A new study reveals that centenarians may live 100 years or more due in part to a more agile and adaptable immune system. As per US News, blood tests conducted on seven centenarians, with an average age of 106, revealed that their immune systems are highly functional and can readily adapt to infections and diseases, according to researchers.
Co-researcher Stefano Monti, an associate professor of medicine and biostatistics at Boston University, stated, “What we found is that centenarians have a history of exposure to natural environmental immunogens that made them more resilient and resistant to potential harmful factors.” Monti explained that for the study, genetic analyses were conducted on a broad category of immune cells that circulate in the blood.
The researchers then compared the cells of the centenarians with two publicly accessible databases containing the immune cell genetic analyses of seven additional centenarians and 52 individuals ranging in age from 20 to 89. The results were published in The Lancet medical journal on March 31. Researchers were able to identify differences between centenarians and other individuals using sophisticated computational techniques.
“It’s almost like a detective story,” said Monti, “because through analysis of the immune system we can deduce that they were exposed to multiple infections and multiple sources of harm, and that their immune system was able to mount an effective response.” “As a result, they are obviously able to live longer, but they have also developed a stronger immune system, making them more resilient and likely to live longer.”
The researchers discovered that the immune profiles of centenarians did not follow the pattern associated with normal aging. The researchers also identified cell type signatures associated with exceptional longevity, such as increased expression of a gene implicated in the body’s response to DNA damage.
Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said that these observed differences could be occurring in all of a centenarian’s cells. The immune system is only one factor that contributes to extreme longevity.
“The same mechanism that improves the immune system also improves all of their cells,” Barzilai explained. Monti could not determine whether these differences are due to genetics, lifestyle, chance, or a combination of factors. However, he stated that this type of analysis is required to determine how to extend the benefits of longevity to a larger population.
“This study does not permit us to identify a particular cause for this longevity. It merely identifies some of the factors that appear to be associated with extreme longevity, as stated by Monti. For instance, to increase our healthy lifespan, it may be necessary to intervene in a person’s immune system.
However, other researchers stated that while the study was intriguing, it did not provide much insight into the causes of these individuals’ longevity. “I do not believe it provides any insight into why they may have lived so long. Steven Austad, a professor of aging research at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, remarked, “I believe this demonstrates that there is something unique about them.”
Barzilai stated that centenarians tend to develop diseases later in life and are more likely to be in perfect health until the day they die. Barzilai remarked, “You know, 30% of them don’t have any disease when they die.” Some of them simply do not awaken. No one examines these individuals at a younger age because it is unknown whether they will live to be 100 or older.
“If we had blood from these same people at the ages of 70, 80, 90, and 100, we would learn a great deal about how their immune systems function,” Austad explained. And if we compared them to people who were 70 years old but died before the age of 80, we would learn something very useful about the 100-year-olds. Austad and Barzilai observed that more beneficial studies are currently investigating the progeny of centenarians.
Austad stated, “If you are the son or daughter of someone who lived to be 100, your chances of living to be 100 are increased by a factor of 30.” Now that you have a 70-year-old with a high chance of living to 100, you can compare them to a 70-year-old without a family history of longevity. This is a much more effective way to identify what makes these people unique.”