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Research group tracks oldest-living people

By Emily Inouye

June 9, 2004 9:00 p.m.

They are searching for an alternate route to immortality other
than the fountain of youth.

Members of the Gerontology Research Group, which meets at the
UCLA Medical Center, work to share and gather information regarding
anti-aging and to track and verify the ages of the world’s
oldest people.

The group works closely with the Guinness Book of World Records
and is now considered the primary source for verifying the
world’s oldest person for the annual records’ book.

But the primary purpose of the group is not to investigate the
age claims made by people. Rather they are focused on finding a
cure for aging.

“The longest living person is 122, and if we can get all
people to live to 125 in a healthy way, that would be better than
going to Mars,” said Dr. Karlis Ullis, another founding
member of the group and the director of the Sports Medicine and
Anti-Aging Medical Group in Santa Monica.

“I would say I am part of that conceptual thinking ““
to live longer is better. That is what we are about,” he

On May 29, the group’s tracking resources were called into
action to verify the age of Ramona Trinidad Iglesias-Jordan who was
thought to be the world’s oldest person at the time of her
death. She was confirmed to be 114 years and 272 days old, and she
was the last person alive who was born in 1889.

“The Gerontology Research Group started as an organization
to investigate the limits of life spans in all mammalian species,
and five or six years ago we started a special committee to
investigate claims to find out who was the oldest person at any
point in time,” said Dr. Stephen Coles, who is a co-founder
of the group.

Coles added that about a year ago, the Guinness Book began to
recognize the group as the primary source for verifying the ages of

The group keeps a running list of the world’s oldest
people, which currently has 42 people who have had their age claims
verified by the group.

Robert Young is the senior claims investigator for the group,
and he verifies claims by looking at a minimum of three sources.
Sources include drivers’ licenses, birth and death
certificates, and marriage certificates.

This can be difficult at times because people do not always have
three types of documentation or may have documentation in a foreign
language that needs to be translated. But Coles said there are
representatives in the group who can translate from different
languages to aid the verification process.

The group meets once a month to disseminate information and to
discuss recent news in regards to aging.

At each meeting there is also a guest speaker who presents
information on a topic that relates to aging ““ no matter how

One past guest speaker, Dr. Richard Paulson, who is a professor
of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern
California, spoke about aging and infertility. His talk explored
the phenomenon of various reproductive organs aging more quickly
than others.

“It is a model for aging in general,” Paulson said.
“It is a natural phenomenon observed in science that helps us
understand how all tissues in the body age. The manifestation of
aging is different in all organs.”

Though the group does not conduct group studies, many of the
members are currently conducting their own research.

Coles is studying similarities and differences between the lives
of centenarians and supercentenarians, people who are 100 years or

He said so far, the most remarkable similarity between the
people who live to over 100 is genetic. “Their parents and
siblings all live a long time,” Coles said. “That is
the only thread, practically, of commonality.”

But there are no real lifestyle or environment similarities that
all of these people share, he added.

At the gerontology group meetings, Coles also gives a brief
review of all of the aging-related events that have happened during
the preceding month. There is also a discussion board sponsored by
the group as an open forum for age-related topics.

Ullis said another benefit of the group, besides the sharing of
information that is usually not readily available, is the
opportunity for interaction with people of like interests.

“We are forming relationships, friendships, and we are
able to talk with our colleagues about this topic,” Ullis
said. “Most of mainstream society would be lost because you
have to have a certain information base to understand the things we
talk about.”

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Emily Inouye
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