Want to know the secrets to a long life? International researchers are joining forces to unlock the answers in a landmark project.
A team of American and Italian medical researchers are joining forces and descending on the remote town of Acciaroli in what they hope to be a groundbreaking investigation into aging and health.
The reason: almost a third of the small southern Italian township's population is over the age of 100. Given the average age in Australia is around 82, and several years lower in the US, it's a phenomenon that merits examination.
To understand how people can live longer throughout the world, the researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and their colleagues at University of Rome La Sapienza will study a group of 300 Acciaroli citizens, all over 100 years old, who lie in the village nestled between the ocean and mountains on Italy’s coast.
“We are the first group of researchers to be given permission to study this population in Acciaroli, Italy,” said Alan Maisel, MD, lead UC San Diego School of Medicine investigator and professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. The Acciaroli study group is known to have very low rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. It favors a Mediterranean diet markedly infused with the herb rosemary. “Everyone in Acciaroli grows rosemary in their garden. Rosemary is used in a number of forms in almost every meal: as a garnish, an oil and in sauces,” notes Maisel. “There are scientific studies—small studies albeit—demonstrating the beneficial effects of rosemary on cognitive function.”
Due to the location of the village, Maisel said locals also walk long distances and hike through the mountains as part of their daily activity. “We would notice these people were walking around. Some would be smoking, some would be pretty fat as well, and it just seemed [beyond] the usual health benefits of just the Mediterranean diet,” he says.
The study will also involve tests to look at metabolomics, biomes, cognitive dysfunction and protein biomarkers for risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease and cancer, as well as studying a range of different lifestyle, environment and genetic factors. “We're going to tackle this in every way that we can,” says Maisel. 'We have to think that possibly there's something genetic that we can find. Diabetes, for instance, is a low risk yet we saw a lot of heavy people there and nothing happens to them.'
A huge benefit of the project is the fact that Maisel and his research team will work with their Italian counterparts to collect blood samples and distribute questionnaires to the group over the next six months, fostering closer bonds in the international medical research community.
“This project will not only help to unlock some of the secrets of healthy aging, but will build closer ties with researchers across the globe, which will lead to more science and improved clinical care in our aging population,” said Salvatore DiSomma, MD, lead Italian investigator and professor of emergency medicine at University of Rome La Sapienza. And together, this united team of global specialists may just discover the answers to healthy aging for us all.
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