Throughout history, brilliant minds have tried to figure out the secret behind living longer. Much of the research has credited diet and exercise, but a group of scientists expanded on previous data to suggest another theory.
Researchers from Boston University and Tufts Medical Center found people who live to be 100 years old or older – called centenarians – may have a unique composition of immune cells that’s highly protective against illnesses, according to a study published Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet eBiomedicine.
“Our data support the hypothesis that centenarians have protective factors that enable (them) to recover from disease and reach extreme old ages,” said lead author Tanya Karagiannis, a senior bioinformatician at the Center for Quantitative Methods and Data Science, and Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center.
People with normal immune systems are exposed to infections, recover from them, and learn to adapt from future infections. While the immune system’s ability to respond to infections declines with age, scientists hypothesized this may be different for centenarians.
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Researchers analyzed immune cells circulating in the blood taken from seven centenarian participants in North America and identified immune-specific patterns of aging and extreme human longevity.
They compared this information with other publicly available data that looked at immune cells from people ranging across the human lifespan and found centenarians’ immune profile did not follow trends associated with natural aging.
The findings “provide support to the hypothesis that centenarians are enriched with protective factors that increase their ability to recover from infections,” said senior author Paola Sebastiani, director of the Center for Quantitative Methods and Data Science, and Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center.
It’s unclear if this unique immunological ability is genetic, naturally occurring, or a confluence of outside factors, said senior author Stefano Monti, associate professor of medicine, biostatistics, and bioinformatics at Boston University’s school of medicine.
“The answer to what makes you live longer is a very complex one,” he said. “There’s multiple factors, there’s the genetics – what you inherit from a parent, there’s lifestyle, there’s luck.”
Study authors hope the report’s findings build on existing research that could help develop therapeutics for the world’s aging population.
“Centenarians, and their exceptional longevity, provide a ‘blueprint’ for how we might live more productive, healthful lives,” said senior author George J. Murphy, associate professor of medicine at Boston University’s school of medicine.
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