The growing group of people able to enjoy 100 years of life may well be one of the most remarkable achievements of the 21st century. A generation ago, the number of centenarians worldwide was just 110,000; today they are 600,000 strong. Notably, a sizable segment of this long-lived group, aptly called Super Agers, reach 100 in good health with no age-related disease or disability. Are they the fortunate recipients of outstanding genes, followers of a particularly healthy lifestyle, or a combination of both?
Definitive answers may start to emerge sooner than we had imagined possible, thanks to the SuperAgers Family Study, called one of the most ambitious ever conducted, with the goal to uncover and understand the genetic and biological mysteries of exceptional longevity and healthy aging. The initiative, spearheaded by the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in collaboration with https://www.bumc.bu.edu/busm Boston University School of Medicine, will recruit 10,000 people over age 95 to collect their DNA samples and health histories, as well as their children’s.
“Super Agers show us that chronic disease is not an inevitable part of aging, and that an extended period of good health can accompany a long lifespan,” says Sofiya Milman, MD, principal investigator of the study and director of Human Longevity Studies at Einstein’s Institute for Aging Research.
While previous research has attempted to pinpoint the distinctive characteristics of people living well in their ninth and tenth decades, the enrollment of 10,000 participants in SuperAgers will represent the largest cohort ever studied. The extensive numbers are essential to obtaining meaningful data that can benefit many in the future, according to Milman.
“We believe longevity may be linked to rare genetic variants found in less than five percent of the population, making it a challenge to amass ample genetic evidence,” explains Milman. “The enormous data bank being built in our SuperAgers study will enable us to identify these genes, understand their biological pathways and explore how to duplicate their functions.”
Milman aims to achieve full enrollment over the next two to three years, with results from the first phase available in 2024. “SuperAgers will significantly accelerate our research by providing us with a treasure trove of data on not just genetics, but biological and behavioral factors that affect aging and its related diseases. Ultimately, this will help us develop, trial and fast-track new therapies to extend a healthy old age,” she says.
In the meantime, adhering to a nutritionally balanced diet, exercising, getting sufficient sleep, managing stress and eliminating tobacco are all well advised. “A healthy lifestyle alone may not be enough to guarantee you reach 100,” admits Milman, “but all evidence points to the fact that it will extend your healthy lifespan.”
Interested in being part of the SuperAgers family study?
Individuals who have passed their 95th birthday, as well as children of those individuals, are invited to enroll online at https://www.superagersstudy.org and complete a health history, family history and demographic profile. Those eligible will receive a biospecimen collection kit in the mail and are asked to return it in a postpaid envelope to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which will store and process each participant’s DNA. Please note that participants may choose to receive results regarding their ancestry or family origins. The SuperAgers biobank holding the DNA records, and all the related data, will be protected and maintained at Einstein in compliance with federal medical privacy law (HIPAA).