In June 2016, Dr. Steve Horvath presented at the National Institutes of Health. You can watch his presentation HERE. Dr. Horvath presentation centers on his research on the discovery of epigenetic bio-markers related to biological aging and chronic disease. This presentation is understandable even if you do not happen to have a PhD in bio-statistics from Harvard (Horvath).
The discovery, first reported by Dr. Horvath in 2013, is that humans having an epigenetic clock within them that is driving a biological age. And, not surprisingly, Dr. Horvath discovered in his research that the older your biological age, the closer you are to mortality. You can think of this similar to your chronological age, the older you get chronologically, the closer you are to mortality.
The challenge to understanding mortality is: Why do some us live longer than others? What Dr. Horvath found in his research is that your biological age is more indicative of when you will experience mortality than your chronological age. So, if your biological clock (we are not talking about child-bearing years here) is running faster as compared to others, your time on planet earth is most likely shorter than some else of the same chronological age, or even biological age for that matter (all things being generally equal).
When I first met with Dr. Horvath in 2015, I sought to discuss his research implications in the prediction of all-cause mortality. During our meeting I asked Steve if he had ever considered the “value” of the predictive power of this mortality research and whether he was familiar with the life insurance industry. His answer was “No.”
After we discussed the fact that life insurance industry worked on principles of actuarial statistics and mathematical expectations, I could see his mind begin to churn. Could the epigenetic clock be used to more accurately predict human mortality for actuarial tables? His answer was “Yes.” We reminisced about how a business with a small statistical advantage across large numbers of events can make for great commercial enterprise. And then we discussed the commercial value of being more accurate in predicting actuarial mortality.
Of course, Dr. Horvath had no idea of the size of the life insurance industry (who does?) when we began discussing the commercial application of a predictive actuarial technology. Nonetheless, the mere fact there was a commercial application for his research was enough to motivate Dr. Horvath to further explore his original research in the context of a mortality predictive technology.
In August 2016, I was delighted when Dr. Horvath informed me that he had just completed an extensive research study and the result was the development of a mortality prediction technology based on epigenetic bio-makers: The first of its kind!
The scientific paper of the discovery was published in the September 2016 issue of Aging. In recommending the scientific research article for publication, the peer reviewer at Aging stated:
Previously, the last author (Dr. Steve Horvath) of this article reported that there is an age-dependent changes of DNA methylation in 353 CpG sites of human genes, and this occurs in various types of cells, not only in the limited cell types. It means that human cells, regardless of their differentiation status, have a mechanism to record age progression by DNA methylation pattern. Authors named this age-dependent DNA methylation change an “Epigenetic clock.” In this article, authors (an international aging research team) report a convincing study based on the statistical analysis of a very large data set comprised of various populations (total 13K peoples’ DNA samples) … The conclusion of this study is very simple (but very exciting and important); the progression of DNA methylation age is strongly correlated with the chronological age as well as the increased risk of mortality. Authors found that persons with accelerated DNA methylation age (i.e. Estimated age by DNA methylation is higher than actual chronological age) predicts the increased risk of mortality caused by various types of age-associated diseases. This new study completed with an enormous effort organizing a large data set from multiple (international) research teams will certainly establish the concept that DNA methylation age (epigenetic clock) can be used as a biomarker to predict the risk of mortality caused by various type of age-associated diseases [emphasis added]
The mortality predictive technology that Dr. Horvath created enables us to independently calculate the probability of individual risk of all-cause mortality. We believe the technology related to molecular aging and mortality prediction will be the basis of disrupting the historical actuarial underwriting practices in life insurance and the annuity industries. More to come as we learn more, and we invite you to learn along with us.