The researchers believe that additional genetic analyses of nonagenarians and centenarians will lead to the identification of a few genes that confer longevity in humans. They also believe that their studies may turn up "good" versions of a multitude of genes that enable people to avoid age-associated diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
In an article published in the August 28, 2001, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific team led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Louis M. Kunkel and Thomas Perls at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reported the results of a genome-wide study of 308 long-lived people. The study group included 137 siblings. The research team included scientists from Children's Hospital in Boston, Harvard Medical School, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Rutgers University, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
"It is clear to us that longevity has a genetic component," said Kunkel. "Frequently, if there is one sibling who has lived to be a hundred, there will be a second or third sibling who also will live to be a hundred. And while these people were fortunate enough not to have bad gene alleles at the loci involved in age-related diseases, they also had alleles that enabled them to live often twenty years beyond their life expectancy, and remain active and in reasonably good health." An allele is an alternate form of a gene.