GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new study by researchers at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids may have found a new way of measuring the age of our cells and how susceptible we are to contracting diseases.

The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, found a link to the number of times our cells have divided and how old they are. Scientists say the findings will allow doctors to eventually determine how likely you are to develop a disease, like cancer.

“Each time your cells divide, we lose a little bit of information. And from that information loss, we’re able to then turn it into a clock and tell you how many times your cells have divided,” Jamie Endicott, Ph.D., who led the study, said.

While scientists have always tried to link aging with health and disease, this study is the first to use a nonchronological clock, but rather a “cellular clock” to make a determination. All cells are considered the same age, but some divide much faster, thus making them older.

“Cellular aging is a major risk factor for many chronic diseases, but it can be tough to measure. Our ‘cellular clock’ gives us powerful new insights into biological aging, how it differs between cells within a single person, and how it may impact a person’s likelihood of developing disease,” Endicott said.

Environmental factors, like smoking, have been shown to play a role in intensifying cell division, according to the study.

Endicott is a graduate student at VAI and one of the leads on the study. She said that while there is still more research that needs to be done, researchers hope to have a test ready for patients to take to determine the likelihood of developing diseases within the next decade.