Biomarkers of ageing in New Zealand VLBW young adults and controls

Brian A. Darlow, John Horwood, Bhubaneswor Dhakal, Sarah L. Harris, Victoria A. McKelvey, John M. Elliott, Jun Yang, Richard J. Mackay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: There is individual variation in physiological ageing. Former very low birthweight (VLBW; birthweight < 1500 g) young adults may have less satisfactory measurements on some physiological parameters than term controls. We hypothesized that a summation score of physiological biomarkers that change with age would show VLBW adults to have a more advanced physiologic age than controls. Methods: VLBW adults (229; 71% survivors of a national VLBW cohort) and term-born controls (100) were clinically assessed at 26–30 years. Ten measured physiological biomarkers were selected and measurements converted to z-scores using normative reference data. Between-group comparisons were tested for statistical significance for individual biomarker z-scores and a summation score. Results: Nine of 10 biomarkers showed a mean z-score suggestive of older physiological age in the VLBW group versus controls. The observed mean difference in the summation score was highly significant (p < 0.001), representing a mean shift of 0.47 SD in the distribution of test scores for VLBW relative to controls. Conclusions: Utilizing a 10-biomarker score, VLBW young adults have a score indicative of poorer physiological functioning than term-born controls. Repeating these measures after an interval could provide insights into the comparative pace of ageing between VLBW and term-born adults. Impact: A summation score of 10 physiological biomarkers that are known to change with age shows that former very low birthweight adults have significantly poorer physiological functioning by the end of their third decade than term-born controls.This result adds to existing literature showing very preterm and very low birthweight young adults often have physiological and metabolic test results that are less satisfactory than those from term controls, despite mostly being in the normal range for age; for instance, higher systolic blood pressure.Although the pace of ageing in later years is yet to be established, the implications of this study are that preventative measures and lifestyle choices that impact on physiological ageing might have even greater importance for very preterm and very low birthweight graduates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-539
Number of pages7
JournalPediatric Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


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