Life 101: Lessons from Nicolina

| Written by Scott LaFee
101 year-old Nicolina speaks with Tatiana Kisseleva

Every multicellular organism has a finite lifespan, a point in which time-related deterioration prevails over synthesis (apart from factors like disease) and death occurs. It’s the biology of senescence. 

In the United States, the average life expectancy for a multicellular human being at birth is currently slightly more than 79 years – a little higher for women, a little lower for men.

Of course, some people live much longer. There are an estimated 101,000 centenarians in the U.S., people who are 100 years and older. There are approximately 722,000 centenarians in the world. These “super-aged” folks belong to a fast-growing age demographic. By 2054, the U.S. population is projected to quadruple and the global centenarian population to reach 4 million. 

How and why do these people live so long? What can we learn from them? Researchers everywhere are asking these questions, including at Sanford Burnham Prebys and the San Diego Nathan Shock Center, a National Institute of Aging-supported collaboration with UC San Diego and Salk Institute.

Longevity is the particular subject of many scientific projects, including an ongoing longitudinal study in the Cilento region of southern Italy, which is famous for healthy aging and the Mediterranean Diet. Researchers from Sanford Burnham Prebys, the Sanford Stem Cell Institute at UC San Diego and the University of Rome La Sapienza seek to learn how their lifestyles and health behaviors, particularly their diet, may contribute to remarkably long lives with low rates of heart disease and dementia.

One of the co-principal investigators of the Cilento Initiative on Aging Outcomes (CIAO) study is David Brenner, MD, president and CEO of Sanford Burnham Prebys. Recently Brenner and colleagues visited one of the study’s participants: a 101-year-old woman named Nicolina.

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