Shhhhh! We know the secret to living past 100

It turns out that the key to more circles around the sun is a supercharged immune system that protects the body from infections.

Jordan Heuvelmans 2 minute read February 21, 2020
cartoon grandma wearing cape

Grandma in superhero costume standing with arm flexed vector cartoon illustration. Smiling friendly confident Caucasian senior woman wearing cape and mask. Lifestyle, active old age, health theme.

The secret to living past 100 has finally been revealed by scientists looking to understand what makes some people live longer than others.

Aren’t you dying to know? It turns out that longevity is linked to a supercharged immune system that protects the body from infections.

Known as ‘super-agers’ or ‘supercentenarians’, these older adults tend to have uniquely potent immune cells that specifically target viruses, bacteria and tumours in the body. In fact, research already shows that supercentenarians are able to fight off cancer and infections more effectively than others.

According to the Telegraph, most people have a type of cell called CD4 T-cells that scan the body for invaders, and then release chemicals to attract immune cells to take out the disease.

The study followed seven supercentenarians (all who were 110 years-old or older), and found that a large number of their CD4 T-cells take up arms against body invaders, giving the immune system a huge boost. It was also found that they had about 25 per cent more CD4 T-cells, compared to less than 10 per cent in the average person.

“We were especially interested in studying this group of people because we consider them to be a good model of healthy aging, and this is important in societies like Japan where aging is proceeding rapidly,” Dr. Kosuke Hashimoto, a researcher at Japan-based Riken Center for Integrative Medical Science (IMS)  told the Telegraph.

“If we can find the link between the immune system and aging and longevity, we may be able to contribute to prolonging healthy life expectancies,” he said.

The team also looked at 40,000 immune cells from the group of supercentenarians and compared them to younger groups between the ages of 50 to 80, finding that supercentenarians have a high level of cytotoxic cells — cells that can kill other cells. Researchers discovered that these special cells were developed after being cloned from one single “ancestor” cell.

IMS Deputy Director Piero Carninci told the Telegraph, “We believe that these type of cells, which are relatively uncommon in most individuals, even the young, are useful for fighting against established tumours, and could be important for immuno-surveillance. This is exciting as it has given us new insights into how people who live very long lives are able to protect themselves from conditions such as infections and cancer.”

Next, researchers want to find out how and why supercentenarians have these special cells, and if it can be replicated to extend life and boost health.