Date: May 1st, 2011
A new website from Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University—SuperAgers.com—highlights the findings from more than a decade of aging research and features some of the centenarians that shared their secrets, and their DNA, for this seminal project.
SuperAgers.com helps us understand the current state of aging science, the genetics of aging, and the tremendous potential for useful aging interventions. It also lets us hear the personal stories of individuals who are living longer and loving it.
Their Inspiring Stories
More than 500 individuals and 700 of their children were recruited for this research. In a series of short video profiles available on the SuperAgers.com website, four of these remarkable people share their inspiring stories:
Lilly Port, 96 years old—“The Powerhouse”
Lilly’s intense energy and sharp intellect were obvious from an early age. After earning her doctorate in economics, Lilly came to the U.S. to work for the Department of Consumer Affairs. She became an advocate for people with disabilities and authored one of the first books ever written to empower them.
Always seeking adventure, Lilly is an avid traveler—most recently visiting Israel, Turkey, Australia, and Indonesia. She exercises regularly and watches what she eats and believes that, along with good genes, these are the keys to her health. While she lives independently in her own home, as a “back-up plan” Lilly bought an apartment in a retirement community but says she’s still “too young to live there.”
Harold Laufman, 98 years old—“The Eclectic Achiever”
Harold passed away at the age of 98, but lived every moment he had by the motto “never waste time.” He faced every day with an agenda—a pursuit for that day—which drove him to become a violinist, a commercial artist, a combat surgeon, and an author. Harold became a leader in experimental surgery techniques and held a professorship of surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. When he died, Harold was writing his latest book, To Thrive Past 95, which shares his personal experiences with aging.
His zest for life and high level of engagement and passion are what his daughter felt kept Harold young. He also believed that love was critical to being happy and healthy.
Irma Daniel, 103 years old—“The Pragmatic Survivor”
After fleeing to the U.S. from Hitler’s regime, Irma took on hard work to support her family. Despite many hardships, Irma saw this time as a “fantastic beginning” and took advantage of every opportunity. She later had a successful career selling women’s clothing, and believes that working and “never sitting still” are the best ways to stay young. Irma also believes that her nutritious diet and her genes have had a lot to do with her longevity. She currently lives independently on her own and spends a lot of her time socializing with friends.
Irving Kahn, 104 years old—“The Eternal Businessman”
Still an investment advisor, Irving began his career in 1928 and has become widely respected in his field. He works five days a week for the firm that he and his sons co-founded. There he reads at least two financial papers a day, keeps in touch with clients via the Internet, helps manage over $700 million in assets, and says it would be “foolish” for him to retire.
Irving believes that having something to look forward to in the morning has helped him live long and that mentally challenging ourselves is the key.
Searching for LonGenity
Dr. Nir Barzilai, Director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein, started the Longevity Genes Project in 1988. He believes that Lilly’s healthy lifestyle, Harold’s pursuit of his passions, Irma’s hard work, and Irving’s mental workouts all played a role in their longevity, but he also knows that genes play an important role.
This project started as Dr. Barzilai’s quest for the answers. Why do some people live so much longer than the rest of us? How do they live so long in such good health? How do they keep their faculties and ward off common age-related diseases? What is in their DNA? “The goal of this longevity gene study is to understand what is in their genetic make-up that allows them to get to this stage and be healthy,” says Dr. Barzilai.
In order to answer these questions, Dr. Barzilai recruited more than 500 healthy elderly people (ages 95 to 112) and their offspring who are “enriched with the longevity genes.” Along with some amazing stories, Dr. Barzilai and his team found that longevity is definitely in the families and inherited from generation to generation.
They found that many of the long-lived individuals have elevated levels of good cholesterol or HDL, protecting them from cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. They also began to unlock the genetic code for longevity.
They found at least three genes thought to promote longevity. They also found that mutations in these genes were associated with high cholesterol and inflammation—which explains why those with good genes had good cholesterol levels.
But what does this mean for the rest of us? According to Barzilai, “the results of this research can be directly translated into development of a drug.” These drugs will imitate what the genes do. The findings of this program and the related LonGenity program, could lead to drug therapies that help people live longer, healthier lives by avoiding or significantly delaying devastating diseases of aging.
As the research continues, they hope to better understand how protective and harmful genes are turned “on” and “off” so that we can find those drug therapies that bring longevity to those that may not have it in their genes.