In Pursuit of Precision Aging

In Pursuit of  Precision Aging

Dr. Matt Huentelman envisions a future where successful aging prevents age-related disease


Is it possible to prevent or significantly delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, hearing loss, heart disease, cancer and other age-related conditions?

TGen’s Dr. Matt Huentelman believes the answer is yes.

Early data from an ongoing project dubbed MindCrowd — a study on how the healthy brain works — convinces him that it’s possible to apply the rigor that led to precision medicine in treating cancer to the aging process.

“ ‘Precision Aging’ is our term for a fully personalized assessment of an individual’s risk and protective factors associated with how their cognitive — their brain’s — performance may change with age,” said Dr. Huentelman, Professor of TGen’s Neurogenomics Division.

In many successful cancer treatments over the past decade, TGen’s commitment to Precision Medicine has led to specific therapeutics given in the right dose, at the right time, to the right patient, based on precise genomic evaluations of cancer patients’ DNA.

“We are excited to apply those same principles, for the first time ever, to the process of brain aging,” said Dr. Huentelman, whose pursuit of MindCrowd could be one of the first steps in the development of a regimen for Precision Aging.

“Aging by itself is not a disease. But I think it is fair to say that all of us want to age as slowly, or put another way, as successfully as we possibly can,” he adds. “If we can achieve personal successful aging, there is ample evidence to show that alone could help us avoid many of the age-related diseases that are major concerns across the world; diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart and blood vessel disease, cancer and many others.”

Over the past six years, more than 115,000 people aged 18 to 95 — from every state and 150 nations across the globe — have completed the test.

Dr. Huentelman is always careful to point out that MindCrowd is not a diagnostic test. It will not tell you if you have Alzheimer’s, or if you are at-risk for dementia. What it does give researchers is a set of data baselines about how normal, healthy brains perform at different ages; among men and women, among those with quick and slow physical responses, among those who smoke and those who don’t, and among many other demographic, lifestyle and medical factors.

Establishing these baselines will help researchers in the future to more properly evaluate Alzheimer’s patients and usher in a new era of precision aging. It also holds the promise of helping explain why some people do poorly on the test, and why some perform so well, even perfectly.

“MindCrowd has been immensely successful to date,” said Dr. Huentelman. “During this 6th anniversary year for the study, we are looking deeply at the changes we want to make to the project.”

Those changes include improving the diversity of participants — differences in culture, education, socioeconomic levels — and incorporating yearly measurements of brain health, instead of just a single measurement.

“This way,” he said, “we can begin to help people understand how their brain is changing across time, and expand the way we test each participant’s brain to include brain games that examine other aspects of memory, thinking, emotion and intelligence.”


MindCrowd to add Spanish and Chinese versions

One way to improve the study’s accessibility — opening it to potentially 2 billion more participants — will be the launch of the site beyond English to include two additional languages:  Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.

This should go a long way towards the study’s goal of 1 million participants. The larger the number of samples, the more refined is the data. When started, the initial sample performances were all over the board. But after several tens of thousands of participants, trends and patterns began to clearly emerge.

For example, on the MindCrowd test, men generally have quicker physical response times than women. And women generally have better memory performance than men. Those general results hold true at every age level.

Dr. Huentelman now wants to incorporate the results of into a framework of Precision Aging measurements, joining with Dr. Nicholas Schork, Director of TGen’s Quantitative Medicine and Systems Biology Division, and colleagues at the University of Arizona, to help create a Precision Aging Network.

“By using big data and artificial-intelligence analytical approaches, we aim to provide each individual with a personalized score that can be easily understood and explored more deeply,” Dr. Huentelman said. “We can then help them ascertain their own unique risk, and protective factors, and thereby focus on exactly what we predict will benefit their aging brain the most.

“We think this is critically important. We believe strongly that the Precision Medicine approach has proven it’s worth in oncology, and we are excited to now apply the same principles to help all of us age more successfully,” Dr. Huentelman said. “There is a lot of advice out there about what to do to slow the aging process, but none of it is personalized — none of it is based on Precision Aging.” 


Take the test
TGen needs citizen-scientists, like you, to take the MindCrowd memory and attention test test and help us measure how normal healthy brains perform at different ages. More than 115,000 people from all 50 states and more than 150 nations have taken the test. Please go to