SAN FRANCISCO – Exactly why James Markam is alive and well is a bit of a mystery. The octogenarian has lost four siblings to cancer, heart disease and emphysema, all before they reached 62. Yet the retired airline executive recalls only one bout of sickness, culminating with a chest cold, 50 years ago.
Scientists are taking a deep look at Markams genetics to see whether something is protecting him from illnesses that affect others his age, such as Alzheimers, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Markam, 83, is one of more than 1,300 individuals identified as having what Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, called Teflon-coated genes.
We think its in the genome in these individuals, said Topol, who is leading research of healthy older people called the Wellderly Study at the La Jolla, Calif.-based institute. You dont see any environmental thing that would be explaining this.
The first set of participants genes should be sequenced by the end of the year, said Cliff Reid, chief executive officer of Mountain View, Calif.-based Complete Genomics, which is doing the work for free.
Scientists and pharmaceutical companies are closely watching Scripps research project and others like it, eager for clues to help them develop new treatments to ward off diseases that have long afflicted the elderly.