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Secrets to a long cancer-free life: geneticists study 'super seniors'

03/12/2015 03:09 EDT | Updated 05/12/2015 05:59 EDT
A new study funded by the Canadian Cancer Society examines what lessons there are in genetics to help people live a longer, healthier life.

Researchers are studying the genetic make up of 500 people they call "super seniors" — people 85 years or older who have never been diagnosed with a heart condition, cancer or other major diseases.

"The theory is that if we could identify a genetic factor that has been inherited by some of these super seniors, that we could devise a way to mimic that in regular people who haven't inherited such a factor," lead investigator and SFU genetics professor Angela Brooks-Wilson told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

She cautions that genetics alone don't give people a free pass. Many of the people participating in the study do live healthy lifestyles, which has played a big role in keeping them alive.

"Studies from around the world seem to be pointing to genetics being responsible for about 25 per cent of the long term good health equation, so 75 per cent — the majority — would be lifestyle," she said.

"I think it's good news that the larger part is lifestyle, so that gives us an intervention point where we can improve our chances of living a long, healthy life."

Brooks-Wilson said soon the study will start a new branch, to study the genetics of people who live into their hundreds.

To hear the full interview with Angela Brooks-Wilson, click the audio labelled: The secrets of super seniors.

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