organs) from both humans and animals, Northwestern said.
The Northwestern study suggests “systems-level” changes are responsible for aging—a different view than traditional biology’s approach to analyzing the effects of single genes.
“We have been primarily focusing on a small number of genes, thinking that a few genes would explain disease,” said Luis Amaral, PhD, Senior Author of the Study and Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern, in the news release.
“So, maybe we were not focused on the right thing before. Now that we have this new understanding, it’s like having a new instrument. It’s like Galileo with a telescope, looking at space. Looking at gene activity through this new lens will enable us to see biological phenomena differently,” Amaral added.
In their Nature Aging paper, Amaral and his colleagues wrote, “We hypothesize that aging is associated with a phenomenon that affects the transcriptome in a subtle but global manner that goes unnoticed when focusing on the changes in expression of individual genes.
“We show that transcript length alone explains most transcriptional changes observed with aging in mice and humans,” they continued.
In tissues studied, older animals’ long transcripts were not as “abundant” as short transcripts, creating “imbalance.”
“Imbalance” likely prohibited the researchers’ discovery of a “specific set of genes” changing.
As animals aged, shorter genes “appeared to become more active” than longer genes.
In humans, the top 5% of genes with the shortest transcripts “included many linked to shorter life spans such as those involved in maintaining the length of telomeres.”
Conversely, the researchers’ review of the leading 5% of genes in humans with the longest transcripts found an association with long lives.
Antiaging drugs—rapamycin (aka, sirolimus) and resveratrol—were linked to an increase in long-gene transcripts.
“The changes in the activity of genes are very, very small, and these small changes involve thousands of genes. We found this change was consistent across different tissues and in different animals. We found it almost everywhere,” Thomas Stoeger, PhD, postdoctoral scholar in the Amaral Lab who led the study, told GEN.
In their paper, the Northwestern scientists noted implications for creation of healthcare interventions.
“We believe that understanding the direction of causality between other age-dependent cellular and transcriptomic changes and length-associated transcriptome imbalance could open novel research directions for antiaging interventions,” they wrote.
While more research is needed to validate its findings, the Northwestern study is compelling as it addresses a new area of transcriptome knowledge. This is another example of researchers cracking open human and animal genomes and gaining new insights into the processes supporting life.
For clinical laboratories and pathologists, diagnostic testing to reverse aging and guide the effectiveness of therapies may one day be possible—kind of like science’s take on the mythical Fountain of Youth.
Newly combined digital pathology, artificial intelligence (AI), and omics technologies are providing anatomic pathologists and medical laboratory scientists with powerful diagnostic tools
Add “spatial transcriptomics” to the growing list of “omics” that have the potential to deliver biomarkers which can be used for earlier and more accurate diagnoses of diseases and health conditions. As with other types of omics, spatial transcriptomics might be a new tool for surgical pathologists once further studies support its use in clinical care.
Among this spectrum of omics is spatial transcriptomics, or ST for short.
Spatial Transcriptomics is a groundbreaking and powerful molecular profiling method used to measure all gene activity within a tissue sample. The technology is already leading to discoveries that are helping researchers gain valuable information about neurological diseases and breast cancer.
Marriage of Genetic Imaging and Sequencing
Spatial transcriptomics is a term used to describe a variety of methods designed to assign cell types that have been isolated and identified by messenger RNA (mRNA), to their locations in a histological section. The technology can determine subcellular localization of mRNA molecules and can quantify gene expression within anatomic pathology samples.
In “Spatial: The Next Omics Frontier,” Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News (GEN) wrote, “Spatial transcriptomics gives a rich, spatial context to gene expression. By marrying imaging and sequencing, spatial transcriptomics can map where particular transcripts exist on the tissue, indicating where particular genes are expressed.”
In an interview with Technology Networks, George Emanuel, PhD, co-founder of life-science genomics company Vizgen, said, “Spatial transcriptomic profiling provides the genomic information of single cells as they are intricately spatially organized within their native tissue environment.
“With techniques such as single-cell sequencing, researchers can learn about cell type composition; however, these techniques isolate individual cells in droplets and do not preserve the tissue structure that is a fundamental component of every biological organism,” he added.
“Direct spatial profiling the cellular composition of the tissue allows you to better understand why certain cell types are observed there and how variations in cell state might be a consequence of the unique microenvironment within the tissue,” he continued. “In this way, spatial transcriptomics allows us to measure the complexity of biological systems along the axes that are most relevant to their function.”
According to 10x Genomics, “spatial transcriptomics utilizes spotted arrays of specialized mRNA-capturing probes on the surface of glass slides. Each spot contains capture probes with a spatial barcode unique to that spot.
“When tissue is attached to the slide, the capture probes bind RNA from the adjacent point in the tissue. A reverse transcription reaction, while the tissue is still in place, generates a cDNA [complementary DNA] library that incorporates the spatial barcodes and preserves spatial information.
“Each spot contains approximately 200 million capture probes and all of the probes in an individual spot share a barcode that is specific to that spot.”
“The highly multiplexed transcriptomic readout reveals the complexity that arises from the very large number of genes in the genome, while high spatial resolution captures the exact locations where each transcript is being expressed,” Emanuel told Technology Networks.
Spatial Transcriptomics for Breast Cancer and Neurological Diagnostics
In that paper, the authors wrote “we envision that in the coming years we will see simplification, further standardization, and reduced pricing for the ST protocol leading to extensive ST sequencing of samples of various cancer types.”
Spatial transcriptomics is also being used to research neurological conditions and neurodegenerative diseases. ST has been proven as an effective tool to hunt for marker genes for these conditions as well as help medical professionals study drug therapies for the brain.
“You can actually map out where the target is in the brain, for example, and not only the approximate location inside the organ, but also in what type of cells,” Malte Kühnemund, PhD, Director of Research and Development at 10x Genomics, told Labiotech.eu. “You actually now know what type of cells you are targeting. That’s completely new information for them and it might help them to understand side effects and so on.”
The field of spatial transcriptomics is rapidly moving and changing as it branches out into more areas of healthcare. New discoveries within ST methodologies are making it possible to combine it with other technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), which could lead to powerful new ways oncologists and anatomic pathologists diagnose disease.
“I think it’s going to be tricky for pathologists to look at that data,” Kühnemund said. “I think this will go hand in hand with the digital pathology revolution where computers are doing the analysis and they spit out an answer. That’s a lot more precise than what any doctor could possibly do.”
Spatial transcriptomics certainly is a new and innovative way to look at tissue biology. However, the technology is still in its early stages and more research is needed to validate its development and results.
Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for companies developing artificial intelligence tools for analyzing digital pathology images to investigate how their AI technologies might be used with spatial transcriptomics to give anatomic pathologists a new and useful diagnostic tool.
The data links protein-coding genes to antibodies, which could help researchers develop clinical laboratory tests that use specific antibodies to identify and target infectious disease. Might this also lead to a new menu of serology tests that could be used by medical laboratories?
This research is another example of how various databases of genetic and proteomic information—different “omics”—are being combined to produce new understanding of human biology and physiology.
In a Human Protein Atlas (HPA) project press release, Director of the HPA consortium and Professor of Microbiology at Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Mathias Uhlén, PhD, said, “The [Science Advances] paper describes an important addition to the Human Protein Atlas (HPA) which has become one of the world’s most visited biological databases, harboring millions of web pages with information about all the human protein coding genes.”
Distinct Expression Clusters Consistent to Similar Cell Types
To perform their research, the scientists mapped the gene expression profile of all protein-coding genes across different cell types. Their analysis showed that there are distinct expression clusters which are consistent to cell types sharing similar functions within the same organs and between organs of the human body.
The scientists examined data from non-diseased human tissues and organs using three main criteria:
Publicly available raw data from human tissues containing good technical quality with at least 4,000 cells analyzed and at least 20 million read counts by the sequencing for each tissue.
High correlation between pseudo-bulk transcriptomics profile from the scRNA-Seq data and bulk RNA-Seq generated as part of the Human Protein Atlas (HPA).
High correlation between the cluster-specific expression and the expected expression pattern of an extensive selection of marker genes representing well-known tissue- and cell type-specific markers, including both markers from the original publications and additional markers used in pathology diagnostics.
According to the HPA press release, “across all analyzed cell types, almost 14,000 genes showed an elevated expression in particular cell types, out of which approximately 2,000 genes were found to be specific for only one of the cell types.”
The press release also states, “cell types in testis showed the highest numbers of cell type elevated genes, followed by ciliated cells. Interestingly, only 11% of the genes were detected in all analyzed cell types suggesting that the number of essential genes (‘house-keeping’) are surprisingly few.”
Omics-based Biomarkers for Accurate Diagnosis of Disease
The Human Protein Atlas is the largest and most comprehensive database for spatial distribution of proteins in human tissues and cells. It provides a valuable tool for researchers who study and analyze protein localization and expression in human tissues and cells.
Ongoing improvements in gene sequencing technologies are making research of genes more accurate, faster, and more economical. Advances in gene sequencing also could help medical professionals discover more personalized care for patients leading to improved outcomes. A key goal of precision medicine.
One of the conclusions to be drawn from this work is that clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups will need to be able to handle immense amounts of data, while at the same time having the capabilities to analyze that data and identify useful patterns that can help diagnose patients earlier and more accurately.
Proteins in human saliva make up its proteome and may be the key to new, precision medicine diagnostics that would give clinical pathologists new capabilities to identify disease
Clinical pathologists may soon have an array of new precision medicine diagnostic tools based on peoples’ saliva. There are an increasing number of “–omes” that can be the source of useful diagnostic biomarkers for developing clinical laboratory tests. The latest is the world’s first saliva protein biome wiki.
The HSP Wiki brings together data from independent studies on proteins present in human saliva. One of the researchers’ goals is to speed up the development of saliva-based diagnostics and personalized medicine tools.
In “The Human Salivary Proteome Wiki: A Community-Driven Research Platform,” published in the Journal of Dental Research, the researchers wrote, “Saliva has become an attractive body fluid for on-site, remote, and real-time monitoring of oral and systemic health. At the same time, the scientific community needs a saliva-centered information platform that keeps pace with the rapid accumulation of new data and knowledge by annotating, refining, and updating the salivary proteome catalog.
“We developed the Human Salivary Proteome (HSP) Wiki as a public data platform for researching and retrieving custom-curated data and knowledge on the saliva proteome. … The HSP Wiki will pave the way for harnessing the full potential of the salivary proteome for diagnosis, risk prediction, therapy of oral and systemic diseases, and preparedness for emerging infectious diseases,” they concluded.
Where Does Saliva Come From?
Saliva is a complex biological fluid that has long been linked to oral health and the health of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Only recently, though, have scientists begun to understand from where in the body saliva proteins originate.
The authors wrote: “Salivary proteins are essential for maintaining health in the oral cavity and proximal digestive tract, and they serve as potential diagnostic markers for monitoring human health and disease. However, their precise organ origins remain unclear.
“Through transcriptomic analysis of major adult and fetal salivary glands and integration with the saliva proteome, the blood plasma proteome, and transcriptomes of 28+ organs, we link human saliva proteins to their source, identify salivary-gland-specific genes, and uncover fetal- and adult-specific gene repertoires,” they added.
“Our results pave the way for future investigations into glandular biology and pathology, as well as saliva’s use as a diagnostic fluid,” the researchers concluded.
Saliva plays a crucial role in digestion by breaking down starches. It also provides a protective barrier in the mouth. When salivary glands malfunction, patients can face serious health consequences. Although clinicians and scientists have long understood the importance of saliva to good health, the question now is whether it contains markers of specific diseases.
“The Human Salivary Proteome Wiki contains proteomic, genomic, transcriptomic data, as well as data on the glycome, sugar molecules present on salivary glycoproteins. New data goes through an interdisciplinary team of curators, which ensures that all input data is accurate and scientifically sound,” noted Labroots.
Omics and Their Role in Clinical Laboratory Diagnostics
Proteomics is just one of several hotly-researched -omics that hold the potential to develop into important personalized medicine and diagnostics tools for pathologists. Genomics is a related area of research being studied for its potential to benefit precision medicine diagnostics.
However, unlike genomes, which do not change, proteomes change constantly. That is one of the main reasons studying the human salivary proteome could lead to valuable diagnostics tools.
Combining the study of the -omes with tools like mass spectrometry, a new era of pathology may be evolving. “With the rapid decrease in the costs of omics technologies over the past few years, whole-proteome profiling from tissue slides has become more accessible to diagnostic labs as a means of characterization of global protein expression patterns to evaluate the pathophysiology of diseases,” noted Pathology News.
Saliva and the Age of Precision Medicine
The study of the -omes may be an important element in the evolution of precision medicine, because of its ability to provide information about what is happening in patients’ bodies at the point of care.
Thus, a full understanding of the proteome of saliva and what causes it to change in response to different health conditions and diseases could open the door to an entirely new branch of diagnostics and laboratory medicine. It is easy and non-invasive to gather and, given that saliva contains so much information, it offers an avenue of study that may improve patients’ lives.
It also would bring us closer to the age of precision medicine where clinical laboratory scientists and pathologists can contribute even more value to referring physicians and their patients.
This investigation of the fruit fly’s transcriptome—the complete collection of the genome’s RNA—unearthed thousands of new genes, transcripts, and proteins
Scientists have teased another level of information out of the genome. This time, the new insights were developed from studies of the fruit fly’s transcriptome. This knowledge will give pathologists another channel of information that may be useful in developing assays to support more precise diagnosis and therapeutic decisions.
The findings were published in a recent issue of Nature. The study focused on the transcriptome—a complete collection of the genome’s RNA—of the common fruit fly−Drosophila melangogaster.(more…)