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Health AI ‘iAge’ predicts when our immune systems will fail

Health AI is now reportedly capable of predicting the year each of our immune systems will inevitably falter, and whether or not people are likely to develop cardiovascular problems later in life.

Remember those old school apocalyptic websites that used to show live countdowns to our random death dates, usually between two grinning skull gifs? Well, what if we had something like that for real?

Far less sinister in nature, investigators at Stanford University School of Medicine and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have developed an AI capable of predicting how strong our immune systems are and when they will inevitably begin to fail.

Aptly dubbed iAge, this tool gauges the degree of chronic inflammation within a person’s body to determine what their ‘immunological age’ is. How may candles should really be on your next birthday cake?

Using a deep neural network, iAge reaches these results by searching for signs of inflammation at a molecular level in our blood.

Published this week in the Nature Aging journal, research claims the number of working protein cells called cytokine – which rally immune cells to the site of an infection – can help the AI’s algorithm to broadly calculate when someone’s immune system will retire.

These conclusions were drawn after examining blood from diverse ages ranging all the way from 8 to 96. One thousand samples were collected over a seven year period and subjected to testing to assess the activity of immune cell types against different stimuli.

The team found that cytokine appears to be the main driver of age-related inflammation, and also signs of cardiovascular deterioration – mainly, the thickening of the left ventricle walls and general arterial stiffness, which greatly increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Those with subtle problems in endothelial cells – the main components of blood vessel walls – which don’t manifest in any physical symptoms, were forecast a rapid climb in cytokine cells at around the age of 60 by iAge.

Before you go Googling ‘is my blood normal?’ or asking Quora whether veins in your wrist should be that prominent, it’s worth mentioning that the study offered up some promising results for future medical treatments.

Laboratory experiments conducted in petri dishes showed that reducing the number of cytokine proteins in a subject’s blood often succeeded in restoring damaged cells.

That means, theoretically, ‘we now have a means of detecting dysfunction and a pathway to intervention before full-blown pathology occurs,’ as senior author David Furman recently put it.

Physical limitations that are part and parcel of internal inflammation can also be predicted by comparing biological immunity metrics with information about how long it takes someone to walk a certain distance, for example, or get out of bed. This will allow people to prepare practical solutions for that eventuality years ahead of time.

It’s certainly a freaky thought, but I for one would prefer to be primed for later life than to live in blissful ignorance in my mid-life period.

Gaining the upper hand on chronic inflammatory issues ahead of time is a prospect modern medicine is desperate to crack. As it stands though, more research has to be completed to ensure we’re not harming our bodies’ other natural defence mechanisms in the process.

Next on the agenda is looking for ways to ‘carefully target specific systems [cardiac and inflammation issues], while leaving the rest of the immune system intact,’ says Furman.