Families Prone to Longevity Offer Clues to Disease Risk

Posted on: October 30, 2013 Topics: Biostatistics

People with longer life spans also are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis, cancer and other health problems, suggesting that longevity-prone families may be “an important resource to discover genetic and environmental factors” that keep people healthy longer, a study led by a BUSPH researcher has found.

The study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Public Health, Epidemiology, found that compared to a control group, older subjects with family histories of longevity had lower risks for cancer, cardiovascular disease, severe dementia, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and stroke. The age at which 20 percent of the longevity-prone families had one or more age-related diseases was approximately 10 years later than the controls.

“The analyses . . . suggest that this aging cohort provides an important resource to discover genetic and environmental factors that promote prolonged health-span, in addition to longer life-span,” said the research team, headed by Paola Sebastiani, professor of biostatistics at BU School of Public Health.

block_elderlySebastiani and colleagues compared the “health-spans” of older-generation subjects of the Long Life Family Study (LLFS), who have family histories of longevity, to controls that have no family longevity, and to centenarians of the New England Centenarian Study. The LLFS is an ongoing study of longevity and healthy aging in 583 families and almost 5,000 family members demonstrating clustering for longevity. The median age of the subjects and their siblings at enrollment was 92 years, with an age range of 72–109 years.

The study found that the LLFS subjects’ overall disease-free survival was almost comparable to that of the NECS centenarians, with the exception of severe dementia, where the LLFS subjects demonstrated an even greater delay. Pulmonary disease was much less prevalent in the LLFS group and the centenarians, compared to the controls.

A similar pattern of delay in age-of-onset was observed for nearly all the age-related diseases included in the analyses.

“Perhaps members of these families age at slower rates and they have biological factors that impact upon both rate of aging and pathogeneses of age-related diseases,” the researchers wrote.

Sebastiani and her co-authors said future analyses that integrate genetic data with other risk factors will be needed to further explore “health-span.”

Co-authors on the study include: Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrician and researcher at the BU School of Medicine and director of the New England Centenarian Study; and Fangui X. (Jenny) Sun, a research assistant professor of biostatistics at BUSPH.

Also contributing were researchers from the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University; the Department of Genetics at Washington University; the Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, at the University of Pittsburgh; and the Social Science Research Institute at Duke University.

Submitted by: Lisa Chedekel Chedekel@bu.edu