Healthy longevity: Accessible diagnostics and integrated data tools two key challenges – China-based expert

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

A scientist comparing DNA results on a computer screen in the laboratory. ©Getty Images
A scientist comparing DNA results on a computer screen in the laboratory. ©Getty Images

Related tags longevity healthspan diagnostics

More accessible diagnostics and tools that integrate data from the various body clocks are two key challenges that experts seeking to optimise health span, as well as life span, need to overcome, says a China-based pioneer in the field.

According to the Healthy Longevity Medicine Society (HLMS) established in last August, longevity medicine is defined as the optimisation of health span along life span. Its other chief goal is also to target age-related processes. 

“We are trying to show how longevity medicine is different from all the sub-specialities that are targeting healthy living, for example functional medicine, or prevention medicine and integrative medicine.

“They are also aimed at helping one to be healthy for the longest as possible, but here, we are targeting age-related processes, because we are trying to expand health span by delaying age-related comorbidities,” ​Dr Evelyne Yehudit Bischof, professor at Shanghai University of Medicine and Health Sciences explained.

Dr Bischof is also the vice-president at HLMS and the chief physician for internal medicine in Renji University Hospital of Jiatong School of Medicine.

Her research focuses primarily on oncology, geroncology, and precision medicine. 

At the moment, a major component of longevity medicine is the use of diagnostics to measure biomarkers of ageing. 

“Right now, what is very strong in longevity medicine is the diagnostic part. And we need this in order to identify biomarkers that will then help us to understand which interventions are useful,” ​Dr Bischof told NutraIngredients-Asia.

Some of the key biomarkers include blood parameters and biological age clocks.

“What are the biomarkers for healthy longevity? That’s a very big question.

“There are different ones targeted at different pathways of age-related processes, and some of these biomarkers are as basic as those that we can identify in the blood, of course not only those in the basic panel, but much more extended ones.

“At the same time, the biological age can also be a biomarker…With the support of AI and deep learning methodology, one would be able to predict the biological age quite well, and this can be used as a biomarker for healthy longevity,” ​she said.

Other diagnostics tools could include imaging and physiological testing of strength and muscle mass.

“Everything is extremely granular because healthy longevity is looking after all the parameters.”

What more could be done

Asked what more could be done in the area of diagnostics, Dr Bischof pointed out the need for more accessible tools to measure the pace of ageing.

“I think the thing that will help us the most is the measurement of the pace of ageing.

“That is ultimately what we want to know. For example, two years later, would I become five years older biologically, what’s happening to me, why would this happen, and how can I make it [biological ageing] slower.

“Right now, there are possibilities to measure it based on epigenetic testing, but perhaps we can have diagnostics that are more accessible and that is something that we would like to have.”

Algorithms that integrate different biological clocks together is another tool that could be used.

“Also, [we are interested in] calculations or algorithms that would integrate the different biological clocks into something that would make sense.

“So maybe one clock for an organ and how different organs interrelate with each other. Those are the things that we would like to have for immediate accessibility and not existing in scientific publications only.

“I know that great minds are already working on it, so I am very optimistic.” 

Personalising healthy longevity

Based on the data collected on biomarkers, longevity doctors could devise individualised plans to optimise health.

“They would be very much individualised for the lifestyles to see which protocol would be the best, and how to measure if it’s really effective or not,” ​said Dr Bischof.

Health supplements are also seen as part of the health optimisation plan.

“Some supplements are being repurposed right now as geroprotectors and a lot of supplements have their protective functions and features. So, we do use them a lot in longevity medicines.

“Also, if we look at the definition of longevity medicine, its optimisation of the health span. So of course, a lot of those supplements, even the basic ones, from vitamins to minerals are also of importance.”

Geroprotectors are​ a new class of drugs that target fundamental mechanisms of ageing and have shown promise in boosting resilience in frail older people.

Senolytics, on the other hand, are targeted at​ destroying senescent cells that increases with age.

While not all senescent cells are bad, they could accumulate and taint healthy cells, in turn affecting a person’s ability to withstand stress or illness and recuperate from injuries.

“Hopefully there would soon be geroprotectors and senolytics on the market where we can say for sure that is beneficial, and physicians would be able to determine the dose that is good for an individual at a certain point of time.”

Healthy longevity in China’s healthcare system

Healthy longevity is a concept that is gaining traction in China’s public healthcare system – where Dr Bischof is currently based in.

“What I can say is that there are great efforts and organised and structured measures being undertaken right now to implement healthy longevity into the healthcare system in China.

“This is being navigated by implementing healthy longevity solutions and also building such departments at public hospitals.

“What we also see is that the insurance companies understand the great importance of longevity for the society. So, they also encourage and implement some of those diagnostics into their plans, so it's absolutely phenomenal, what's happening here in China.”

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