Advancing healthy aging in the 21st century

Rajiv Ahuja, Associate Director, Future of Aging, Milken Institute discusses insights from the Institute’s 2022 Middle East and Africa Summit.

The Milken Institute’s Middle East and Africa Summit, held in Abu Dhabi in November 2022, brought together diverse individuals, including investors, scientists, and philanthropists.

The Summit centered on the theme of Celebrating the Power of Connection and engaged a catalytic community of global thought leaders, senior executives, investors, government officials and philanthropists. Together, they examined challenges across financial markets, health and medical research, human capital, philanthropy and social impact, society and culture, and technology and innovation. The event also shed light on the pressing need for investment in aging biology and highlighted advancements in longevity science. A two-part discussion explored the potential for extending human lifespan and touched on genetic mutations, gene editing, epigenetics, sleep, mind-body coordination and vagal stimulation.

In the first segment, Dr Deepak Chopra and I focused on the intersection of spirituality, medicine, and longevity in a fireside chat, exploring the impact of the mind-body connection on one’s longevity. Dr Chopra presented his seven-step personal longevity protocol that includes meditation, yoga, toxin avoidance, exercise, plant-based nutrition, nutritional supplements and emotional well-being. We also highlighted the role of love and empathy in the healing process and the integration of AI and augmented reality in the future of health care. The second part of the discussion centered on the science of longevity and featured Dr Mehmood Khan, Sergey Young, and Dr Amit Etkin, with moderation by Alexandra Bause. They discussed avenues to accelerate the development of age-related therapeutics and technologies, establish a precision-based framework for aging research and use existing innovations to impact a person’s aging and longevity positively.

L-R: Alexandra Bause, Dr Amit Etkin, Dr Mehmood Khan, Sergey Young

A recurring theme throughout the discussion was the underinvestment in aging research despite aging being the most significant risk factor for many chronic diseases. The National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest funder of health science research with an annual budget of $45 billion, allocated only 8% of that budget to aging research in 2023. Less than 1% of the budget was on the biology of aging, which focuses on the underlying aging processes that impact 80% of health-care expenditures in most developed countries.

Advancements in aging therapeutics: a path to streamlined regulatory approval

One of the central challenges in the regulatory approval of compounds targeting the mechanisms of aging is that aging itself is not classified as a disease. However, Dr Mehmood Khan, CEO of the Hevolution Foundation, highlighted three advancements that, given appropriate investment, could expedite future regulatory approvals of age-related therapeutics:

Dr Mehmood Khan, CEO, Hevolution Foundation
  • Targeting existing drugs: Scientists targeting existing drugs with applications beyond specific diseases, such as cancer, that also address the underlying biology of the diseases will have a road to market that follows a traditional drug development approach and approval process.
  • Biological age biomarkers: Researchers developing biomarkers for biological age will significantly streamline drug discovery, development, and approval processes, making them more efficient.
  • Repurposing existing drugs: Scientists exploring strategies to repurpose drugs already approved by regulatory agencies for aging-related indications can bypass clinical trials, using prediction models and artificial intelligence technologies.

A precision approach to brain health

The promotion of longer and healthier lives must prioritize brain health. The traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach to drug development for brain-related diseases is inadequate for creating effective treatments. Dr Amit Etkin, CEO of Alto Neuroscience, proposed a precision-based approach to psychiatric drug development that increases the effectiveness of treatments by matching the right patient with the right drug. He offered two recommendations to advance this approach:

  • Critical role of biomarkers: In psychiatry and neuroscience, the challenge lies in finding biomarkers that connect with clinical care. Developing more prescriptive biomarkers that directly assist psychiatrists in improving patient outcomes is essential.
  • Machine learning and large datasets: Using machine learning and large datasets will help identify connections between brain biology and function, such as cognition and emotion, and physiological aspects that are measurable, like heart rate variability and endocrine function. This can significantly advance the development of therapeutics and diagnostics for brain health.

Using today’s innovations for extended lifespan

While many exciting developments in aging science lie on the horizon, several innovations and technologies are available today to promote healthier lives and increase lifespan. Sergey Young, Founder of the Longevity Vision Fund, highlighted two such technologies:

Sergey Young, Founder, Longevity Vision Fund
  • Comprehensive health screenings: Innovative screenings and technologies offer in-depth insights into our body’s health. With the aid of technologies like artificial intelligence, radiologists can significantly enhance their ability to identify health issues, such as early-stage cancer, increasing the chances of successful treatment.
  • Wearable devices: Wearables and sensors have evolved from simple step counters to powerful healthcare tools. Modern devices, like the Apple Watch, are equipped with glucose and blood pressure monitors, providing valuable data for early intervention and tracking the effectiveness of health-related interventions.

As our understanding of the biology of aging evolves, these discussions underscore the vital importance of promoting healthier, longer lives in the 21st century. Watch the 2023 Middle East and Africa Summit live, where we’ll explore how Longevity Cities aim to optimize the external environment, reducing cumulative environmental exposures to improve later-life outcomes.

Rajiv Ahuja, Associate Director, Future of Aging, Milken Institute

Raj Ahuja works in the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, where he focuses on aging policies and programs that promote healthy longevity. He manages the Institute’s Alliance to Improve Dementia Care and cultivates interdisciplinary partnerships to improve the lives of older adults affected by dementia and their families. Raj spearheads efforts to incentivize policy, business, and technology-based approaches that promote brain health, combat stigma, reduce costs, and bridge health and economic disparities. Raj also works to strengthen the Institute’s global aging networks to promote prevention and wellness for longer, healthier lives.

Photos courtesy of Milken Institute