Biology and complex systems thinking are at the core of Oken’s algorithms.
All living organisms keep the many molecules that compose their bodies in a state of equilibrium. This dynamic process is called homeostasis and is vital for maintaining good physical, mental and biological health over time with changing environmental and physiological conditions.
Complex systems are dynamic systems made of different components/agents that can interact with one another in intricate ways, leading to nonlinear responses and emergent characteristics not captured by the sum of their parts. Organisms are perfect examples of such complex systems at many levels: molecules interact in large signaling networks to keep cells in the right functional states; cells send messenger molecules to other cells in coordinated fashion to maintain tissue and organ integrity; immune cells cooperate to provide defense against infections and foreign invaders. Staying alive requires that the system function as a whole through a delicate dance of the components to maintain homeostasis.
When physiological systems lose homeostasis (‘’dysregulation’’), with aging or diseases, levels of many molecules in the systems will change in a coordinated or uncoordinated manner. These changes can be hard to detect by measuring a single molecule given the complexity of organisms, but can more reliably be detected by analysing many molecules from the system in parallel. Loss of homeostasis is a crucial part of the aging process, and thus by quantifying it we get substantial insight into our aging process.
Our approach uses simple blood biomarkers, such as those regularly measured by physicians, e.g. cholesterol, hemoglobin, vitamins, calcium, and albumin, to assess the loss in homeostasis. The algorithms integrate your biomarker values to quantify how abnormal your biomarker profile is in comparison to the rest of the population. This idea was developed by Pr Alan Cohen and his research team at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada, and has undergone extensive optimization to increase its predictive power. Indeed, one individual can have all biomarker levels in clinically acceptable ranges but still have an abnormal profile based on our algorithms. Higher scores can predict mortality, frailty, physical function decline, cognitive decline, depression and multiple chronic age-associated diseases.
Our algorithms can calculate your global health score to give you an overall idea of your health state. We can also generate system-specific scores to give more precise insights into the functioning of specific biological systems, such as the immune system, liver and kidney functions, oxygen transport system or vitamins. Dr. Cohen’s research shows that each system can age at its own rate, with only weak feedback effects. Quantifying the rate of each system is thus a way to see which aspects of health are being lost fastest, and to try to improve them.
Oken is proud to have a strongly scientific philosophy, which means accepting what we don’t (yet) know, being honest with our clients about this, and working with them to improve our knowledge together.
While loss of homeostasis is a key part of the aging process, it is not exactly the same thing. For example, if you are very sick you could lose homeostasis independently of aging. Moreover, recent research shows that different metrics of aging correlate very poorly with each other (Belsky et al. Am J of Epidemiology 187.6 (2017): 1220-1230). Accordingly, there is really no such thing as biological age. Nonetheless, your DSign scores from our algorithms are a good guide to how quickly you are aging.
Loss of homeostasis is a complex and multi-dimensional process. No single metric can adequately summarize all of the dysregulation happening at a given moment. We believe DSign is a state-of-the-art solution that optimizes cost, feasibility, generalizability, and information content, but it is by all mean NOT a validated diagnostic or prognostic tool.
Scientific studies have largely been conducted at the population level, where substantial heterogeneity in our scores has been detected across individuals. In other words, some individuals have consistently higher or lower scores than others. Because each individual has a unique genetic and environmental context, it is not possible to say that every individual with a higher score is in worse health, though this tends to be the case over large numbers of people. Within an individual, it is likely that a consistent, long-term increase in DSign scores would indicate a health problem, but it would be dangerous to overinterpret a single DSign score for an individual out of context without further validation.
We note that this is no different from other metrics your doctor might prescribe you: your blood pressure can fluctuate a lot from day to day, depending on your position, etc. High blood pressure is also not equally bad in all individuals. Because DSign integrates signals across many markers, it is more precise than individual markers, but it is still not perfect.
Oken is committed not just to measuring health, but to finding ways to improve it. We will partner with our clients to find out how they are improving their DSign scores. With all of us working together, we will be able to provide answers to specific questions such as, what should I eat to best bring down high electrolyte dysregulation? We invite you to be a part of the Oken community, and be one of the first to know as we develop specific recommendations. Only about 30% of the aging process is genetic, which means that we can have a large impact on our aging process by tweaking our lifestyle and environment. Help us figure out how to do that!