The Shmooze

Ashkenazi Stem Cells: Key to Longevity?

By Michael Kaminer

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We personally think it’s the power of complaining.

But to learn why some Ashkenazim live so long, researchers at Cornell University are about to start studying the stem cells of about a dozen older Jews.

According to the New York Post — in a story headlined “Bouncing bubbes of New York” — many Ashkenazi Jews “live to 100 without disease despite smoking, drinking and eating fatty foods.”

Ashkenazim are “a heavily persecuted population that descends from Imperial Russia and, through years of intermarriage, shares distinctive genetic traits,” the Post reports. One such characteristic is a “longevity gene,” which “appears to protect them from heart attacks, cancer and other life-threatening maladies.”

The Cornell researchers are “using the stem cells of centenarians and their children and comparing them with people who are unlikely to get to the age of 100,” said Dr. Nir Barzilai, an aging expert at Albert Einstein Medical School in The Bronx who has tracked hundreds of Ashkenazi Jews for his own Longevity Genes Project.

One of the Cornell participants, Lilly Port of Scarsdale, “turned 98 last Thursday and has never been sick,” the Post said. “She’s too busy traveling — to Italy, Hungary and St. Tropez in the last year alone — to worry about illness.”

And though she doesn’t smoke, Port doesn’t exactly hold back, the Post reported. “This Austrian native enjoys bratwurst, eats chocolate every day and drinks white wine ‘when I want to relax,’” she said.


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