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Einstein Researcher Helps Lead Consortium For $10 Million "X Prize" To Sequence Genomes Of 100 Centenarians

October 26, 2011 – (BRONX, NY) – Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, will help lead a newly formed centenarian consortium for the Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Medco. The $10 million dollar incentivized prize competition, which was announced today, challenges teams of scientists and entrepreneurs to sequence the complete genomes of 100 healthy centenarians in 30 days. Intended to help usher in an era of personalized medicine and learn from the genetic advantages of the exceptionally long-lived, the competition tasks teams with delivering medical quality genome sequencing results for $1,000 per centenarian.

Nir Barzilai, M.D.
Nir Barzilai, M.D.
As one of the leaders of the centenarian consortium, Dr. Barzilai will help identify and collect the 100 centenarian genomes to be sequenced. Known as the Medco 100 Over 100, the genomes will be donated by 100 vital and independent individuals who are aged 100 or older and have participated in a centenarian study, like Dr. Barzilai's Longevity Genes Project. One of Dr. Barzilai's participants, 105-year old Irving Kahn – who founded a successful New York City-based value investment firm and still works daily – participated in today's X PRIZE announcement event.

Dr. Barzilai, who has been studying the healthy elderly since 1998, implicated several "longevity genes" in humans.  His research on more than 500 centenarians of Ashkenazi Jewish descent established, among other findings, that the gene variant that leads to high HDL, or "good cholesterol," is linked to healthy aging and extreme longevity.

Irving Kahn, aged 105
Irving Kahn, aged 105
"Understanding the genetic makeup that protects these healthy centenarians from Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, cancer and other diseases associated with aging is necessary if we all want to live disease-free into an advanced old age," said Dr. Barzilai, the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research and director of the NIH-funded Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging at Einstein. "By sequencing the genomes of these healthy centenarians – and making the results available to scientists – this contest will be a powerful tool in helping us decode the genetic underpinnings of healthy aging and develop drugs that can mimic the protections these individuals have."

"The assistance of Dr. Barzilai and the other centenarian consortium members have been critical for creating this contest," said Grant Campany, senior director of the AGXP.  "Without them we would not have the genomic material for this invaluable research that may bring us one step closer to realizing the promise of personalized medicine."

The 30-day Archon Genomics X PRIZE competition begins on Thursday, January 3, 2013; winners will be announced that spring.