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Einstein Scientists Reap $3.3M to Study Longevity Genes and Protection from Frailty

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A research team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University has reeled in a $3.3 million grant to study how genes may be involved in protecting some people against frailty as they age.

The researchers plan to use the National Institute on Aging grant to evaluate the roles exceptional longevity traits and genotypes play in lowering an individual's risk for frailty, a clinical term referring to reduced strength, balance, and vulnerability to trauma, and other problems.

They plan to study these characteristics in 1,400 older adults from the LonGenity Research Study, an Einstein college effort that builds on the Longevity Genes Project, an ongoing 15-year study involving more than 500 Ashkenazi Jews over the age of 95.

The project's central hypothesis is that unique genotypes and phenotypes protect against age-related diseases and afford longevity. The LonGenity study has already linked the offspring of parents with exceptional longevity to improved cardiovascular, metabolic, and cognitive health in aging. The researchers now will home in on frailty.

"We have shown that our centenarian participants have a significant genetic advantage over the general population," principal investigator Nir Barzilai, director of the Einstein's Institute for Aging Research, said in a statement. "Their rare genetic variants have allowed them to live longer, healthier lives and avoid or significantly delay age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes. We now want to know if a family history of those same longevity genes reduces the risk for frailty."

Barzilai and co-PI Joe Verghese, chief of geriatrics at Einstein and director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for the Aging Brain, initially plan to study the role of family history of longevity on reducing frailty. They also aim to determine the role of genetic risk factors in reducing the risk of physical decline and frailty, as well as the interplay between longevity and frailty-associated genotypes, and to study the effect of biological exposures on the association between exceptional longevity and changes in physical function in aging.

"If distinct genetic and biological changes can be shown to contribute to the prevention of frailty, it may be possible to develop and test interventions to prevent frailty and physical function decline that may provide additional benefits beyond those obtained from treatments from currently recognized diseases," the investigators explained in the project proposal.