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Study Confirms That
Longevity Runs in Families

Excerpt By Merritt McKinney

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - For the secret of a long, healthy life, look no further than your family tree, new research suggests.

In a study of 444 families in which at least one member lived to be 100 or older, siblings of centenarians had about half the risk of dying throughout their lives compared with people who did not have a long-living brother or sister. Compared with the general population, brothers of centenarians were at least 17 times more likely to make it to 100 themselves and sisters were at least 8 times more likely to live at least a century.

"Exceptional longevity does run in families and, boy, does it do it strongly," said the lead author of the study, Dr. Thomas T. Perls, of Boston Medical Center and Boston University Medical School in Massachusetts. This is "something we've suspected but now pretty much proven," he told Reuters Health in an interview.

Of course, most of us are not lucky enough to come from exceptionally long-living families, but studying centenarians and their families may lead to life-extending therapies, according to Perls.

"This really bodes well for our ability to find genes among these families that impart this tremendous survival advantage," he said. The goal of such research, Perls explained, is to develop medications that would allow other people to live longer by avoiding diseases of aging such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

A person's genes, environment and behavior are all thought to influence the odds of surviving to old age, but the individual effect of each factor is uncertain. If genes do play an important role in determining how long a person lives, then it stands to reason that the relatives of people who live to 100 would be more likely to live long lives, too.

So even though the study does not reveal the precise impact that genes have on longevity, the findings do suggest that heredity plays an important role, Perls pointed out. He and his colleagues report the findings in the June 11th issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some families may be more likely to live longer because they lack certain versions of genes that increase the risk of disease, Perls said. Such families may also carry gene variations that somehow slow down the aging process, according to the Boston researcher. He noted that scientists have been zeroing in on a region on chromosome 4 that may hold this longevity gene.

"It's a very exciting time," he said. "We're well on the way to finding that gene."

Perls and his colleagues are continuing to study centenarians and their families. He added that they are always looking for new families to include in the study.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2002;99:8442-

Reference Source 89


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