In an effort to understand why some people age better than others, scientists have taken their research to a genetic level.
It’s a well-known fact that populations are getting older and living longer. In fact, in a recent survey of 1,500 people, 74.4 percent said they would like to live be at least 120 years old if health could be guaranteed. Without the guarantee of health, 57.4 percent still said they would like to live that long.
And why not? Many recent advances in healthcare have been aimed at extending the life of the general population. Interestingly, to learn more about how to do that, scientists have taken their research to a genetic level, and are looking at why some people age better than others.
Are chronic disease genes present in centenarians?
As Medical Daily notes, “[a]ge is the largest risk factor for multiple chronic diseases.” That said, scientists have been studying genetic variants in an effort to explain why some people are predisposed to chronic diseases that play an important role in determining lifespan.
To date, studies have shown that a single gene, APOE, is absent in centenarians, or people who live to be 100 or more years old. In their quest to single out the longevity gene, researchers at Stanford University created a new statistical method called genome-wide summary data, or informed GWAS/iGWAS. It takes advantage of knowledge from 24 different diseases and controlled studies, among other variables.
Using the iGWAS model, researchers have been able to gather information for various diseases and traits that could be implicated in one or more chronic diseases. The results show that nine of 21 disease-related GWAS have significant genetic overlap with longevity.
Indeed, a recently published paper in PLOS Genetics shows that there is a “tangible molecular mechanism behind the complex phenoptype of ‘super longevity'” that has been roughly linked to certain single-nucleotide polymorphisms — a variation in a single base pair in a DNA sequence — at particular genetic locations.
4 key genetic influences in longevity
As a result of the study, researchers have been able to identify four genes that provide clues about the “physiological mechanisms for successful aging.”
The APOE gene is related to Alzheimer’s disease. According to Genetics Home Reference (GHR), the e4 version of the APOE gene increases the risk of an individual developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals who possess the APOE gene are also at risk for cardiovascular diseases.
According to GHR, ABO Locus controls blood type. The publication notes, “[p]eople with blood type 0 have been reported to be protected from coronary heart disease, cancer and have lower cholesterol levels.”
This gene lies adjacent to tumor-suppressor gene CDKN2A in a region that is often mutated and deleted in tumors. The gene has been shown to be affiliated with a diverse number of age-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, intracranial aneurism, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and, in the case of ANRIL, various cancers.
SH2B3 is a member of the SH2B adaptor family of proteins which, according to GHR, is involved in a range of signaling activities by growth factor and cytokine receptors. The publication notes that mutations in this gene can be associated with vulnerability to celiac disease type 13, and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
Overall, however, LabioTech states that “one of the genetic mechanisms for extreme longevity involves the avoidance of certain risk alleles that predisposes carriers to common diseases, including coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s, high cholesterol and chronic kidney pathologies.”
The publication notes that while there is no ironclad method of predicting whether or not an individual will live until 100, the results of the study are nonetheless a very big step forward in longevity research.
Securities Disclosure: I, Vivien Diniz, hold no direct investment interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article.