National News

Researchers in Phoenix discover gene linked to 'SuperAgers'

Posted June 21, 2018 1:37 p.m. EDT

— Jerry and Lynda Svendsen are still in the fast lane of life at ages 83 and 78.

"Lynda and I over these last years of retirement. These have been some of the best years of life," Jerry said. They are physical. They are involved. They are what researchers are calling 'SuperAgers'.

"These are folks who perform better than would be expected for their age," said Dr. Matt Huentelman, Professor of Neurogenomics at TGEN in Phoenix.

SuperAgers have the mental capacity of a 30-year-old well into their 80s. Researchers at TGEN, along with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine want to know what makes these SuperAgers tick.

They've been studying the lifestyles and physical make up of SuperAgers and have recently made a major discovery.

"We did find a change in their genetics that indicates that perhaps-- even from birth-- they have a little bit different brain chemistry that we think is associated with being a SuperAger," Huentelman said.

The SuperAger gene is called MAP2K3. Now scientists want to create drugs to target that gene with the hopes they reduce age-related memory loss in the future and maybe do even more.

"So the concept is if we can understand what makes you a SuperAger, maybe we can exploit that and make more of us SuperAgers," said Huentelman. "If that works, then these same drugs might work to help prevent Alzheimer's disease so that's the real excitement here."

The MAP2K3 discovery could be a game changer in the battle against Alzheimer's disease giving more people long, healthy enjoyable lives like Jerry and Lynda's who say they're not slowing down, in fact, they're just getting started.

"I look at these last 18 years-- that's when we retired, 18 years ago-- they've been fantastic," said Jerry.

TGEN needs your help to learn more about SuperAgers. You can participate from your home. Interested people can take a free online test. It's anonymous and takes less than ten minutes.

The test studies how your brain works and you may be identified as a SuperAger in the future. Go to mindcrowd.org to take the test and help researchers in the fight against Alzheimer's disease.