Finding ways to slow, halt or even reverse ageing could prove more effective in extending healthy life expectancy than the treatment of individual diseases.

Longevity medicine is a fast-evolving field whose pioneers believe that modern technologies, combined with new ways of thinking, could be transformative for healthcare.

Among those at the forefront of longevity medicine are Dr Alexander Zhavoronkov founder of Insilico Medicine and Professor Evelyne Bischof of The Shanghai University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Both are working to identify the mechanisms that underlie the ageing process and its links to illness and loss of function.

A focus on prevention

They observe that much of the research and investment in healthcare focuses cure and treatment rather than prevention.

Their philosophy is that better prevention combined with new interventions – possibly through drugs or technologies – that wind back our individual “ageing clocks” could lengthen healthy lifespan.

They have recognised that clinicians, data scientists and others need training right away in order to understand what longevity medicine is about so they can incorporate it into their work.

Deep Longevity courses

HDR UK’s Learning and Training team has been working with them (through the Longevity Education Hub, initially with the support of Deep Longevity organisation) to highlight the courses they offer and to provide training through our Futures online platform – where it’s among the most popular topics.

The Longevity Medicine Courses 101 and 201 (LMC) introduce an area that may become hugely important and covers the latest advances in biogerontology, geroscience and precision medicine.

Alex says: “I think longevity medicine is going to be the next big thing in medicine. So it’s extremely important to be aware of it. It’s a very interdisciplinary field, so you’ve got multiple areas converging into one.

“I think it’s too good to ignore. We need to ensure that people are aware of what’s happening and are trained.”

Alex believes that progress in longevity medicine is likely to emerge due to advances and convergence in several areas. These include AI, advanced diagnostics and longevity biotechnology – the last of these yielding dual-purpose drugs, that treat disease and also affect the ageing process.

There are hints that this may be a possibility. Rapamycin, used to prevent organ rejection after transplants, extends the lifespan of mice by 19%. There is, though, no research to suggest that it would work on humans.

Indeed Alex argues that training is needed is because people need information from reliable sources. He is worried that unsubstantiated claims are being made to suggest that drugs are already available that can increase healthy lifespan.

He says: “These are early days, we should not be recommending anything to patients in terms of longevity therapeutics. None of them have been tested in human clinical trials.”

However, trials are in the pipeline and the potential is enormous.

“If you find a drug that increases everybody’s life by one year, you generate eight billion life years. And that’s more than any doctor will ever generate by saving patients’ lives,” said Alex.

Cancer parallel

Evelyne’s perspective is that of a practicing physician who has worked extensively in medicine for older people (principally on comorbidities, multi-morbidities and very complex cases).

She was struck by the way that “many processes of ageing are parallel, or identical, with cancer development”.

After having learned about longevity medicine from mentors such as Alex she became deeply committed to spreading knowledge. Fundamental to this is the need for everyone in the field to learn about ageing clocks.

As a result she has become part of the team assembled by Alex to create training curriculums for physicians and accessory educational initiatives, where one of her concerns is to ensure that people not only understand the latest developments, but can have effective interdisciplinary communication.

Evelyne said: “Data scientists, gerontologists, biologists, healthcare professionals, but primarily physicians or physicians-to-be, should be interested in joining our free of charge  courses because we have to have some sort of common language, or at least understand each other.

“Data scientists need to understand what the physicians are trying to tell them and as a physician I have to understand what my colleagues from the computational science data science are trying to tell me.”

Ultimately she sees it as essential for longevity medicine to be wound into university curricula.

Future advances

Looking to the future she believes there will be a gradual integration between reactive and longevity medicine so we “treat diseases and will also have the longevity medicine that will treat the risks of diseases or treat the ageing related processes. It will be not mutually exclusive, it will work hand in hand.”

Over the past 20 years Alex has developed expertise in many fields, starting in computing, then moving to biotech and now running a global company with eight R&D centres.

Now he seeks to drive education forward in a number of ways. He established an annual international conference and has created a learning hub.

Courses are run in many different languages including Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese, with ones in Japanese, Hebrew and Arabic on the way.

Importantly there is a new course called Investing in Longevity for venture capitalists, pharma executives, biotechnology professionals, and anyone interested in longevity tech investment.

It offers an overview of the field, including the latest advances, key players, and the potential risks and rewards.

The overall approach is designed to advance research, broaden understanding and open the way for the investments that will be necessary to turn the potential of longevity medicine into realities that benefit patients. And Alex believes that data scientists have a key role to play.

He said: “All biological processes happen in time. We accumulate damage and increase the risk of a variety of diseases.

“Data science will allow us to understand human biology, and these minute changes, at a new level, and find the causal elements that can be addressed.

Today we’re at Ground Zero. But longevity medicine is too good to ignore. This is the time to engage and help shape the field. So it’s not only about training, it’s also a call to action to become much more engaged.”

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