Researchers found that a genetic mutation among members of an Amish community may actually be helping them live longer and evade aging-related diseases such as diabetes. Experts are now working on a possible "longevity" drug based on the mutation.
Genetic Mutation In The Amish Community
In 2015, a team of healthcare workers went to Berne, Indiana to investigate, study, and interact with the members of an Old Order Amish community. Nearly 180 immediate and extended family members were tested, 43 of whom were carriers of a unique genetic mutation that evidently allows them to live 10 years longer than their kin.
Normally, the gene SERPINE1 makes PAI-1, a protein that is associated with aging. However, 43 of the 177 individuals tested were found to carry mutations on the gene. They were also found to have longer telomeres, or the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes, which is a biological marker of aging in which shorter telomeres are signs of aging.
Protected From Diabetes
Researchers then tested the individuals for signs and markers of aging and found that those with the mutation retained the flexibility of their blood vessels compared to those who do not have the mutation. What's more, when they compared the fasting insulin levels of an individual with two normal copies of the gene and another with one gene mutation, the individual with the mutation had almost 30 percent lower fasting insulin levels, making him practically protected from developing diabetes.
"Not only do they live longer, they live healthier. It's a desirable form of longevity. It's their 'health span'," said Dr. Douglas Vaughan, cardiologist and lead author of the study.
The Amish community in Indiana was originally from Berne, Switzerland and emigrated to the country in the 19th century. The mutation was introduced by two descendants of farmers from Switzerland who eventually married into the Amish community. Because of the isolated nature of the community, they have been both culturally and genetically isolated. In fact, no other Amish community carries the mutation.
"This is the only kindred on the planet that has this mutation," said Vaughan.
Members of the Berne Amish community with the mutation tend to have a life expectancy of 85, while other Amish without the mutation have an average lifespan of 71.
Because of the astounding finding on the Berne Amish community, Northwestern University partnered up with Tohoku University to create a "longevity" pill, an anti-aging drug which essentially mimics the effects of the mutation by inhibiting PAI-1.
The drug is currently in its second phase of testing in Japan and the team plans on applying for FDA approval to begin testing in the United States in the coming months. They are also planning on testing the drug on individuals with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
The study is published in Science Advances.