Long-Life Secrets From The 115-Year-Old Woman

Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, 113 yearsWe’ve thoroughly exhausted the search for the “Fountain of Youth,” yet scientists are still trying to decode the secret to longevity. The secret to a longer life may be discovered in the body of one of the world’s oldest humans.

When Hendrikje Van Andel-Schipper donated her body to science, she gave longevity researchers a truly special gift. She was the oldest person in the world when she died at age 115, and her body, in the hands of a team of Dutch researchers, launched a slew of breakthrough investigations into why some people live longer than others. In 2010, scientists led by Dr. Henne Holstege at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam sequenced Andel-Schipper’s genome with the hope they would uncover something about the secrerts of longevity from her genes.

In Holstege’s latest study, published in the journal Genome Research, the researchers looked for gene mutations in Andel-Schipper’s blood. When stem cells divide, they generate different types of blood cells, like white blood cells. But these divisions can also cause mutations. They wanted to determine whether mutations can occur in healthy white blood cells over time, and if they have any impact on health. They discovered that although she was a mostly healthy person, there were hundreds of genetic mutations in her cells, which they thought was curious. So the researchers explored where these white blood cells were coming from, and took a look at her stem cells.

Scientists estimate that everyone starts their life with about 20,000 stem cells, 1,300 of which are considered “active.” To the researchers’ surprise, Andel-Schipper only had two active stem cells at the time of her death. “At first I could not believe that it was true. I thought it must be a technical error. It cannot be true that this person can still be alive with two stem cells,” says Holstege.

The researchers then looked at the length of the telomeres on Andel-Schipper’s blood cells and discovered they were extremely short compared to all her other organs. As cells age, their telomeres get shorter. Therefore, the researchers realized that there may be a limit to the number of divisions our stem cells can make, and that at a certain point, they must start to die from division exhaustion. It’s possible that stem cell exhaustion was the cause of death of Andel-Schipper, and that it could also be the cause of death among many people who live to great ages, although the researchers acknowledge that more research needs to be done to determine whether this holds true.

If proven, the implications for aging are significant. If there’s a limit to the life of stem cells, that’s a limit to human life. But what if you could replenish them? Via Time

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3 Responses to Long-Life Secrets From The 115-Year-Old Woman

  1. Phil Krause says:

    When I read this I couldn’t understand how the scientists could possibly know that Hendrikje only had two stem cells from her 100 trillion body cells. I have done a little digging into this report and offer an explanation below:-

    Most brain cells are with us throughout our entire lives and therefore don’t divide, whereas our red blood cells are replaced every three months or so on average. However, our red blood cells do not contain DNA. White blood cells do contain DNA and are replaced every 3 to 4 days. Both red and white cells are made in the bone marrow from stem cells dividing. Millions of blood cells are made every second. The Dutch scientists compared the DNA in Hendrikje’s brain that hadn’t changed with the DNA in her white blood cells that have been dividing throughout her entire life to find around 450 differences or mutations. From the nature of these mutations, they could deduce that these mutations could have only derived from two stem cells. As we start life with around 20,000 of these stem cells in our marrow, the scientists were a little surprised the Hendrikje could only have had two active ones left. The scientists are wondering if the number of active stem cells in our bone marrow are a limiting factor in our maximum lifespan.

    • Deskarati says:

      Great explanation Phil.

      With regard to the length of the telomeres, it mentions that Hendrijkes were very short in her blood cells compared to other organs. So would it be possible to freeze the bone marrow stem cells of a person when they are born an return them when you’re old?

  2. Phil Krause says:

    Sounds like a great idea. As people already have one marrow transplants already it cant matter that the DNA is different anyway as long as they make compatible blood type. Couldn’t we just have a bone marrow transplant when we get old anyway. I’m sure rich people could buy some from India or somewhere like it if it’s not available for non essential reasons in the western world.

    Telomeres only get short on cells that regularly divide like marrow or skin cells. The marrow transplant might help increase telomere length and the number of stem cells in one go.

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