Last month, researchers from the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in La Jolla published results from years of study in Cell magazine. Since 2007, a group of scientists led by Dr. Eric Topol, Director of STSI and the Scripps Health Chief Academic Officer, have been studying the DNA of the ‘healthy elderly’ to unlock their genetics secrets. The ‘healthy elderly’ are those 85 and older with no history of chronic disease, whose lifelong health offers much bounty to the rest of us.
The STSI researchers created the Wellderly Study in 2007 with the goal of discovering what genetic secrets led lay behind lifelong health. Over eight years, the study enrolled over 1,400 people across the U.S. who reached ages 80 to 105 without developing any chronic medical conditions or diseases. These ‘well-ders’ are thriving, even as they achieve ‘oldest-old’ and ‘super senior’ status, without suffering stroke, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, heart attack, or Parkinson’s disease. This study is unusual, in that it focuses on finding the genetic secrets to robust good health, as opposed to the large majority of genetic studies which try to find the causes of disease.
The science is interesting but complicated, but the upshot is this: when compared to a group from another study representing the general population, the well-ders have a significantly lower genetic risk for coronary artery and Alzheimer’s disease. As one of the STSI scientists said:
“We didn’t find a silver bullet for healthy longevity. Instead, we found weaker signals among common as well as rare variant sites, which collectively suggest that protection against cognitive decline contributes to healthy aging.”
Most exciting, a group of very rare coding variants was found only among ten of the Wellderly study participants. The gene, which codes for the amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains, was nowhere to be found among the general population group. The researchers believe this finding could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
San Diego is a center of biomedical research and science, and the city of San Diego resolved last year to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The Wellderly study, which included three San Diego residents profiled by the San Diego Union Tribune, made an interesting discovery about both long-term health and Alzheimer’s disease. San Diego caregivers, seniors, and homecare companions can feel good about living in a city on the forefront of medical discovery.