How Old Are You, Really? New Tests Want to Tell You
In addition to giving each customer an age reading, the New York City–based company provides an action plan of personalized lifestyle recommendations, such as getting more sleep, spending less time sitting, minimizing stress, or eating more vegetables—arguably things that most people could benefit from. Users can take a one-time test for $229 or get a membership to test every three months so they can monitor their biological age over time. “We think that’s a good amount of time for people to get their action plan, be empowered by the information, choose the adjustments they want to make, and actually implement some change,” Goldey says.
She says the company had amassed a wait list of more than 270,000 people when it launched, although she didn’t say how many people have signed up for a membership, which ranges from $129 to $199 a month.
Like other epigenetic aging tests on the market, Tally Health looks at patterns in DNA methylation—the chemical tags on DNA code that affect the activity of genes. In the 1970s, scientists made the connection between DNA methylation and aging. In 2013, Steven Horvath, a geneticist and biostatistician at UCLA, published the first epigenetic aging “clock” based on these changes. The clock is a predictive test based on data from 8,000 biological samples of 51 healthy human tissues and cell types. It measures DNA methylation patterns associated with aging and disease and uses an algorithm to guess a person’s age.
The next wave of epigenetic clocks sought to go a step further to predict how long a person was going to live—or how many of those years would be healthy ones. One of those was PhenoAge, a clock published by Morgan Levine at Yale University in 2018. Based on a person’s blood sample, it predicted overall mortality risk and the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s, among other outcomes. A year later, a team led by Horvath and Ake Lu released GrimAge, an improved version of their earlier clock that predicts a person’s time until death based on a blood sample.
These clocks were meant to be used by researchers to test the antiaging effects of drugs or lifestyle changes in animals or people. Indeed, studies have shown that people who test as biologically older than their chronological age are at increased risk of certain diseases and death. But companies have since sprung up to make clocks of their own or adapt existing ones into direct-to-consumer tests.
The technology behind Tally Health’s test was developed in Sinclair’s lab at Havard and was described in a preprint paper posted last year. Using cells from a cheek swab, the company estimates biological age by measuring how a person’s DNA methylation patterns compare to samples the company took from 8,000 people ranging from 18 to 100 years old, according to Goldey. About half the samples came from men and the other half from women, while 30 percent were from non-white individuals.
There are several others on the market: Since 2017, Zymo Research, based in Irvine, California, has offered a $299 blood or urine test called myDNAge that’s based on Horvath’s biological aging clock. The company provides a personalized report that includes information on a customer’s metabolic health, methylation activity, and potential risk for age-related diseases. And in 2019, supplement-maker Elysium Health of New York City launched a $299 biological aging test that it developed in partnership with Levine, who was recruited last year by Altos Lab, a $3 billion life-extension company in San Diego.