Aurora native, 102, nominated for longevity genes studyIf scientists discover a “rare gene” in Sara Cina’s DNA, perhaps it will have something to do with a lively sense of humor.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
If scientists discover a “rare gene” in Sara Cina’s DNA, perhaps it will have something to do with a lively sense of humor.
“I eat sensibly, but I also come from a long line of Cinas that live for a long time. They live around 100 years old,” the 102-year-old Aurora native said. Then she chuckled, and added: “Tough old geezers, aren’t we?”
Trying to discover the inherited magic that allows Cina and others to surpass normal life expectancies and remain healthy into triple digits inspired a competition for genetic researchers with a $10 million prize. With the title “Archon Genomics X Prize presented by Medco,” the challenge will be for teams to sequence the genetic structure of 100 centenarians in a month, from Jan. 3 to Feb. 3 next year.
Cina has been nominated to be one of the 100.
“She’s pretty strong,” said John Salas, 64, who cares for Cina in her home in La Quinta, Calif. Cina doesn’t pick up on conversations as quickly as she used to, he said. “But, hey, she’s healthy. No medication. Takes
no medications at all, not even an aspirin.”
Do Cina and other centenarians have “rare genes” that keep them healthy? It seems likely, said Dr. Felix Frueh, president of the Medco Research Institute, the research branch of the pharmaceutical management firm.
“I think it’s very reasonable to assume that part of the reason why people live that long
can potentially be identified by looking at the individuals’ genomes,” Frueh said.
One hundred people “isn’t a very significant number,” said Grant Campany, senior director for the competition. “This is only intended to be a seed crystal to set an example for other people to follow.”
It’s the beginning of a process that could transform health care over the next two or three decades, Campany said.
“What we do now is trial and error,” he said. “When you go to the doctor and you’re feeling sick, the most they can do is ask you a series of questions in hopes they can get the right diagnosis.”
But even then, the medicine that’s prescribed is only effective half of the time, Campany said.
In the future, though, the doctor could draw a sample of your DNA and evaluate what treatment is likely to be effective based on what has worked for other patients with similar genetic markers, he said.
But the technology is in its infancy, and the $10 million prize — funded by the diamond-mining firm Archon Minerals — is intended to spur research-based scientific companies “to propel the genomic (era) quite significantly,” in Frueh’s words.
“The X Prize has been set up with the idea of providing an incentive for an individual or an individual company to do something extraordinary,” Frueh said.
What will Cina get out of this? Outside of the mug and pen she received in the mail last week, nothing tangible. She was nominated by a nephew who lives in Virginia, and neither she nor Salas knows much about it. But Salas said he thought she could convince Cina to submit to a blood draw for a good cause.
Cina’s medical history consists of a hip replacement three years ago and a broken hip last year that resulted in a partial hip replacement. She gets around with help from a walker.
Cina has a well-established routine. She’s up every morning at 9 for a shower followed by a good breakfast. On Thursday, Salas served her a pancake and two eggs, and she drank an orange juice and two cups of coffee. The main meal is at 2 p.m. At 5 p.m., she has a small glass of Carlo Rossi wine. At 6 p.m., Salas serves her a light dinner. At 7 p.m., she goes to bed.
The Cina family was among the first settlers in Aurora, she said. “I had four brothers and sisters. There were seven of us. Does that make seven?” She chuckled. “All right. I can still add, huh?”
All of her siblings are deceased.
Cina, who never married, went home to Aurora every summer while her parents still were living. After graduating from Aurora High School, she majored in home economics at the University of Minnesota. She taught for a short time until Swift & Co. invited her to Los Angeles to be a home economist for them. She enjoys her life in the desert community of La Quinta, where she moved when she was in her 20s, and Salas jokes that temperatures below 80 prompt people to put on their long johns.
“I’m just sitting here enjoying the view,” Cina said on Thursday morning. “I’ve got a lot of windows out here in this large living room, so I see the trees and the birds and stuff like that.”
Whether there’s a gene for it or not, Cina’s positive, good-humored outlook seems to be typical of centenarians, said Ann Smith, a spokeswoman for Medco Health Solutions.
“That seems to be a popular one when you ask them what helped you live that long,” Smith said. “Everyone says good sense of humor, optimism. So that whole positive living I think has a lot to do with it.”