London: A ‘death test’ that could tell you how long you have left to live is being developed by scientists.
The wristwatch-style device, which has been created to encourage users to stay healthy, uses laser beams to analyse crucial cells lining blood vessels under the skin.
These tiny endothelial cells are a key indicator of a person’s health, and the device’s inventors say that by monitoring them they can identify those who are ageing more quickly than normal.
But once the test has been refined, they claim it should eventually be possible to tell a person how many years they have left. For instance, someone could be told that if they do not change their lifestyle, they are likely to die in 20 years.
The analysis of the endothelium - the layer of endothelial cells in tiny blood vessels called capillaries - could also suggest whether someone has cancer or dementia.
The Lancaster University physicists who invented the technique hope people will use the information to improve their health.
But there will be concerns that while some will alter their lifestyle to stay in optimum condition, others may take a fatalistic approach.
Insurance and pension companies could also use the information to alter premiums and payouts.
Having created a bulky experimental device, the inventors are designing a smaller prototype that can be worn on the wrist.
They say that with enough funding they could have the miniature version on the market within a year.
Costing a few hundred pounds, it could be used by people at home to monitor their health, as well as in GP surgeries and hospitals.
Doctors can use the device to compare a patient’s biological age with their chronological age and give them a readout of how quickly they are ageing.
In tests on 220 healthy people, it was clear that some had aged more quickly or slowly than expected.
Professor Aneta Stefanovska, the project’s leader, said: “Not very far from now, a £200 to £300 [Dh1,136-Dh1,704] device will be available to everyone for home use. I hope we are developing something to encourage people to take care of their health.’
She has patented the device with her fellow researcher Professor Peter McClintock, who said yesterday: “We would like to see one of these in every GP’s surgery. It would be an immensely valuable piece of equipment for a GP.
“Everything that goes on in your cardiovascular system, whether you are going to have a stroke or heart attack, starts off as something going wrong in the endothelium.
“It also produces all sorts of chemicals that affect the rest of the tissue.
“It is a major organ, but people just don’t appreciate that.”
Professor McClintock acknowledged that not everyone would put the information to good use, but added: “You might think that you are ageing too fast and do something about it.
“You might improve your lifestyle, have fewer deep-fried Mars bars and go out for a run.”