Given the option of a longer, healthier life, who would not want to take it? There are indeed places where a high proportion of people live to be centenarians — Sardinia for example. Scientists have labeled these blue zones.
Others are the island of Ikaria in Greece, Okinawa, Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, and within the US, Loma Linda, California. The 9,000 strong Seventh Day Adventists living in Loma Linda place a priority on community, a lifestyle of eating plant-based foods, getting out to get daily exercise, and managing stress. They live about ten years longer on average than other Americans.
Then there is the story of a Greek immigrant, Stamatis Moraitis. He was given six to nine months to live following a diagnosis of lung cancer. To avoid the high cost of funerals in the US, he decided to pack his bags and return to his native island of Ikaria. There he tended his garden, his parents’ vineyards and drank his homemade wine — just two to three cups a day he adds as he does not wish to be labeled an alcoholic. Six months went by and instead of becoming weaker, he became stronger. In the end, he went on to live another 45 years.
We can try to emulate a similar lifestyle but all communities are not the same, and somehow it never quite affords similar results. Not to worry, scientists have now claimed an important discovery. Having identified a longevity gene in naked mole rats (who can live 40 years, an incredible period for such a mammal), they have transferred it to mice resulting in a healthier and longer lifespan. Apparently it works by enhancing cellular repair. Their research demonstrates that unique longevity mechanisms that evolved in long-lived mammalian species can be exported to improve lifespan in others.
Mole rats do not suffer cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, neurodegeneration and other age-related problems as they age. The work was far from easy, and the gene the researchers transferred to mice required a decade of work. It is responsible for making high molecular weight hyaluronic acid (HMW-HA), and naked mole rats have about ten times more HMW-HA in their bodies than humans or mice.
All mammals have the gene the researchers transferred but the naked mole rat version ends up producing more HMW-HA. Researchers speculate it works to combat age-related diseases through its ability to directly regulate the immune system.
The scientists say it took them ten years to show HMW-HA improves health in mice. Their next step is to transfer the same benefit to humans. Will it take them another ten years, perhaps less with the knowledge they have acquired.
So how long will it be before we will give our blood as usual with the annual physical, only to have some of it returned with the naked mole rat gene inserted to be pumped back into us.
Will the wealth of knowledge we will have acquired in our longer lives be put to good use? One can imagine longer working lives, more productive scientists and scholars, more books from favorite authors among other things — not just longer retirements, we hope.