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Study seeks long-lived families to learn more about long and healthy life



July 7, 2008

Barbara Cire | 301-496-1752 | nianews3@mail.nih.gov



More and more people are living longer. But living to extreme old age is unusual and tends to run in some families. A new study, supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), aims to learn more about the secrets to long healthy life, and investigators are seeking long-lived families to help study this important question.

In coming weeks, researchers in three regions--near Boston, New York and Pittsburgh--will be contacting older people to see if they and their families might be eligible and willing to participate in the Long Life Family Study. The study is looking for families with two or more healthy brothers and sisters who have lived to old age and can be interviewed in person. "We’re interested in finding out why some families age so well," said Winifred K. Rossi, deputy director of NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology and the NIA program official for the study. “By sharing information about their lives and families with us, participants may help improve the health of future generations--including their own children and grandchildren--by giving us clues to the secrets of healthy longevity.

"We aim to enroll as many families with as many long-lived members as possible," Rossi continued "The more families and the larger the size of each family enrolled, the better the chance we can find meaningful results. We are seeking study participants primarily from the regions near the three study centers, but we have the ability to interview participants’ family members who live in other parts of the country so that their information can be included."

Trained clinical staff will meet with study participants in their communities to ask questions about their family and health history and conduct some physical assessments and health screening tests. Participants will also be asked for a small blood sample to obtain genetic information. Genetic and health information will be kept strictly confidential. Investigators plan to stay in touch with the families to determine if other family members and their children live longer than usual.

The current study recruitment builds on efforts during an earlier phase of the research, in which several hundred families took part. It is critical to include a large number of additional families so that the most thorough analyses can be done. "The families who have so generously given of their time so far have told us that they are proud of their long-lived families and are happy to be part of this effort," Rossi noted. "We are most appreciative of their time and of their interest--and that of future participants." The study’s lead researchers, prominent in longevity and genetic research, are:

  • Thomas Perls, M.D., Ph.D., director of the New England Centenarian Study and Associate Professor of Medicine, Geriatrics Section, Department of Medicine, Boston University;
  • Richard Mayeux, M.D., M.Sc., Gertrude H. Sergievsky Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry and Epidemiology, Columbia University Medical Center and director of the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center and co-director of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain, New York;
  • Anne B. Newman, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine, Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh;
  • James W. Vaupel, Ph.D., executive director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, and director of the Program on Population, Policy and Aging at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham, N. C.;
  • Kaare Christensen, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology, Institute of Public Health at the University of Southern Denmark and senior research scientist at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham, N. C. and,
  • Michael A. Province, Ph.D., Professor of Genetics and Biostatistics, and director of the Division of Statistical Genomics in the Genome Sciences Center, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.

Individuals who live within a two- to three-hour driving radius of Pittsburgh, Boston or New York City are invited to call the study coordinating center at 1-877-362-2074 to see if they are eligible to participate. Study centers include Boston University, the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University. Additional information about the study is available at www.longlifefamilystudy.org.

The NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older people. For more information on research and aging, go to www.nia.nih.gov.

The NIH--the nation's medical research agency--includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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