What’s killing supercentenarians? Amyloidosis, suggest two gerontologists

May 28, 2012

Small bowel duodenum with amyloid deposition (credit: Michael Feldman/Wikimedia Commons)

In a newly published review, Dr. Stephen Coles and Robert Young of the UCLA Gerontology Research Group have identified what may be killing supercentenarians: amyloidosis — and drugs to treat it could extend lifespan beyond current limits.

Supercentenarians are persons who have lived beyond the age of 110. Currently there are only about 80 such known individuals in the world whose age is verified. The world record holder is Jeanne Calment, who survived until age 122.

Amyloidosis is a disease state hallmarked by the deposition of fibers of abnormally clumped masses of the protein ransthyretin, which normally acts to carry thyroid and other hormones.  Mutations in the gene make the fibers abnormally sticky and they tend to clump into long fibers that are deposited in multiple organs.

These persons have already escaped the typical causes of death, but the normally innocuous amounts of amyloid that increase with age may actually become toxic to them because they have lived so many years.

However, experimental drugs (such as Tapamidis meglumine, approved in Europe under the trade name Vyndaqel) exist that may eliminate amyloid. These drugs are being studied for young persons with pathological amyloidosis. Could they become the first drugs to extend human lifespan beyond current theoretical limits?

“Please note that this is little more than a 3-page summary of what we wanted to write,” said co-author Young in a post on the GRG list. “Dr. Aubrey de Grey indicated in the past that he would publish the full version of the paper if Dr. Coles added details on supercentenarian autopsies conducted by Dr. Coles.

“This type of work could always use additional funding. Right now, the number of supercentenarian autopsies conducted is not enough to have ‘statistical power’ but only provides strong anecdotal hints of why this may be a problem deserving of a closer look.”

UPDATE Mar. 15, 2016: Removed “Extreme Longevity” source (no longer published) and added references.