You may be passingly familiar with the work of Nir Barzilai in studying centenarians in the Ashkenazi Jewish population for genetic similarities that may explain their longevity:
Dr. Nir Barzilai, who has been studying centenarians for genetic and biochemical clues to longevity. At the top of the list so far: HDL and lipoprotein size ... Small lipoproteins imply a shorter, less healthy life.
Armed with genes, modern biotechnology makes it the work of less than a year to completely understand the mechanisms involved - the trick is to determine which genes are important. Work on human biochemistry is the biggest and most important reverse engineering project of our time.
The website for Barzilai's project makes for an interesting read if you'd like to learn more about how this and other centenarian and longevity studies actually operate.
Up to the 17th century, the Ashkenazi Jews in the Pale of Europe encountered a combination of plagues, wars and anti-Semitic persecution, contracting the population to an estimated few hundred thousand. Combined with a long history of isolation and virtually no intermarriage, the Ashkenazi population today is derived from a relatively limited number of founders. The gene pool of Ashkenazi Jews, therefore, is unique and more homogeneous than most other populations. It is easier to spot genetic differences in this group, precisely because there is so much similarity in the genetic makeup.
Although participants in this study must be Ashkenazi Jews, the findings will be relevant to everyone, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.
Results of our research to-date have been encouraging and enthusiastically received by the medical research community. ... While there is still much more work to do, we are confident that we are on track to unraveling the mystery of extreme longevity, and finding the keys to a long, healthy life.
This sort of research is a branch of the larger tree of metabolic and longevity research. Over on the other side, you'll find calorie restriction studies - attempts to understand how calorie intake and metabolic regulation mechanisms determine the rate at which age-related damage accumulates, and thus determines healthy life span. We can hope that this field illuminates much that we'll need to know in order to greatly extend the healthy human life span - once scientists develop sufficient control over our biochemistry, that is. I'm not sold on metabolic tinkering as the best path forward to radical life extension, however. We need to do better than simply slow aging - we need to get in there and repair or prevent age-related damage ... which may actually turn out to be the faster, more effective way forward.