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A handful of days ago British company Tiziana Life acquired some very important Italian stuff: genes.
Let me explain you better: Tiziana Life bought a genetic databank containing DNA samples of 13.000 inhabitants of the Ogliastra region, in the South East of breathtaking Sardinia. The databank is considered of enormous scientific interest because Ogliastra people are among the most longevous in the world.
A British company with an Italo-American heart
Even though it largely operates in the UK, Tiziana Life is the brainchild of 40 year old Italo-American entrepreneur Gabriele Cerrone, who today also acts as its CEO. The company dedicates most of its efforts to oncological and immunological research and has already reached some notable results, including a possible alternative to chemotherapy for the treatment of liver cancer.
The bio-tech firm obtained the Ogliastra genetic databank for around 300.000 Euro (roughly 330.000 USD) after its former owner, Sharna S.p.a., a similar Italian firm, went bankrupt. Why did Cerrone show such an interest for a set of DNA samples and why should they become relevant to the work of his company?
Ogliastra and the secret of (an almost) eternal life
The answer is simple: people in the Ogliastra region live longer than anyone else. In fact, they have 50% more probability of reaching 100 than American and British citizens and it has been estimated that 1 in 2000 residents (the whole area counts around 260.000 inhabitants) happily manages to enjoy a cake sporting 100 candles.
That Sardinia is a special area of Italy, different in many ways from the rest of the country, is well known and accepted: Sardinia’s language, its people’s habits and mores are their own and their own only, in a way that charms and intrigues all at once. It is also very much common knowledge that Sardinians live longer than anyone else in the country – and that is quite amazing as a feat, considering Italy is one of the countries with the highest life expectancy in the entire world.
Cerrone and his scientists are not the first to show a scientific interest in Sardinia’s spectacularly long living people: the ease with which they appear to live well into their 10th decade has been puzzling scientists for quite sometime.
Up to relatively recently, however, lifestyle – healthy eating, a life mostly spent working in the fields and enjoying strong familial bonds – had been considered the reason behind it, whereas today many believe there may be also a genetic substratum underneath it all.
And that Ogliastra’s people’s genes must be out of the ordinary is demonstrated by the fact that, in spite of representing a relatively small and isolated community sharing a limited genetic pool, no significant incidence of genetic diseases and illnesses is recorded in the area.
The people of Tiziana Life may be really be on to something.
What’s inside the databank?
The databank does not only contain the genetic profiles of thousands of Ogliastra locals: the Osservatorio Malattie Rare has underlined in an article how Italian researchers who started the project have also catalogued and matched current residents with their genetic ancestors back to 400 years ago. In other words, these people’s genetic map goes now back 4 centuries. This is of incredible importance for research, as there are good chances to understand whether a genetic modification justifying the area’s longevity exists.
The future of the Olgiastra’s databank
In truth, not everyone in Sardinia was too keen on the fact the Olgiastra database had been bought by a foreign company, however, sceptics need not to worry, as Tiziana Life as already created an Italian subsidiary firm, the LonGevia Genomics S.r.l., which will be responsible to oversee and direct research directly on Italian soil.
The idea that a genetic peculiarity could help us keep healthy and live a longer life is certainly fascinating and gives up hope for the future, but should we not simply take a leaf off our grandparents and great-grandparents’ book and also try to tackle life a bit differently?
Eat well, enjoy nature and never forget to have a good laugh and hug a friend: who knows, maybe the secret of longevity is as simple as that.