Lerner, who started painting in her 50's, earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts at the age of 83. And she never stops learning. Since age 96, she talks daily to daughter Karen in California via web cam and instant messaging.
Lerner has sisters who lived into their 90's. She thinks she lived so long and stayed so healthy because of her faith, and her genes— which new research shows may account for both her longevity and her small size.
"I'm the shrimp of the family," Lerner explains. She's also the longest-lived.
|Adele Lerner (right) with daughter Terry Kaufman|
Lerner was one of 450 people who've participated in a longevity study conducted by physician scientist Nir Barzilai and his team at Albert Einstein College of Medicine along with colleagues at UCLA and Johns Hopkins. The results showed that the fact that, at her tallest, she was a petite five feet, might also be linked to her longevity.
Previous studies in animals, such as mice, worms and flies, showed that mutations or variations in the genes affecting growth result in smaller animals with longer lifespan. In order to find out if these types of genetic variations correlate to height and longevity in people, Barzilai studied men and women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who ranged in age from 95 to 108. He also studied their sons and daughters.
First he analyzed the blood levels, in the children, of a protein involved in growth called insulin/insulin-like growth factor I (IGFI). Levels of this protein correlate with the action of growth hormone. While the sons did not show variations from the comparison or control group, the daughters had 35 percent higher levels of IGFI. Daughters were also about an inch shorter than the control group. This indicated that the action of growth hormone was higher. So, why were the daughters shorter than the comparison group?
To answer that question, Barzilai's team looked at the gene that codes for IGFI receptors, the "landing spots" on cells that respond to IGF1, carrying out its orders. He studied the DNA of the seven shortest female centenarians in the group, and found that they had a high incidence of mutations in those genes. Barzilai also found that those mutations impaired the IGFI receptors, reducing the function of growth hormone.
While centenarians who had these mutations also had higher IGFI levels, "the growth hormone is not active and… the body is trying to compensate by producing more growth hormone, but of course not totally successful," Barzilai says.
"This really proves the concept that actually low growth hormone action is consistent with longevity, just like it happens everywhere in nature," he says. But he points out that this is just one gene in the growth pathway.
"This confirms the possibility that some centenarians get to this age because they have mutations in the IGF [growth pathway]. But it doesn't mean that all centenarians need to have this mutation in order to get to age 100," he adds.