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Three-dimensional human facial morphologies as robust aging mark
Cell Research, (2015). doi:10.1038/cr.2015.36 Weiyang Chen—© 2015 Nature Publishing Group

How 3D Imaging Can Tell Exactly How Old You Are

Mar 31, 2015
TIME Health
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For the first time, scientists have used 3D imaging of a people’s faces to predict their age. The 3D information was so accurate, in fact, that it was better at pinpointing age than the best known marker, a test that involves studying the DNA.

Reporting in the journal Cell Research, Jing-Dong J Han, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences-Max Planck Partner Institute for Computational Biology, found that certain facial measures are reliable predictor’s of a person’s biological age. The researchers analyzed 3D facial images from more than 300 people, and matched them up with measurements from several dozen blood markers including cholesterol and albumin. Specifically, the width of the mouth and nose, and the distance between the mouth and nose tend to expand with age, and the eyes tend to droop over time. Measuring this change provides a relatively stable way of tracking, and predicting, a person’s age.

“Overall facial features show higher correlations with age than the 42 blood markers that are profiles in routine physical exams,” says Han.

Visualizations of facial aging. Weiyang Chen–2015 Nature Publishing Group.  

MORE: Human Faces Can Express at Least 21 Distinct Emotions

She arrived at the finding after hearing a colleague present work on using 3D facial images to quantify racial differences. “It immediately struck me that facial images might be a potential good phenotype to include in our study to quantify the extent of aging,” she says. “I did not expect to see such remarkable changes with age, nor did I expect the 3D images to be such an accurate biomarker for biological age.”

Why is it important? Han says that pinpointing how quickly a person is aging via the relatively easy 3D algorithm could have useful health implications that go beyond keeping people honest about their age. Such a measure might provide a window into deeper physiological processes that could be aging abnormally fast. “It might have important implications for assessing the risks of aging-associated diseases, and for designing personalized treatment schemes to improve their life styles and health,” she says.

See Photos of Europe's Largest 3D Scanner

Martin Benes from 3D gang company demonstrates one of the stages of 3D scanning on August 26, 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic. The 3D scanner is the largest in continental Europe, with 115 sensors, and is designed to scan objects, people and animals.
Martin Benes from 3D gang company demonstrates one of the stages of 3D scanning on August 26, 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic. The 3D scanner is the largest in continental Europe, with 115 sensors, and is designed to scan objects, people and animals.Matej Divizna—Getty Images
Martin Benes from 3D gang company demonstrates one of the stages of 3D scanning on August 26, 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic. The 3D scanner is the largest in continental Europe, with 115 sensors, and is designed to scan objects, people and animals.
Martin Benes from 3D gang company is seen through the viewfinder as he demonstrates one of the stages of 3D scanning on August 26, 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic.
Europe's Largest 3D Scanner
Europe's Largest 3D Scanner
Europe's Largest 3D Scanner
Europe's Largest 3D Scanner
Europe's Largest 3D Scanner
Martin Benes from 3D gang company demonstrates one of the stages of 3D scanning on August 26, 2014 in Prague, Czech Repu
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Matej Divizna—Getty Images
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