UH Manoa researchers help discover longevity gene

Variant of gene nearly triples life expectancy

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Tina Shelton, 692-0897
Communications Director
Posted: Sep 2, 2008

Researchers with Kuakini Medical Center, the Pacific Health Research Institute and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa‘s John A. Burns School of Medicine have discovered that having a specific variation of a gene related to the regulation of cellular and blood sugar levels is linked with having a long and healthy life.

The gene, FOXO3A, has been directly linked to longevity in other species. But this is the first time this strong linkage to healthy aging has been demonstrated in humans.

Dr. Bradley Wilcox, of The Queen‘s Medical Center and the Pacific Health Research Institute, is Principal Investigator for the Hawai‘i Lifespan Study. Dr. Wilcox is also Clinical Associate Professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Dr. Wilcox and his team, including John A. Burns School of Medicine researchers Dr. David Curb and Dr. Beatriz Rodriguez, as well as Cancer Research Center investigator Dr. Timothy Donlon, studied biological samples and clinical data drawn from the 8,000 Japanese-American men in Hawai‘i who have had periodic health exams since the mid-1960‘s as part of the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program/Kuakini-Honolulu-Asia Aging Study.

The team identified 213 long-lived patients and 402 average-lived patients from the group, and found the following. Men who had one copy of the specific variation of the gene doubled their odds of living an average of 98 years, with some living as long as 106 years. Men with two copies almost tripled their odds of living for one century. Both sets of men appeared significantly healthier at older ages.

Dr. David Curb, co-author of the study, is not recommending people rush out to get tested for the longevity gene. Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and smoking can affect longevity and further studies are needed to confirm and extend these findings.

"But genes may account for up to 50% of what determine whether you live longer," said Dr. Curb. The researchers hope that better understanding of the mechanisms of aging will lead to further discoveries, such as medicines or lifestyle interventions, which could lower our risk for age-related disease and disability.

The findings of the Hawaii Lifespan Study are reported in the September 1, 2008 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

Primary funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Aging. Other contributors included The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Hawai‘i Community Foundation.