An Interview With the Supercentenarian Research Foundation Chairman

An item of interest on an otherwise slow day:

In this podcast, you’ll hear Dr. Platika review the accomplishments of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, and he’ll talk about his new job: helping to get funding to study the world's oldest people.

Dr. Platika is the chairman of the Supercentenarian Research Foundation, a new organization designed to raise funding for studies of supercentenarians, or people who have lived more than 110 years. Dr. Platika wants to know: Why have the very aged survived as long as they have? Are they less susceptible to the common diseases that slow down the rest of us? Ultimately, Dr. Platika hopes the foundation will contribute to the discovery of products that help people fight degenerative and other conditions associated with aging and maintain their mobility and quality of life.

The SRF has fairly close ties to the Methuselah Foundation, as I recall. Certainly, amyloidosis is a condition that interests both parties: a buildup of different types of clumping biochemicals in different tissues that leads to loss of function and eventually death. It is thought to be an important cause of death in supercentenarians who have evaded all the other common killers.

"The superseniors deviate from the norm not just in how long they live but in how they die," says Coles, who arranges autopsies of the oldest old as part of his work with the recently established Supercentenarian Research Foundation. Only nine Supercentenarians have undergone postmortems - Calment, for example, never agreed to one - and Coles and colleagues have performed six of these procedures, including one earlier this year in Cali, Colombia, on a man who died at age 111.

Coles argues, based on these autopsies, that supers aren't perishing from the typical scourges of old age, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's Disease. What kills most of them, he says, is a condition, extremely rare among younger people, called senile cardiac TTR Amyloidosis. TTR is a protein that cradles the thyroid hormone thyroxine and whisks it around the body. In TTR Amyloidosis, the protein amasses in and clogs blood vessels, forcing the heart to work harder and eventually fail. "The same thing that happens in the pipes of an old house happens in your blood vessels," says Coles.

The Methuselah Foundation is funding development of biomedical remediation as a technology platform to safely remove amyloid and other forms of aggregate from tissues, which should prevent that process from contributing to degenerative aging.