New genetic test predicts who will live to 100

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A team says it's identified a group of genes that can predict exceptionally long life in humans with 77 percent accuracy.

The Boston University researchers examined centenarians and built a genetic model including 150 genetic variants, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). They found that these 150 variants could be used to predict whether people survived to 100.

"These genetic signatures are a new advance towards personalized genomics and predictive medicine, where this analytic method may prove to be generally useful in prevention and screening of numerous diseases, as well as the tailored uses of medications," said author Dr Thomas Perls, founder and director of the New England Centenarian Study.

Ninety percent of the centenarians shared 19 specific genetic clusters, which correlated with differences in the prevalence and age-of-onset of diseases such as dementia and hypertension. Nearly half of the oldest centenarians – those 110 years and older – had genetic signatures with the highest proportion of longevity-associated genetic variants.

The team found that having the right genes is more important than lacking the wrong ones.

They analyzed how many disease-associated variants each centenarian had, compared to the controls, and found little difference between the two groups.

"Predicting disease risk using disease-associated variants may be inaccurate and potentially misleading, without more information about other genetic variants that could attenuate such risk," warn authors Paola Sebastiani and Perls.

"Exceptional longevity may be the result of an enrichment of longevity-associated variants that counter the effect of disease-
associated variants and contribute to the compression of morbidity and/or disability towards the end of these very long lives."

The researchers warn that the implications of this model's use in the general population will need careful consideration  before the test is marketed, they said.

"This is a novel approach to studying genetic contributions to exceptional longevity," said Winifred K Rossi, deputy director of the NIA's Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology.

"It adds to a growing set of analytical tools that aim to identify and understand the complex genetic and environmental factors that lead to healthy long life."