Long Life Family Study (Heinlein's 'Howard Families') Now Recruiting

The National Institute for Aging (NIA) is now recruiting families for its Long Life Family Study. The requirements: you must be a member of a family with at least two living members aged 80 years or older, with living children living nearby.

"Other studies have indicated that longevity tends to run in families," said NIA director Richard Hodes. "The planned LFFS is designed to determine the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to longevity and the ability to escape diseases normally associated with aging such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, stroke and heart disease."

The project is expected to run five years and cost an estimated $18 milion; three recruitment sites will be located in the U.S. (NYC, Pittsburg and Boston) and one in Denmark.

The NIA's project lacks only a forward-looking element to its program to live up to a famous science-fictional quest for long life. In his 1941 novel Methuselah's Children, Robert Heinlein wrote about a group he called the Howard Families, a private group funded by a man who made millions but died at an early age.

"The first offspring resulting from unions assisted by the Howard Foundation were born in 1875. They aroused no comment, for they were in no way remarkable. The Foundation was an openly chartered non-profit corporation--"

On March 17, 1874, Ira Johnson, medical student, sat in the law offices of Deems, Wingate, Alden, & Deems and listened to an unusual proposition. At last he interrupted the senior partner. "Just a moment! Do I understand that you are trying to hire me to marry one of these women?"
The lawyer looked shocked. "Please, Mr. Johnson. Not at all"
"Well, it certainly sounded like it."
"No, no, such a contract would be void, against public policy. We are simply informing you, as administrators of a trust, that should it come about that you do marry one of the young ladies on this list it would then be our pleasant duty to endow each child of such a union according to the scale here set forth.
Ira Johnson scowled and shuffled his feet. "What's it all about? Why?"
"That is the business of the Foundation. One might put it that we approve of your grandparents..."
He felt no affection for his grandparents. A tight-fisted foursome - if any one of them had had the grace to die at a reasonable age he would not now be worried about money enough to finish medical school...
The lawyer shut off further discussion and young Johnson accepted gracelessly a list of young women, all strangers, with the intention of tearing it up the moment he was outside the office. Instead, that night he wrote seven drafts before he found the right words in which to start cooling off the relation between himself and his girl back home. He was glad that he had never actually popped the question to her - it would have been deucedly awkward.
When he did marry (from the list) it seemed a curious but not too remarkable coincidence that his wife as well as himself had four living, healthy, active grandparents.
(Read more about Robert Heinlein's Methuselah's Children)

Several other real-life advances have paralleled the course of Heinlein's novel: see HetaCool - Your Personal Antifreeze? and Young Blood Found To Revive Aging Muscles. Thanks to an alert reader who found this story on livescience. If you have the necessary qualifications, sign up for possible immortality (for your descendants, that is) here.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/12/2006)

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