By Dana Fields KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Most people shudder at the thought of incredibly high cholesterol. But scientists were delighted when they saw Helen Boley's sky-high reading.
Boley's blood is remarkably rich in "good" cholesterol - the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) form associated with clear arteries, absence of heart disease and long life.Now, scientists here and at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md., are hunting for the secret of Boley's high HDL.
Some have called the 62-year-old woman's secret a sort of Methuselah factor, after the biblical figure said to have lived more than 900 years.
"I don't think scientists would call it that, but it does mean she probably won't have a heart attack or stroke, which kill more people than anything else," said Dr. William Harris. He heads the lipid laboratory at the University of Kansas Medical Center where Boley's unusual cholesterol was first detected and is being studied.
A desirable level of HDL cholesterol is anything above 40 milligrams per deciliter of blood, scientists say. Boley's latest reading was 230.
The combination of a family history of living to age 90 and beyond and off-the-chart HDL suggests that Boley inherited a rare gene that may be a key to long life.
"Her HDL cholesterol is just outstandingly, remarkably, outlandishly high," said Harris. "We've never heard of levels like this, and neither has the National Institutes of Health. It's a genetic condition where something's gone nuts.
"If we can understand from her what makes her produce so much HDL, perhaps the pharmaceutical industry or researchers can develop genetics or a drug that can mimic her condition, and that can be given to people in need of more HDL cholesterol," he said.
Boley first had her cholesterol level checked at a free screening at the university two years ago. Now she goes there each week to have her blood drawn.
Boley says she is "shocked, just shocked" to have become a genetic star. But she added she's happy to participate in the research.
"It's a good feeling, knowing that I may be able to advance medical science," she said.
But she has no interest in being a latter-day Methuselah and living, as one researcher said hyperbolically, to age 150.
"I wouldn't want to. No, I wouldn't," she said.