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Blood from world's oldest woman suggests life limit

Blood From World's Oldest Woman Suggests Life Limit

It sounds kind of bizarre, but researchers say blood from one of the world's oldest women gives new clues about a human's "life limit."


Before her death in 2005, Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper of the Netherlands was the oldest woman alive. She lived to be 115 and three months old.

Surprisingly though, CNN reports that when she died, her brain was still in good shape - no sign of Alzheimer's or other diseases typically associated with old age.

So what led to her death? Researchers now say it might have to do with dying stem cells.

Scientists at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam say at the time of van Andel-Schipper's death, she had just two blood stem cells.

Let us put that in context for you. Blood stem cells are what your body uses to replenish your blood. Humans are typically born with around 20,000 of these cells, and on average about 1,000 work to keep your bloodstream pumping.

But this study suggests over time our stem cells weaken and die out, which, as a writer for New Scientist points out, might actually limit the ability of your stem cells to replenish your tissues.

"Once the stem cells reach a state of exhaustion that imposes a limit on their own lifespan, they themselves gradually die out and steadily diminish the body's capacity to keep regenerating vital tissues and cells, such as blood."

Although it's not known for sure whether van Andel-Schipper died because of this exhaustion, this study does reveal her white blood cells were mutated, leading scientists to wonder if some genetic mutations are actually harmless.

And as the International Business Times says, it could mean: "Genetic mutations may hold the key to a long life."

The researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Genome Research, say more studies are needed to investigate whether dying stem cells can cause death at extreme ages.

Join the discussion

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mjeffries10 April 25 2014 at 12:53 PM

Theoretically they can draw your blood in your 20s then re fill your blood supply at old age and perhaps live longer..

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1 reply
chaparita0728 mjeffries10 April 25 2014 at 1:09 PM

Yes, but is there a shelf-life for that blood?

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El Presidente April 25 2014 at 12:19 PM

"leading scientists to wonder if some genetic mutations are actually harmless."

Uh...I think any kid who's taken middle-school science knows that.

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rreggaeredkc April 25 2014 at 6:19 PM

I have worked in geriatric Allied Health Care for 30 years. I actually hope to hear more about white cells mutating...to? But what I came on to say was when I looked at her pictures, I saw different expressions of who she was. Some somber, some with a hint of laughter or humor but what I noticed most was when you see her sitting in the wheelchair, she's so tiny! She has a significant kyphosis and lost a few inches from that, but her whole frame is tiny...somewhat frail at times.

115 years and 3 months. Think of what this woman saw happen in her lifetime. She saw changes in human rights. She watched when penicillin was created. She viewed the creation of radios first and then black and white televisions and then HD Tv. How many presidents has she seen? Think of the wars in her lifetime. Mostly, I think about all the changes she has witnessed in human behavior...and the stories she could have told. I say this with all due respect.

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1 reply
libertybudget.com rreggaeredkc April 25 2014 at 8:15 PM

Very interesting. So we can't really attribute a good portion of her life to antibiotics and modern medicine. I will have to study this kyphosis you mentioned. Both my grandmother and an elderly friend of our family exhibited this, but I didn't know the condition had a name. Thanks.

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fnhaggerty April 25 2014 at 12:10 PM

The Hammon Gamma Globulin Field Trials, 1951–1953 may increase the lives of those who recieved the drugs to protect them from Polio

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PAT April 25 2014 at 12:04 PM

It sounds even worse to think you get a stem cell boost by whatever source and you have your mind at 115. Great, but you've still got a 115 year old body.

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Kate PAT April 25 2014 at 12:31 PM

At that age, I think what interests you more is simply being alive and being able to enjoy the things your mind can appreciate. The bodily aches and pains are something that by then I'm sure you're perfectly accustomed to.

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1 reply
thearkinfamily Kate April 25 2014 at 1:24 PM

why would you want to get accustomed to be in pain every day every second of your life. How can you enjoy it if you cant do anything. God should decide this stuff not science. I dont think god would be very happy with all the scientist trying to play god.

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Mostberg April 25 2014 at 12:03 PM

We knew a lady who lived to 108, but in her case she lived a very boring life. She never married and that was no problem, but she seemed to have no hobbies or interests in her last decade or so, although healthy. As for me, I am 78 and enjoy my young friends more than my old friends. That - for me - is the secret of enjoying a long life and so far I am still young and in pretty good health. And, I still enjoy observing beautiful women of all ages.

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3 replies
EDDIE SMITH April 25 2014 at 3:37 PM

At age 93 I hope to make it to 100, if I can still be active and my loving wife Eudine can be with me/

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4 replies
Sherrie Dobbie April 25 2014 at 6:19 PM

depending on the quality of an old life, I am not sure I would want to hang on beyond my capacity to care for myself to a large degree.

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mail4warding April 25 2014 at 11:43 AM

dutch chocolate in hot cocoa drink is the elixir....

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mccoycassmc April 25 2014 at 11:41 AM

I once met a 104 y.o. woman who was completely oriented and ambulatory. When I wished her a happy birthday, she told me something I will NEVER forget: what is the point of living so long if all your friends and family are dead?

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