Exceptional Longevity in the United States

Leonid Gavrilov's latest project is entitled "Exceptional Longevity in the United States" and you can find out more from his blog:

The broad long-term objective of this project is to find out why some people manage to survive to extreme old ages (100+ years), and what are the driving forces behind mortality trends at advanced ages (which have important implications for public spending on health care, pensions etc.). This is an important issue not only for demographic forecasts of human mortality and population aging, but also for improving our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of human aging and longevity.

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This project is also inspired by unexpected findings from our pilot study of the U.S. centenarians at the Center on Aging supported by NIA and the Society of Actuaries, which suggest that very large differences (2-3 times) in chances of exceptional survival could be linked to such surprisingly "simple" early-life circumstances as person's birth order, birth place (within the United States), and even family socioeconomic background (being raised at farm). This amazing plasticity of exceptional longevity in response to "trivial" early-life living conditions indicate that environmental and behavioral factors should receive much more attention in longevity studies, because even the search for "human longevity genes" could be greatly facilitated when powerful confounding effects of childhood environment are taken into account.

It seems to me that statistical and actuarial assistance to the process of understanding how aging, genetics and metabolism interact will be come less and less relevant as the techniques of biotechnology and bioinformatics continue to improve. Statistical studies allow scientists to narrow the search for genes and biochemical mechanisms that are relevant to the matter at hand - but powerful enough tools will make this process unnecessary.

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