New DNA “clock” could help measure development in young children

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 61 , No. 10 , December 2019 , Pages 398 News

Scientists have developed a molecular “clock” that could reshape how pediatricians measure and monitor childhood growth and potentially allow for an earlier diagnosis of life-altering developmental disorders. The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how the addition of chemical tags to DNA over time can potentially be used to screen for developmental differences and health problems in children.

The study was led by researchers at BC Children’s Hospital, the University of British Columbia, and the University of California, Los Angeles. It is the first study to describe a method specifically designed for children, called the Pediatric-Buccal-Epigenetic (PedBE) clock, which measures chemical changes to determine the biological age of a child’s DNA.

Small chemical changes to DNA, known as epigenetic changes, alter how genes are expressed in certain tissues and cells. Some of these changes happen as a person ages and others may be in response to a person’s environment or life experiences. In adults, these patterns of epigenetic changes are well established. They can be used to accurately predict a person’s age from a DNA sample or, if a person’s epigenetic age differs from their actual age, the clock can point to differences in health, including age-related diseases and early mortality.

The PedBE clock was developed using DNA methylation profiles from 1032 healthy children whose ages ranged from a few weeks old to 20 years. The researchers found 94 different sites in the genome that, when tested together, could accurately predict a child’s age to within about 4 months. The team also found that children who spent longer in the womb showed an accelerated rate of DNA change by 3 months, demonstrating that this tool could be used to indicate an infant’s developmental stage. The analysis can be done cheaply and efficiently on cells collected from a cheek swab.

In a small pilot study, the researchers also found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) showed a higher PedBE “age” than those considered to be developing typically, suggesting that the clock could be used to screen for ASD.

The researchers made the tool freely available along with the publication of this study so other research teams are able to use and experiment with the tool right away.

The study, “The PedBE clock accurately estimates DNA methylation age in pediatric buccal cells,” is available online at www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/10/09/1820843116.

. New DNA “clock” could help measure development in young children. BCMJ, Vol. 61, No. 10, December, 2019, Page(s) 398 - News.



Above is the information needed to cite this article in your paper or presentation. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends the following citation style, which is the now nearly universally accepted citation style for scientific papers:
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.

About the ICMJE and citation styles

The ICMJE is small group of editors of general medical journals who first met informally in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1978 to establish guidelines for the format of manuscripts submitted to their journals. The group became known as the Vancouver Group. Its requirements for manuscripts, including formats for bibliographic references developed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), were first published in 1979. The Vancouver Group expanded and evolved into the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which meets annually. The ICMJE created the Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals to help authors and editors create and distribute accurate, clear, easily accessible reports of biomedical studies.

An alternate version of ICMJE style is to additionally list the month an issue number, but since most journals use continuous pagination, the shorter form provides sufficient information to locate the reference. The NLM now lists all authors.

BCMJ standard citation style is a slight modification of the ICMJE/NLM style, as follows:

  • Only the first three authors are listed, followed by "et al."
  • There is no period after the journal name.
  • Page numbers are not abbreviated.


For more information on the ICMJE Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, visit www.icmje.org

BCMJ Guidelines for Authors

Leave a Reply