Five of the most exciting ideas in human longevity
A New Year is upon us, and many of us are already engaging in our annual resolutions to live longer, healthier lives. That might mean a new gym membership, drinking less alcohol, or eating better. This year, it might mean getting in line for the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
These health measures are hugely important – live-saving even – but what about the bigger and broader ways that we can improve human longevity?
When it comes to how humans can live longer and healthier lives, there are game-changing health tech innovations that could extend our futures – and fight the other pandemic: aging.
Longevity and vitality therapies are already a *trillion-dollar* industry, and growing with no end in sight... In part, because of the impact it can have on the economy – potentially allowing people to work for longer and reducing healthcare spending.
The older we get, the more at risk we are with disease, arthritis, heart attacks, for example, but we know from the study of centenarians that aging does not have to be equated with being sick. When we slow down the aging pathways we not only make animal models live longer but better.
Longevity is about so much more than how long we are around for, it’s about enjoying that time, pain and sickness free.
XPRIZE Founder and Executive Chairman, Peter H. Diamandis speaks often on human longevity, and his favorite saying – “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself” – applies in this area too: the key to improving human longevity lies in tech, yes, but it also lies in the power of people, and how we choose to live our lives for years to come...
Below, five hot topics in the field of human longevity.
Did you know that sharks continually regrow new rows of teeth? And that starfish can regrow their own bodies? Many of our animal neighbors have the ability to regrow minor or major parts of their bodies. Human regenerative medicine is an area where scientists and innovators are attempting to work out how to make this type of regeneration possible for us.
It focuses on three key areas:
Replenishment: Stem cells are the cells responsible for regrowth in the body. Stem cell transplants can be used to fight aging and disease within the body (stem cell transplants have been highly effective in fighting Parkinson’s, for example).
Stem cells can also be used to grow parts of the body, with scientists in Japan working on growing parts of a human eyeball, for example (successfully transplanted into a patient in September 2019). Stem cell technology is a rapidly expanding industry and has already been responsible for remarkable breakthroughs such as curing HIV.
Replacement: This centers around organ regeneration and bioprinting as a solution to the shortage of supply in human transplant organs. Researchers are working on some incredible technology, from adapting pig lungs into human lungs, to even 3D printing functional human organs.
Rejuvenation: You’ve probably heard of anti-aging blood transfusions because it’s been widely reported that they are happening already. (A startup called Ambrosia was offering these until February 2019). This is a form of parabiosis and involves transfusing a younger person’s blood into an older person for rejuvenation.
Another company called Elevian is carefully testing the possibilities of this science. Specifically, they have found that a natural molecule called GDF11 can reduce age-related cardiac hypertrophy, accelerates skeletal muscle repair, improves exercise capacity and metabolism when injected from younger into older mice.
THE ROLE OF AI
“The explosion of novel imaging, sensing, and sequencing tools has unleashed an abundance of patient data,” explains a recent post about Longevity on Peter H. Diamandis’ blog. “But bringing together this information across millions of patients to form actionable insights can only be achieved with Artificial Intelligence.”
In 2013, Peter founded Human Longevity, Inc. – a genomics-based, health intelligence company creating the world’s largest and most comprehensive database of whole genome, phenotype, and clinical data. The company has been using machine learning to analyze that data for breakthrough insights.
Human Longevity, Inc. is not the only company using AI to analyze patient data. Across the whole field of longevity, AI is making a big impact – quickly processing the amount of data that once required thousands of researchers and several months. It’s hugely catalyzing discovery, and will accelerate the evolution of anti-aging technologies exponentially.
Edifice Health is a company that uses advanced AI to score biomarkers of immune health and measure our “inflammatory age”, which is when more inflammation in the cells kicks in. Many tissues in the elderly are chronically inflamed and inflammation is a leading contributor to most chronic illnesses. By learning more about this symptom, identifying its onsets, and screening thousands of molecules to determine which can quell such inflammation, Edifice Health are taking big steps in the longevity field.
Two practical ways for everyone to improve their lifespan are reducing sugar intake and intermittent fasting.
“There is a lot of data out there to say that intermittent fasting is extremely healthy for you,” Peter explains. “I’ve been doing it for two months. I have my last meal at night at 8 pm or 9 pm and then I will go a full 18 hours before I eat again. I eat a late lunch at 3 pm and dinner at 8 pm or 9 pm and then fast again. What I’ve found is that I have more energy than I’ve ever had before. It’s astounding how much of your energy that your digestive system takes.”
For more information on fasting, Peter recommends David Sinclair’s book Lifespan: Why We Age, and Why We Don't Have To. In it, Sinclair, an Australian biologist, explains that in his 25 years of research, he found fasting to be one of the most effective ways to fight aging. (Although, if you have an underlying condition or health complications, you should consult your doctor first.)
AFFORDABLE AND ADVANCED GENOMICS
Over the last two decades, gene sequencing has radically plummeted in price, and its low cost has huge benefits to us all. Essentially, this is an incredible resource for finding out as much as possible about a person, allowing us to take highly personalized measures to improve that person’s health.
If you can understand which diseases a person is likely to develop, you can actively try to prevent them. If you understand which medicines are likely to be most effective on a person, you can tailor their healthcare. Advancements in genomics are therefore a transformative area of longevity technology.
One of the most impressive and potentially powerful uses of low-cost gene sequencing is our rapidly-improving ability to detect cancer DNA in the bloodstream in what is called “a liquid biopsy”. A company called GRAIL can detect 50 types of early-stage cancer with this approach.
Similarly, a biotech company called Freenome focuses on colon cancer and uses DNA, RNA, and protein from the cancer and the host response for early detection. If we can widely roll out this technology we can catch more cancers at stage-zero or stage-one, dramatically improving people’s health spans.
As XPRIZE’s Longevity Impact Roadmap highlights, if state-of-the-art tech that can help us detect illnesses early becomes more accurate and less risky, we could potentially see people living to the age of 132 by the year 2040. We could see six generations of families sitting together around the dinner table.
A LONGEVITY MINDSET
All of this technology is incredibly exciting, but fundamentally, in order to live longer – you have to want to. And that means having a purpose, a goal, or an inspiration. It means having an appetite for life. This is “a longevity mindset” and it’s all about having this drive and then actively doing all that you can to improve your lifespan.
If you regularly have health tests, follow a good diet, exercise and sleep well, and you take a positive approach to living longer, then you are – crucially – bettering your chances of living to the next stage of longevity innovation, when more of the technologies outlined above will become possible. You can potentially intercept a whole new era of rejuvenation technology.
So, as well as making your New Year’s resolution joining the gym, giving up alcohol, or dieting, why not make a resolution to take on a longevity mindset? We no longer necessarily have to accept the cards that we’ve been dealt: in the near future, when it comes to health and lifespan, so much will be possible.