11 Sep What Can We Learn From Small Group of Smokers Who Survive To Old Age?
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Levine: Studies using mice, worms, and flies have suggested that longevity may be linked to stress resistance. All of us are constantly encountering things that damage our cells and tissue and disrupt physiological functioning. Therefore, people who are genetically predisposed to better prevent or repair this damage may age slower. Smoking is one of the most damaging things someone can do to their health, yet some smokers are able to survive to extreme ages. This study looked at long-lived smokers to see if we could identify a “genetic signature”. We generated a genetic risk score that was found to be associated with longevity both in smokers and non-smokers, and also appeared to be associated with cancer risk.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Levine: I think it is important to recognize that this doesn’t change what we know about the health hazards of smoking. For most people, smoking will reduce their lifespan by an average of 10 years and increase their risk of developing a number of chronic diseases–like heart disease, cancer, and COPD. The proportion of people who have a “genetic signature” that would help them cope with the biological stresses of smoking is extremely small, and therefore, nobody should use this paper as an excuse to continue smoking. Even among the lucky few who are genetically predisposed to longevity, smoking cessation is likely still one of the best things they can do for their health.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Levine: An important next step is figuring out how the genes in our risk score interact and ultimately slow the aging process. Aging is a very complex phenomenon and there is a lot more we need to learn about its underlying mechanisms before we can successfully intervene.
Morgan E. Levine and Eileen M. Crimmins. A Genetic Network Associated With Stress Resistance, Longevity, and Cancer in Humans. The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences, September 2015 DOI: 1093/gerona/glv141
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Dr. Morgan Elyse Levine PhD (2015). What Can We Learn From Small Group of Smokers Who Survive To Old Age?