The Hawaiʻi Lifespan Study, by Kuakini Medical Center, Pacific Health Research Institute and John A. Burns School of Medicine, provides the first strong evidence that a specific variation of gene FOXO3A is linked to a long, healthy life.
The gene, which is related to the regulation of cellular and blood sugar levels, was previously linked to longevity in other species.
The researchers, led by Bradley Willcox, analyzed biological and clinical data collected from 615 Japanese-American men in a long-term Honolulu health study.
Those who had a specific variation on one copy 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 compared to men with average life spans, the authors report in the Sept. 16, 2008 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While genes may account for 50 percent of what determines longevity, lifestyle factors including diet, exercise and smoking also play a role, they caution. Still, a better understanding of the mechanisms of aging may help humans reduce the risk of age-related disease and disability.