To date, medical research has largely neglected the genetics of good health, instead focusing on finding genetic markers of disease. Through the Wellderly study, researchers seek to understand the mechanisms that help keep people healthy and protected from disease, and to translate key discoveries into improvements in patient care.
“We all carry genes that make us susceptible to diseases, but some of us avoid the major illnesses that afflict others,” said Eric J. Topol, M.D., Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and Scripps Genomic Medicine and the study’s principal investigator. “Looking at the genes of healthy elderly people is a unique approach to understanding the underpinning biology of health, and ways this can be inherited.
“A great many people carry the genes that cause heart attack, cancer and other diseases, but some have modifier genes that cancel out their risk – it’s nature’s way of protecting them,” Dr. Topol said. “These so-called ‘wellderly’ are, in fact, harboring the secrets of good health.”
While the study will be based in Southern California, participants will also be enrolled in cities across America through Scripps Health‘s relationships with other health care providers.
Locating healthy elderly (80 years of age and older) to get DNA samples is challenging, since they don’t spend much time in health care facilities. Scripps currently attracts volunteers by conducting outreach efforts in the community.
“The logistics are tricky, but we have to find them,” said Dr. Topol. “We think as people learn about this program, they’ll want to participate as a way to help benefit the health and well-being of future generations.”