Mikhail Batin’s Crusade Against Aging

This longevity advocate believes that some radicalism is necessary.


Mikhail BatinMikhail Batin

There’s no other way to put it: Mikhail (Misha) Batin is an oddball in the longevity space. In this field, which is populated mostly by scientists, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts, Batin belongs to a different breed: activists. But, even among this small group, Batin is one of a kind: uncouth and passionate, giving off the gloomy and slightly unnerving vibe of a revolutionary doggedly set on a single goal. That’s until you see the first wide, disarming smile of his.

Open Longevity, the nonprofit that Batin co-founded with Nastya Egorova, boasts sprawling activity. Although you can spot both Misha and Nastya at longevity-related events worldwide, the organization is probably not yet getting the attention and recognition it deserves as one of the biggest and most tenacious non-profits in the longevity space. However, this might change soon.

Open Longevity is exactly what it sounds like: an attempt to open up the nascent longevity field to the masses while advocating for life extension before even bigger masses. Its projects range from fairly serious scientific undertakings like Open Genes, a database of longevity-related genes, and Aging Nets, a project aimed at applying network science to aging, to more society-oriented endeavors such as a traveling exhibition of transhumanism art and Random Coffee, where you sign up to weekly e-meetings with random people who are also interested in longevity. To illustrate that Open Longevity is no joke, the Open Genes team recently published their first peer-reviewed paper.

Importantly, Open Longevity is also about grassroots-style activism. Its “Say Forever Day” is held monthly in an ever-growing number of locations around the world. People wearing t-shirts with Say Forever printed on them approach random strangers and ask them a simple if unexpected question: how long do they want to live? This serves as a segue into a brief conversation about the ideology and science of life extension with the goal of eventually recruiting the person to the fight against aging.

Talking about immortality, living forever, ‘dealing death a death blow’ is unpopular even in most longevity circles. Many people think it’s unnecessarily radical, off-putting, and creates an impression that the field consists mainly of mad scientists and whacky snake oil salesmen. The longevity “grownups” would rather talk about healthspan, healthy aging, or rejuvenation at best.


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Batin, on the other hand, is obsessed with defeating death and he says it out loud. He hates death passionately. Many people, after the initial shock of learning about their own and others’ mortality, eventually come to terms with it and even find ways to justify it – but not Batin. He doesn’t care if his anti-death, pro-transhumanism stance alienates potential donors or allies. This is his conviction: that death should be considered the ultimate moral calamity and fought tooth and nail, especially death from age-related diseases – and he will go to great lengths to make people listen.

Batin, now 50, is based in Los Angeles, but he was born in Russia and only moved to the US a couple of years ago. “I come from business and politics.” he says. “It all began in 1999. I was enthusiastically involved in social projects. I had been trained as a social worker, and I headed many social-oriented organizations, such as the Committee for Social Policies at Kostroma Regional Duma (parliament). I was always looking for ways to meaningfully improve people’s lives. For instance, I worked a lot with gifted children. At some point, I realized that no matter how well we do, in the end, frailty, disease, and death await everyone. Aging spares no one, be it businessmen, governors, farmers, it’s like an arch-problem.”

“At about the same time, information started trickling in about scientific advances in aging science. So, I already viewed aging as an immense societal problem, and here were studies that suggested it eventually can be solved. For me, it was self-evident that we need to pour massive resources into tackling this problem.”

Sadly, it’s not self-evident for many people. Despite aging objectively being a major problem, it is largely ignored. People are barely trying to solve it on a global scale.

Yes, I think the problem is that our society is sort of content with the current state of things. Society is appalled by some kinds of death, like death in childhood, or in road accidents, or murders, but death per se is seen as something natural. This is deeply rooted in our philosophy and art, and people “side with death” because they were raised that way.

Scientists who seek a cure for cancer are never shy about what they do, they aren’t afraid of stating their goal of eradicating cancer. Conversely, geroscientists have always looked for ways to dial down their message. I remember times when talking about life extension, not to mention solving aging, was considered courageous.


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No one was thinking about changing the society’s attitudes towards death, stirring rage against it. This is basically a political, societal project, and scientists just aren’t good at those things. And politics are fundamentally important for funding this or that domain of science. For years and decades, there was no one around who could tackle those issues, and in some way, there’s still no one.

So, from the very beginning of my interest in life extension, I was set on solving this using political instruments. In 2007, in Russia, I created the Society for Life Extension. We organized rallies, petitions, and so on. I was trying to introduce life extension into the political agenda. Eventually, we secured support from the regional government.

But the political climate in Russia began to change quickly. If at the “mild authoritarianism” stage, you still could exert political influence from the bottom up, by rallying voters, later, this became virtually impossible. Any genuine local initiative got crushed by the authorities, repressions began.

But at some point, you did take this route of directly influencing politics?

Of course! I was a member of the regional parliament. And we still believe this is the way to go, we just can’t do it in today’s Russia.

Few people in the West know that the Russian revolution, with all its horrors, brought about a wave of futuristic thinking that challenged a lot of traditional beliefs, including those about the inevitability of death.

Actually, this futuristic thinking predated the revolution. There was a whole cohort of futurist philosophers and science pioneers. Alexander Bogdanov, Lenin’s peer and one of the most powerful Bolsheviks, was a physician and a visionary who wanted to create the Brain Institute. He was against revolution and advocated for a more gradual science-based improvement of society. (Bogdanov, for instance, conducted experiments with rejuvenation via young blood transfusion as far back as 1924). 


The Soviet Union was also a rare example of a society where several generations of people were raised on atheism and idolization of science. I wonder whether this influenced attitudes towards death and life extension and maybe played a role in the strong presence of Soviet-born scientists in our field.

Maybe, it sounds reasonable. You’re obviously correct about that strong presence: just go to any geroscience conference and see for yourself. Does this have something to do with state-sponsored atheism? Maybe. This freedom from death-normalizing religious thinking might have played a role. Not just Soviet upbringing but also things like Soviet science fiction, which was largely utopian, Star Trek-style, were probably conductive to this strong anti-death, pro-science sentiment.

By the way, back in 1984, I learned about the existence of a nationwide program for pursuing human life extension, which encompassed 100 Soviet science institutes. Interestingly, one of the reasons why this program was never implemented was because of a huge administrative quarrel between Kyiv and Moscow (the Gerontology Institute was in Kyiv). Like with many other initiatives, apparatchiks’ intrigues derailed everything.

But, of course, the Soviet regime was also the enemy of free thought, and many great thinkers and scientists were silenced, exiled, or physically killed by it.

How did you end up in Los Angeles?

I ultimately parted ways with Russia following the war in Ukraine. The ideology of life extension is inherently anti-war. Before the war began, I tried to argue against escalation. I went to the Russian TV and talked about it passionately. But even prior to that, a realization came that our organization should go international. No country, even the US, can solve aging alone and cannot break this cultural pattern of bowing to death. Moreover, in the US, the anti-death sentiment I’m talking about is relatively weak. There’s a lot of money here, but the ideological support is lukewarm. People think that fighting death is a pastime for rich people.

So, in 2020, we created Open Longevity. We became very active on the Internet, in social media. And then, after the Russia-Ukraine war began, we moved here. We don’t know when the cure for aging will be discovered, but we know where it will happen: in California. There are many places I like a lot, but only in California. I don’t feel that life is happening somewhere else. This is why I’m here, although I don’t think you need a lot of physical presence to change people’s attitudes towards death, you just need to use social media wisely.

Just like Lifespan.io, your organization has two faces: you are engaged in advocacy, but you also have interesting projects in the field of citizen science. 

Yes. For instance, we want to lay the foundations for combination therapies, so we have created a huge database of age-related genes. We published it in a good journal, and it’s the result of many years of work. We had to gather and analyze a lot of data about those genes and their attributes. We analyzed all the data about life extension in animal models. The rationale is that we need to know what to combine. We need to describe targets, mechanisms of actions, what to turn on and off in what tissues, etc.

But databases of aging-related genes already exist.

Of course, but we want to describe, to classify those genes as well as we can. We need this so that we can make our best bets when choosing targets. Our next big step is using network theory in biology.

Is your work in demand with researchers?

We hope it will be. Meanwhile, we are running our own experiments in combination therapy in Istanbul. So, we are both the creators of this database and its customers.

If I remember correctly, your idea was to let people, even from the general public, design and buy experiments?

Yes, but for now, we’re running our own experiments. We paid the lab for a year of work, which wasn’t a lot of money. We’re working with combinations of four genes. This is not unlike what Aubrey de Grey is doing, except he’s doing interventions in mice, and we’re working with flies. (Since this interview was taken, the work in Istanbul was suspended due to lack of funding, but Batin hopes to renew it soon).

Do you have any results?

Yes, we have some preliminary results. It took us quite some time to create lines of flies with the genes of interest turned on or off. It’s not trivial, it takes a lot of manipulation. We could have done it faster, but not with our budget. This experiment is very “lean” in terms of money. I think we’re being very efficient. In our other projects, we are working on anti-glycation agents and stem cell transplantation.

Tell me more about your “propaganda wing”.

At one point, we arrived at an important if trivial conclusion that we must pursue whatever has the potential to change society in the direction we want. First of all, we need money. The longevity field needs tenfold, hundredfold more money than it receives now. I was amazed, even horrified to learn from your interview with Rich Miller that in their fabulous ITP program, they were happy to receive another half a million dollars in funding from NIH, another million, they thought it was a lot of money. And it’s just awful. 500 million would still not be enough.

We’re in this trap all the time: geroscientists are required to show results as a prerequisite for funding, and then it’s not good, because it’s not human data, but getting human data is vastly more expensive, and it goes on and on.

Mary Lasker’s anti-cancer campaign comes to mind – they went the opposite way, demanding recognition and funding so that serious research can be done.

Of course, it’s a great example, Mary Lasker is one of our role models. Only political pressure can move things, and it has to come first.

So, we need to explain to the public that we have a huge problem on our hands that requires a solution, and the search for this solution must be funded and otherwise promoted, so kindly shell out a gazillion dollars right away.

Exactly! Moreover, not shelling out this gazillion dollars is a crime! What I’m trying to say is that while fighting aging requires biologists, equipment, labs, institutes, fighting death requires knowledge in political and social sciences – to influence politics and society as a whole.

By the way, when I say “fighting death”, I mean a broader societal struggle for reduction of death and suffering, of which extending lifespan via advances in the biology of aging is just one part. I view myself as a part of this broader coalition.

So, fighting malaria, road accidents, or hunger is also part of fighting death, right?

Yes, exactly.

But you’re only engaged in fighting aging. 

This is because aging is the number one killer in the world.

Then why insist on being “anti-death” and not “anti-aging”? Don’t you think your stance is too radical and might alienate certain people or cast a shadow over the whole field?

First, what I’m doing is pointing out the weird dissonance that persists in our culture, where we do everything in our power to fight other causes of death, including age-related – but not aging itself, which is somehow considered “normal” or “natural”. My insistence that I’m “anti-death” comes to emphasize the idea that if we want to keep people from dying, which we obviously do, fighting aging must be our first priority.

Second, someone has to be those guard dogs that keep barking and disturb peace. It’s just like with the green movement – there are people who play the craziest, hence the most interesting role. This is how Greenpeace, one of the world’s most influential non-profits, was born, from doing crazy things.

This is also why I like Bryan Johnson. He has this craziness in him. Only people who can challenge stereotypes instead of catering to them can change things. When you’re trying to be diplomatic and not ruffle feathers, you find yourself, so to say, dancing this danse macabre of death along with everyone else. I believe that change in the world is always initiated by the unrelenting minority.

We don’t see ourselves as contravening the efforts of longevity scientists. Quite the opposite, we are their guardians. We make noise so that they get money to keep doing their work. We go out on the streets so that they can work comfortably in their labs. We’re the Greta Thunberg of longevity. Or maybe we’re PETA, but for humans. Radicalism is needed to move the needle ever so slightly.

Still, aren’t you afraid that this theory of yours might be wrong, that people just wouldn’t want to listen to you?

It’s a good question. This is why I want to use the scientific method not just in biology but also in sociology, to identify better ways to influence public opinion. We need to conduct social experiments. Just like in biology, we have to test interventions in different combinations and see what works. My dream is to create a self-learning social network that can adapt itself to do an increasingly better job in convincing people. It’s appalling that no one in the longevity field has been able to do anything remotely as successful as the Ice Bucket Challenge. We need to create the science of people’s attitudes towards life extension. We need studies, we need polls. Our organization runs such polls.

I guess what we can agree on is that our movement is still lacking in ideology, creativity, and brazenness. 

Yes, exactly. Experience from previous generations tells us that a lot more could have been done, if not for stereotypes of thinking. Those people died, they lost their battle with death, and we can learn from their mistakes. A lot of ideas were around back then, but we had to wait for decades for them to start being taken seriously. We could have started working on those leads much earlier. I don’t want to end up the way all the generations of humans who came before me did. At least, I don’t want to go out without a fight.

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CategoryInterviews, News
About the author
Arkadi Mazin

Arkadi Mazin

Arkadi is a seasoned journalist and op-ed author with a passion for learning and exploration. His interests span from politics to science and philosophy. Having studied economics and international relations, he is particularly interested in the social aspects of longevity and life extension. He strongly believes that life extension is an achievable and noble goal that has yet to take its rightful place on the very top of our civilization’s agenda – a situation he is eager to change.