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NBC's Lindsey Carswell ReportingWhat's the secret to living a long life? Doctors believe those who've lived past 100 despite poor choices may have the answer.
At 101, Reuben Landau is the oldest practicing attorney in Massachusetts. He says he reformed his lifestyle after a heart attack at age 59, but before that he smoked and was overworked and stressed.
Reuben Landau, 101 Years Old: "I have no secret and I am waiting for the results of these research studies. There's where the secret is."
Researcher Thomas Perls is head of the New England centenarian study and has interviewed some 15-hundred people like Landau. He says centenarians tend to be remarkably fit, and that most of their good health can be explained by healthy behaviors. But the secret to actual anti-aging drugs might be found among the exceptions to that rule.
Thomas Perls , Boston University School of Medicine: "It's a very small number, but we've had some individuals who, for instance, smoked three packs a day for 50 years and yet there they are in their early hundreds without any lung disease, no brain disease, no cancer and you have to believe that they have something protective going on."
Finding the genes behind that protection and targeting them with medicines or therapies is the quest of biotech companies like Elixir Pharmaceuticals. Elixir scientists wrote in the journal "Nature Reviews Drug Discovery" that they're developing drugs aimed at genes that affect obesity and diabetes, which lead to heart disease and many other age-related diseases.
Bill Heiden, Elixir Pharmaceuticals: "We look at uncontrolled metabolic dysfunction as really a model for accelerated aging."
Perls agrees but warns that such drugs are likely a long way off, and we can make healthy lifestyle changes like landau did, today.