Scientists study worlds oldest woman and think 116-year-old could cure diseases

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    Scientists studying a 116-year-old woman are hoping samples they've taken from her could uncover the secret to a long life and help them develop new drugs to treat diseases including cancer.

    Maria Branyas, who was born in San Francisco in 1907 before moving to Spain, is the oldest living woman on Earth. She's been hailed a "true survivor" after making it through an earthquake in the US, a major fire, the Spanish Civil War and even Covid-19, which she contracted in 2020.

    Despite her age, Maria has maintained a sharp mind and the only health issues she struggles with are mobility and hearing problems. The centenarian, who provides regular updates about her life on Twitter, has previously put her longevity down to living a "socially very pleasant" life "without excess".

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    She's also credited her good health to eating natural yoghurt every day but Dr Manel Esteller, director of the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute, believes there must be more to her long life than yoghurt, and that's what he's trying to figure out.

    The scientist, who is also a professor of genetics at the University of Barcelona, has taken DNA samples including saliva, urine and blood from Maria in a bid to find out what makes her so different to other people.

    After visiting her in the nursing home she currently lives at in Olot, Catalonia, North-East Spain, to get the samples, Dr Esteller remarked how "lucid" the gran was, telling Spanish newspaper ABC: "She has a completely clear head. She remembers with impressive clarity episodes when she was only four years old, and she does not have any cardiovascular disease, common in elderly people. The only thing she has are mobility and hearing problems. It's incredible."

    Dr Esteller wants to find out how much of Maria's longevity is down to her lifestyle habits and how much can be credited to her genetics. He points out her luck with genes obviously plays some part, explaining: "It is clear that there is a genetic component because there are several members of her family who are over 90 years old."

    Maria had three children and her eldest daughter, who is now 90, is still alive too. She also has a second living daughter who is 79 but she has survived her son, who died in an accident when he was 77.

    The 116-year-old was born the year after her Spanish parents emigrated to the US, where she spent her early childhood. In 1914 the family moved back to Spain and Maria settled in Barcelona. Since 2000 she has lived in the the nursing home in Olot.

    When asked about the secret to her long life, Maria has previously Tweeted: "Order, tranquillity, good connection with family and friends, contact with nature, emotional stability, lots of positivity and away from toxic people." But she also believes it's down to "luck" and Dr Esteller plans to test out to what extent her genes have shielded her from age-related deterioration in the lab.

    His study will see him analyse six billion segments of her DNA, particularly the 200 genes believed to be connected directly to ageing. The scientist is hoping the results of the study could help to develop drugs to treat diseases typically caused by old age.

    "We hope the study of Maria's cells will give us new clues about how to address neurodegenerative or cardiovascular diseases associated with age, and cancer," he said. But while Dr Esteller doesn't have his results yet, there's one thing he's certain of. "What is clear is that she is a person with an extraordinary capacity for resilience…She is a true survivor," he said.

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