Super centenarians may have built-in protection against disease

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Genetics, found that people who live to 110 have just as many disease associated genes as the general population — but they also have protective genes which may play a role in their longer lifespan.

Super centenarians are extremely rare with only one per 5 million people in developed nations.

This new research builds on the growing evidence that genetics play a major role in living well into your hundreds.

For the study – the first of its kind – researchers analyzed the whole genome sequence of a man and woman who lived past the age of 114. The findings indicated that both the man and woman had as many disease-associated genes as others.

The study’s senior author Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study, noted in the Boston University Medical Center news release that the man had 37 genetic mutations associated with the risk of colon cancer. “In fact, he had presented with an obstructing colon cancer earlier in his life that had not metastasized and was cured with surgery. He was in phenomenal cognitive and physical shape near the time of his death.”

The woman had genetic variations associated with age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. While she did develop mild cognitive impairment and congestive heart failure, it wasn’t apparent until after she was 108-years-old.

“The presence of these disease-associated variants is consistent with our and other researchers’ findings that centenarians carry as many disease-associated genes as the general population,” Pears said. “The difference may be that the centenarians likely have longevity-associated variants that cancel out the disease genes. That effect may extend to the point that the diseases don’t occur — or, if they do, are much less pathogenic or markedly delayed towards the end of life, in these individuals who are practically living to the limit of the human lifespan.”

9 indicators of a long life

Photo © Nikola Miljkovic