Using those observations and mixing 15 cytokine-responsive measurements, researchers devised a cytokine response score. Higher scores signaled lower inflammation and greater immune response.

Researchers gathered the cytokine response scores of 40 older subjects and cross-referenced results from their cardiovascular health assessments, which they took up to two years later. They drew correlations between the cytokine response scores and the participants’ clinical signs of atherosclerosis, a disease wherein plaque accumulates in the arteries, as well as two other tests that measure the heart’s ability to relax between beats. The scores were better at predicting signs of inflammation-based cardiovascular risk than the standard CRP test.

Next, Davis and his team are collaborating with scientists at other universities to better understand how immune system changes may correlate to clinical health outcomes— and not just heart disease but other age-related diseases, too.

“We’re putting that data together and trying to create a profile of healthy people with different ages to say, ‘What’s normal?’ ‘What’s the normal range of someone who is reasonably healthy?’” Davis said. “And of course people are not always healthy, and in a long-range study they die of different things—cardiovascular disease and cancer—and ‘Can we see anything leading up to that that could be a signal of someone that’s in danger?’”

As for the cytokine response score, the test is too complex to be rolled out in a clinical setting just yet, but Davis said it could be easily simplified and commercialized.

“I hope it will attract interest and that other people will confirm it with other studies,” he said, “and hopefully a company would license it and develop a practical test.”

Study results were published online Thursday in the journal Cell Systems.