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Accelerating Rejuvenation Research Through Public Advocacy

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Members of the longevity community often believe that the main reason why there is no significant public support for aging research is a “pro-aging trance”. In reality, it has more to do with a lack of public education and media coverage of aging research.

We enjoy communicating with people, and we do it quite a lot. Our social media team answers questions from people around the globe every day. There are several usual topics: people want to know about the general status of a “drug for aging”, are seeking information about the effectiveness and safety of certain supplements, and are trying to figure out who is who in the field of rejuvenation research.

I also look at these questions sometimes. There is one repeating question that always leaves an impression, especially when the person asking it is over 70 years old. “I would like to volunteer for clinical trials of anti-aging interventions. How can I participate?”

I read these sorts of questions with mixed feelings. On one hand, I am happy to see the interest in rejuvenation research. On the other hand, the number of trials of interventions that target the root causes of aging and in which people could indeed participate is small, and it is unlikely that old people who already have several age-related diseases could participate. Therefore, in most cases, I can’t really respond with something reassuring. Senolytics and cell therapies seem the closest to the clinic, but they are not quite ready to deal with aging. Instead of telling people what they want to hear, I end up explaining why supporting newsmakers like us can bring them the “cures for aging” sooner.



Rejuvenation research is aimed at developing treatments that reverse the deterioration of health with age and make people healthy and youthful again. To achieve this ambitious goal, we need to ensure that these treatments actually work and have the effects that we want. The system of preclinical and clinical trials is supposed to filter out treatments with harmful, weak, or non-existent effects and promote the development of promising interventions. As we progress from animal trials and single case studies to pilot trials (on small groups of people) and larger phase 2 and 3 trials, we get valuable information about the reproducibility of the treatment’s effects and how they change with different dosages and regimens.

The most reliable data comes from randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. “Placebo-controlled” means that one group receives the treatment while a control group of comparable age and health receives a placebo. This way, biases coming from psychological effects are prevented. Randomization means that the treatment and the placebo are allocated to people randomly. Double blinding means that neither researchers nor patients know who is actually receiving the treatment. This prevents the unconscious biases of researchers and patients from changing the results. In short, researchers do all sorts of tricks to reduce the mistakes caused by how the human mind works. You would want real rejuvenation, not an imaginary one, right?

The involvement of larger groups of people and more robust procedures of masking the experimental and control groups is what makes each stage of clinical trials progressively more expensive. A preclinical animal experiment can cost a hundred thousand dollars, but a phase 3 human clinical trial, which involves several thousand people, can cost tens or even hundreds of millions. TAME, a recent test of metformin for its healthspan extension effects in healthy older people, is quite illustrative: the researchers had to fundraise around $75 million to conduct a phase 3 clinical trial.

I am telling you this for one reason: Whenever people develop a new therapy and attempt to prove that it indeed has beneficial effects, it is all about money. Where do you think this money comes from?



Behind every new medicine, there is a crowd of people whose resources have been invested in it. However, the idea that aging can be controlled by medical means is new to the public (with the definitive proof-of-concept obtained in animals only about a decade ago), and the support for rejuvenation research is nowhere near the level of, say, cancer research.

In a sociological study conducted by Pew Research in 2013, only 7% of respondents said that they have heard or read a lot about the possibility of extending life with new medical treatments; 38% said that they have heard a little about this possibility, and 54% have heard nothing about significant life extension yet.

However, in 2017, the American Society of Clinical Oncology conducted a survey on the U.S. public’s views on cancer research and care, and it was found that the majority of people are aware of cancer research and its importance for their well-being. Here is the statement from the official announcement of the results:

Among the most surprising results in ASCO’s opinion survey is the overwhelming number of Americans, 91%, who said it is important for the government to dedicate substantial funding for research in the prevention and treatment of cancer, even if it means paying higher taxes or incurring increases in the budget deficit. Majorities of Americans also support changes in public policy that would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with drug manufacturers, 92%; changes to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to speed approvals of generic versions of cancer drugs, 89%; regulation on drug pricing to lower cost, 86%; and the purchase of cancer drugs from pharmacies outside the United States, 80%.

91% against 7%! Needless to say, the amount of funding allocated to cancer research exceeds that of rejuvenation research quite significantly.

Lack of funding is what holds back progress the most, it is the main reason why we don’t have “drugs for aging” yet, it is why there are few trials of rejuvenation treatments that I could direct people to, and it stems from lack of public awareness of the matter.



Let’s talk about the process of educating the public and enticing it to ask big charities and the government to address a certain health issue. How is this done? If we look back at the experience of the early cancer patient organizations, it is clear that it was achieved by lots and lots of outreach: organizing public events and conferences, educating officials, making petitions, talking about the problem on mass media, bringing up cases of children suffering from cancer, and having cancer patients and cancer survivors talk about their experiences, pains, and hopes. The War on Cancer is, by any metric, the result of one of the most successful advocacy campaigns in the history of healthcare. That is how you raise awareness of a problem and its potential solutions.

In our very early days, when Lifespan.io’s board was deciding what to do and how to do it, we analyzed lots of various surveys to understand where are we in the process of educating the public. Sadly, we have found that there is still a lot of room for improvement, with only 4% to 7% of people in developed countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia being aware of the potential that rejuvenation research holds. As access to information is critical for understanding the feasibility of controlling aging by medical means, it is also critical for building more initiatives to advocate for and fund rejuvenation research. We understood that if we wanted it to be funded as abundantly as cancer research, then our best response was to run more outreach initiatives, launch the news outlet, and educate people as fast as we can.

We started from scratch in 2016 with a small set of basic articles and rare coverage of research news. In 2018, we launched our first annual conference on aging in New York City, Ending Age-Related Diseases: Investment Prospects and Advances in Research, to foster scientific communication and to create even more information-dense content.

In only three years, we have produced over a thousand articles and grew into the most trafficked news outlet covering this topic, reaching over 60,000 people every month. Around 50,000 visitors are new people whom we have never talked to before, and among them are philanthropists, potential longevity investors, entrepreneurs who can build new rejuvenation biotech companies, biomedical students who are picking the direction of their career, public health specialists, doctors, people who want to upgrade their healthy lifestyle to a longevity-promoting lifestyle, and people who are seeking more effective ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from age-related diseases. If we keep growing at the present pace, we’ll be able to reach over a million people per year!

Our role is to provide this growing community with up-to-date, well-structured, easy-to-digest, and accurate information in order to help everyone better navigate the field. As we are a non-profit, we could not have done that without the help of our patrons, the Lifespan Heroes, whose monthly donations allow us to pay salaries to our writers, social media managers, and web developers. Whenever you see me giving talks at public events or Steve conducting interviews or reports from a scientific conference, we were able to get there thanks to the generosity of several people. If the quality of our LifeXtenShow educational videos improves, you can be confident that this is because someone’s donation was used to buy the equipment. We could do so much more with a bit more money contributed to what we do!



To us, this is not just a job; it is personal. We all have older relatives who look at us and ask, “How can I join a trial for a longevity intervention?” The questions from members of the public are so familiar and pressing. I am well aware of the life expectancy figures of different countries, and I know what it means to be 70 years old in terms of health risks.

These questions are not only out of curiosity; they are calls for help that we should respond to. Whether for our relatives or total strangers, we want to see more rejuvenation biotech companies formed and “drugs for aging” created as soon as possible. We want to be able to help people join clinical trials, or, better yet, be able to go to a general practitioner and receive proven rejuvenation therapies. We dream of seeing all people healthy, free from the burden of age-related diseases, independent, and enjoying life. We want to stay healthy ourselves, too.

Our way to make that happen is by raising public awareness. You can help us do it faster.



CategoryNews
About the author

Elena Milova

Elena has been a longevity activist and advocate since 2013, when she first started to organize educational events to make new evidence-based methods of healthy life extension more popular. The last few years have seen Elena leading some successful projects in Russia, aimed at spreading the idea of healthy longevity among decision makers as well as the general public. Several years of lobbying resulted in the inclusion of her propositions in the strategic program documents of the Russian Federation related to the problems of the elderly. She is a co-author of the book “Aging Prevention for All” (in Russian, 2015), where, among other topics, she is sharing how to facilitate the adoption of the healthy lifestyle to promote the period of good health. In 2015, Elena helped to shape and coordinate the successful crowdfunding campaign of the Major Mouse Testing Program – a study of Senolytic drug combinations on mouse lifespan. In 2017 at LEAF, Elena led a successful advocacy project to include the problems of the elderly into the WHO’s 13th Programme of Work . Previously Elena has worked as a project manager in the pharmaceutical and advertisement industries, helping to promote new drugs and therapies. This experience helped her to realize that the existing therapies were not 100% effective and could not completely stop age-related diseases – which has ignited an interest for the development of innovative therapies. Elena graduated with a bachelor’s in both psychology and foreign languages and is now working to earn her MBA at the oldest Russian business school MIRBIS.
  1. Stephan Bardubitzki
    February 19, 2020

    Dear Elena,

    I’m a layman age 65 and following longevity research for about seven years.

    Learning about cell biology and how our body works and ages were and still is very exciting. However, I get frustrated with the progress of the field, as well. I acknowledge that human clinical trials cost millions of dollars and thinking about solutions that might be possible for certain drugs, supplements, and interventions to verify their potential in humans to slow down or reverse aging.

    For example, many people, including myself, are taking NAD+ precursors. How hard would it be to lump those self-experimenters together for a crowd-funded trial? Measuring their biological age with one of the epigenetic clocks or clocks based on the proteome at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the duration of the trial?

    Just for simplicity, there might be many more requirements.

    I’m interested in your thoughts.

    Stephan

    • Elena Milova
      February 20, 2020

      Hello Stephan! Thanks for your question. As I mentioned, if we are looking for the most accurate information about the effectiveness of a “drug for aging”, the best option is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. If you simply collect the data from self-experimenters, while it has some scientific value, but it can be still biased because there will be no randomization, no blinding, and no placebo control. When there is a high risk of bias, it means, you cannot be sure that the treatment really works better than a placebo effect, and works for the majority of people. This kind of data CAN’T be used for introducing the treatment into clinical practice as it does not reach the level of evidence that is required for that. For the doctors to begin prescribing a drug and have legal grounds for that, it has to pass classical clinical trials Phase 3. That is why I think that classical way is still much better and should be our primary goal.

  2. jjgoldenknight
    February 21, 2020

    So, it’s not as simple as going to an R&D lab, and asking “Where do I sign up to be a part of human trials”? Because if it were that simple, I swear I would. I’m a reasonably healthy 27 year old male, and one or two very specific videos told me the potential for immortality could be at hand within my lifespan. That is something I’d definitely like to achieve, even if it’s only theoretically possible.
    Plus, being at this age means there’s still much more hope that it could be “easier” to prevent aging (“freezing the clock”) as opposed to undoing aging (“reversing the clock”).

    • Elena Milova
      February 22, 2020

      Hi Jay, thanks for your comment. Yes, joining clinical trials is a bit more complicated. You have to find the trials for which you would qualify. Trials also mean that you are taking the risk. If you currently have good health, it might not be justifyable to risk it and try applying a rejuvenation therapy before you need it. For now the best you can do, in my view, is to preserve your health for as long as possible by maintaining healthy lifestyle (no bad habits, healthy eating, good sleep, stress management, physical activity etc). Healthy lifesstyle measures can add 15-20 years of life. The current experimental approaches are not able to give you this much, so it makes sense to use the most effective and evidence-based set of methods. I would say that regular checkups and visits to a doctor are logical part of it as otherwise you are taking decisions about drugs and supplements in a blind mode. We can’t notice that we are lacking iron or magnesium, or that our lipid profile is weird, right? For that we need tests. This is what I am doing personally to extend the period of health: a sophisticated, personalized healthy lifestyle. plus regular checkups and meetings with the doctors to make sure that I know the best way to deal with the deficiencies and weird biomarkers. Luckily, according to my biomarkers, so far I am younger than my chronological age.

  3. julian
    February 25, 2020

    Hello Elena, thanks for your good work!

    It seems to me that we need a great documentary about legitimate Anti-Aging research, to reach large numbers of people, like the popular 2011 feature documentary “Forks Over Knives” did for nutrition…

    Any thoughts?

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