Interview with Elena Milova - Member of the Board of Directors of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation and Lifespan.io
What is aging? We can define it as a process of accumulation of molecular and cellular damage resulting from normal metabolism. While researchers still have a poor understanding of how metabolic processes cause damage accumulation, and how accumulated damage causes pathology, the damage itself - the structural differences between old and young tissue - is very well classified and studied. Correcting damage and restoring the former - intact - youthful state of the body, we will really rejuvenate it! It sounds very promising, and so it is. And for some types of damage (for example, for senescent cells) it is shown that it works!
Today in our virtual studio somewhere between St. Petersburg and Moscow - Elena Milova, member of the Board of DirectorsLife Extension Advocacy Foundation and Lifespan.io , a crowdfunding platform supporting aging research.
Elena is an activist in the movement to prolong a healthy life since 2013, when she first started organizing awareness-raising events to increase the popularity of the idea of preventing aging and new scientifically based methods to slow down aging.
Over the past few years, Elena has taken part in a number of successful projects in Russia aimed at spreading the idea of healthy longevity among decision-makers and the general public. A number of her proposals regarding the need to actively inform the population about the achievements and potential of gerontology are included in the strategic program documents of the Russian Federation related to the problems of older people. She is a co-author of the book “Prevention of Aging for All” (Teacher, 2015), where, among other things, Elena shares with what methods of self-organization facilitate the transition to a lifestyle aimed at prolonging the period of health.
In 2016, Elena participated in organizing and conducting a successful crowdfunding campaign for the Major Mouse Testing Program. The project aims to test a combination of senolytic drugs to extend the life of the mouse.
Previously, Elena worked in the pharmaceutical and advertising industries, helping to promote new medicines and treatments. This experience helped her understand that existing methods of treatment are not 100% effective and cannot completely stop age-related diseases, which aroused interest in developing innovative approaches.
Elena has two higher educations (linguistics and psychology) and, in addition to working at Lifespan.io, she is engaged in sociological research in the field of the attitude of the population to life extension problems.
Ariel Feinerman : Good afternoon, Elena!
Elena Milova : Hello, Ariel.
Ariel Feinerman : Tell us a little about yourself, why did you decide to devote your life to the fight against aging and the promotion of anti-aging biotechnology?
Elena Milova : I always liked the idea that my work can make people's lives better. Therefore, for quite a long time I worked in a pharmaceutical company, and then in pharmaceutical advertising. To this day, I believe that promoting new drugs, informing people about them is an extremely important task, for someone it really can save a life.
But at some point I was visited by the thought that no matter how hard I work, there are diseases that cannot be cured, against which there are no drugs yet. And maybe I should deal with this problem, and not just help inform people.
Then this problem touched me personally, when in a very short period of time three people died in my family - both grandmothers and mother. It is generally accepted that death in old age, and in old age (mother was 62 when she died of cancer) is something normal, but for me it was not so. They all wanted to continue to live, to continue to work, to be useful, and what happened to them felt like a huge injustice. Especially offensive to her mother, her teacher career was on the rise, had a lot of ideas, plans ... Cancer destroyed it all. I had seen enough of the suffering that aging brought to the life of loved ones, I was faced with a loss, and the cup of patience was simply overflowed.
Then I decided that I should change the direction of my life. And the point is not only that aging destroys people's health, and mine too, and this needs to be opposed. I then thought a lot about what it generally means to be human. I came to the conclusion that only where we dare to tackle an extremely difficult task that at first glance cannot be solved at all, only there is a chance to fully know who you are, what is the scale of your personality. For me, being a man means pushing the boundaries of the possible. For myself. For all. That's what I do.
Ariel Feinerman : How exactly did your immersion in the topic go? Did you figure it out yourself?
Elena Milova: I was very lucky when I just started this global reversal in my life, I met Russian transhumanists. Transhumanism is based on the idea that the achievements of scientific and technological progress should constantly improve people's lives, exalting a person, making him healthier, stronger, fit, more intelligent. Thanks to the leaders of the Russian transhumanist movement - Danila Medvedev and Valeria Pride - I realized exactly how to solve the problem of aging. I understood the value of science and activism in the field of public health.
At one time, the global community has made significant progress in the prevention of infectious diseases by identifying their causes - pathogenic microorganisms. As soon as it became possible to influence the root causes, the death rate from infections fell significantly, and life expectancy, on the contrary, increased. Hygiene, sanitation, water chlorination, vaccines, antibiotics, all this was aimed at the root causes.
The same principle is quite suitable for solving the problem of age-related diseases. Identify the processes that underlie aging, and create drugs and therapies that effectively inhibit or even reverse these processes. And then for the first time in history we will have the opportunity to eliminate age-related diseases. Those who took the life of three of my loved ones. The ones that cause people the most suffering, and which kill about one hundred thousand people on the planet every day. Now age-related diseases are leading in the top ten causes of death in developed countries.
And when I read the book of the famous ideologist of the abolition of aging, Aubrey de Gray, where it was just about seven types of injuries due to which people lose health with age, I had a clear understanding of what should be done.
Ariel Feinerman : How did you end up on the Lifespan.io and LEAF team ?
Elena Milova : For several years I worked in projects of Russian public organizations involved in promoting the prevention of aging. At this time, we also conducted an expert survey among developers of medical innovations about which key barriers hinder the development of preventive anti-aging medicine. The key problem, as it turned out, is only one: lack of funding.
There are a lot of scientists who have a strong interest in this topic. They are ready to work. So if anyone else thinks that the problem is a shortage of scientists, this is not so.
You will be surprised, but studies of aging processes and the development of approaches to prolonging the period of health and working capacity in Russia are included in government research programs at the highest level. If you look, for example, in the Program of Fundamental Scientific Research of the State Academies of Sciences for 2013 - 2020 , you will see practically all the directions proposed by Aubrey de Gray there.
Problems begin several levels below. Within the framework of the state system for financing science, there are not enough experts who would give priority to projects on aging mechanisms. This is not surprising, the idea is still relatively fresh, all scientists with expertise in this information field prefer to engage in their direct duties, they conduct research. They have no opportunity to spend time on administrative issues such as grant allocation. And existing experts of the old profile continue to send money to research individual diseases - instead of exploring the root causes and developing much more effective therapies.
There is no one to scold, it’s just a coincidence characteristic of breakthrough research in almost any field. The system is conservative, it will discern and recognize more promising solutions, but with a delay - when there will be enough experts to make some of them appear in the state grant distribution system. And such a picture is not only in Russia, so things are in other countries.
Underfunding has a particularly sad effect on basic research, that is, where there is an accumulation of data before the breakthrough towards creating a new medicine. Until the required amount of data is accumulated, it will not be possible to create a prototype solution for a specific aging mechanism. Nothing to test even on animals. And without animal tests, you can’t even start developing anti-aging medicines for humans.
That's why, having worked for several years in projects of a different profile, I eventually decided to tackle the problem of underfunding, and ended up in Lifespan.io. The state grant system is not the only source of funds for scientific groups. There are at least two more - business and the general public.
Lifespan.io- A non-profit crowdfunding platform aimed at supporting early-stage aging research. We are contacted by a scientific group, explains the essence of the project, shows the research protocol, calculates the approximate cost, and if the project is scientifically good and fits into our topic - we put it on the site and encourage people to support it. That is, Lifespan.io is a site through which anyone can send a small contribution in support of a particular research project directly. This is a public co-financing of aging research.
Ariel Feinerman : What are the differences between crowdfunding and the state grant system?
Elena Milova: What are the advantages? First, we support only those projects that solve the problem of accumulating the necessary data on aging mechanisms and promising therapies. By the way, there are more than 200 promising drugs for slowing down aging alone, so there is a lot of work.
Secondly, basic research is relatively cheap, and the crowdfunding model works quite well. In two years, we raised a quarter of a million dollars and supported 6 studies. One project has already been completed, a brilliant scientific publication has been published .
Thirdly, although there is, of course, control over the targeted expenditure of funds, but unlike the grant system, we do not overload scientists with unnecessary long reports and do not dictate the schedule of expenditures for them. Believe me, scientists know very well where, from whom, at what price and at what point you need to purchase equipment, drugs for testing and animals. This is their job! We allow them to focus on the main thing, on the organization of research. The criterion for success is the conduct of the experiment within a reasonable time and the resulting publication, the rest is secondary.
The cost of an experiment on animals is 50-70 thousand dollars, and if during the campaign we involve, say, a thousand people, then each of them needs to donate only from 50 to 70 dollars to fully fund the experiment. Almost every person can afford a donation of this size at least once a year. And if 2-3 thousand people participate in the campaign, then a contribution of $ 20-30 is enough.
To ensure the necessary number of crowdfunding participants, we are constantly working to educate people on the promotion of research on aging and rejuvenation. We have a science blog where we write about new discoveries and publish interviews with leading scientists, organize live scientific discussions, and collaborate with reporters of well-known publications - in Russia, for example,Komsomolskaya Pravda . At the moment, we are one of the two largest English-speaking newsmakers in the anti-aging niche.
Our key objective is to create a social movement in support of aging management technologies, and therefore it is important for us to achieve the widest possible coverage. To this end, we collaborate with major projects in the field of popularizing science, for example, last year we helped the German video blog Kurzgesagt(the blog has about 5 million subscribers) release two videos telling about the prospect of slowing aging and methods that have already been tested on animals and can soon be tested in humans. Each of these videos was watched by more than three million people, for several days they were in the top among the English-speaking audience - and our site almost depended on the flow of interested people. Now there are two more such projects with other channels.
Ariel Feinerman : What research projects have you funded?
Elena Milova : The first project was MitoSENS , the goal of the project was to test the possibility of repairing mitochondria (“power plants” in our cells) by transferring mitochondrial genes to the nucleus, where these genes will be better protected from free radicals and will be able to provide more stable production of proteins for repairing mitochondria .
Second - Major Mouse Testing Program(MMTP), mouse senolytic drug testing project. Senolitics eliminate senescent (old) cells from the body. When these cells accumulate, this leads to poisoning of the body with harmful signaling substances and an increase in the level of systemic inflammation - which, in turn, increases the risks of developing cancer. If these cells are removed from the body, this reverses some age-related changes and improves the health of some systems and tissues.
Third project - OncoSENS- aims to analyze the library of drugs in search of substances that can control the mechanism of extension of telomeres by cancer cells. This mechanism is called ALT - Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres. Approximately 10% of all cancer cases are related to this mechanism, and disabling it can increase the chances of curing cancer for approximately 800,000 people a year.
The next project is CellAge , a plasmid construct for detecting and eliminating senescent cells. Interestingly, due to the widespread community warning about crowdfunding for the early stage, the CellAge team immediately after the campaign managed to attract investment to the next development stage.
Next, we had a project to develop a hardware method for determining the biological age in humans. The project is called AgeMeter .
Well, the last project that we conducted at the end of last year is MouseAge - a project aimed at creating a research application using artificial intelligence. This application will be able to accurately determine the biological age of laboratory animals from their image. This is an incredibly interesting project, since it can not only accelerate the search for promising methods of slowing aging, but also reduce the unnecessary suffering of animals during research. The application is ready, there is a set of image database for training and debugging the neural network used in it.
And now we are preparing for a new campaign, while I do not want to reveal the details, but I can say that the project is devoted to methods of stimulating DNA repair. I look forward to the launch date.
Ariel Feinerman : Why didn't you go to SENS ? And what is the difference between your organizations?
Elena Milova : This is just a coincidence that I ended up in Lifespan.io , and not in SENS. Our goals coincide with the goals of SENS.but unlike Aubrey de Gray, who had several million dollars to give a high start to the organization, we started from scratch, we had nothing but a few ideas. All that we managed to achieve was achieved through hard work, and a high role was played by high organization and team spirit. Each team member is unique in his own way, but one thing unites us all: we want to rid the world of age-related diseases and aging. We want to make the previously impossible impossible.
Ariel Feinerman : You mentioned earlier that there is another source of research support - business. Many expect billionaires to tackle the aging problem, but for some reason this is not happening. Positive examples, such as entrepreneur Michael Grev or creator of the cryptocurrency EthereumVitalik Buterin , who donated several million dollars for research on aging, units.
Elena Milova: Business, of course, is much more interesting to invest than to donate money. However, participating in charitable crowdfunding gives businesses the opportunity to get acquainted with a startup at an early stage of its development. And if the scientific group is ready to continue the development of technology and go into clinical trials, then business donors are among the first to know about it - and in this way they receive privileged conditions for investments. This is exactly what happened with the CellAge project. Thus, crowdfunding research on aging is one of the most profitable types of charitable activities. Well, among other things, this is a positive image of the company and its leadership in the eyes of the community, which is also a lot, because these are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of progressively minded people.
Ariel Feinerman: Recently, you were at the Undoing Aging 2018 conference in Berlin, what are your feelings? Your colleague, Steve Hill, wrote: “I can say from experience attending the Berlin Undoing Aging 2018 conference that Aubrey de Gray is not at all alone in her enthusiasm. There were many scientists from around the world at the conference who were enthusiastic and confident that aging could be defeated. ” Do you agree with him?
Elena Milova: I totally agree. And this is not a matter of faith. There are no physical laws that would deny the ability to control aging processes. The fact that worms manage to extend life tenfold by changing the work of just two genes suggests that the aging process can be modified. In mice, as you know, when one of the mechanisms of aging is affected, the result is an extension of a healthy period of life and a life span of about 25-30%. Aging will be defeated when we manage to control every aging process with medical methods, and we integrate these methods into a system.
Now one of the tasks of scientists is to test a set of existing methods for reversing aging in mice and see what happens. Perhaps such a mouse will live three times longer. But then again, an experiment of this nature will be expensive, it’s not 50 thousand, it’s, I think, a minimum of three hundred thousand dollars, if not half a million. Expensive. But the information that we could get in the course of such an experiment would be invaluable.
We are regularly asked when the cure for aging will appear.
They say that a realist is a well-informed optimist. Here is food for thought. According to statistics, the process of developing a new medicine takes about 15 years. When a medicine is registered, it may take another 10 years to distribute it in all countries of the world. If initially it will be expensive, additional time will be needed to improve the technology and reduce the cost to make the cure for aging affordable for most people. If all prototypes of solutions existed today, we would still talk about the horizon of 25 years. Here I am now 39. In this scenario, when the complex for rejuvenation appears, I will be 64. I don’t like this figure anymore, and after all there are a lot of people in the world who are older than me ...
The first therapies, such as Senoliticsare already in clinical trials in humans, their appearance on the market is possible in 5 years. Various cellular therapies are being actively tested , for example, for the treatment of Parkinson's disease , and as their safety increases, they will also actively enter the market and clinics. Immunotherapy , which can also be attributed to anti-aging interventions, already exists and is being used. In a word, business is moving. But, unfortunately, so far this is a very small part of the solution to the problem of aging and age-related diseases.
Aging can be defeated, yes. But I do not like this formulation, it is too sedative. You see ... the goal is unattainable in two cases: if you do nothing, and if you move towards it too slowly. But financing problems are very stable, they have not yet been resolved, and to ensure significant progress in the development of rejuvenation therapies, serious efforts of the society are needed in literally every direction.
Ariel Feinerman : What is your plan?
Elena Milova : That's what I consider the most important.
First, crowdfunding basic research on aging, search and verification of prototype solutions. The sooner prototypes appear, the sooner clinical trials will begin - and they take the most time during the development of a new drug. Lifespan.io is not the only opportunity, I mentioned Aubrey de Gray many times, and he is the scientific director of the SENS Research Foundation , the flagship organization for aging research. You can support her. There are excellent Russian scientists who deserve support - Alexei Moskalev, Vadim Gladyshev, Andrey Gudkov, Elena Pasyukova, Petr Fedichev ... World-class stars, by the way. We supported MouseAge, where Vadim Gladyshev is the supervisor of studies. Very proud of this, by the way.
Second, the activity of patient organizations in the field of clinical trials of already identified promising geroprotectors. Geroprotectors are drugs that were originally developed to treat age-related diseases that have been shown to be able to slow down the aging process at a systemic level. This is what the Open Longevity project does.under the leadership of the president of the Science Foundation for the Extension of Life of Mikhail Batin. I fully support their undertaking. After such clinical trials, doctors will have reason to prescribe geroprotective drugs prophylactically, which will give each of us an additional margin of time. There are dozens of promising geroprotectors among existing drugs, by the way, the well-known civilian scientist Dmitry Veremeenko writes in great detail on his encyclopedia website www.nestarenie.ru .
Third, advocate for increased government funding for aging research. This is a complex and rather large-scale task; it includes informing about the potential of rejuvenation technologies for all key players: the scientific community, business, civil society and government officials. In 2014-2015, three or four speakers from our community attended public hearings on laws and programs related to aging. Even with such a composition, we still managed to make a number of improvements to the State Strategy of Actions in the interests of senior citizens . And dozens, hundreds of people should go, then we will have a chance for a serious change in our attitude to these issues and a change in the volume of state financing.
The whole experience of social activism in the field of medicine suggests that nothing is impossible here. The anti-cancer movement, the anti-AIDS movement achieved their goals of drawing attention to these problems, and managed to direct funding to develop the medicines people need. Our situation is no different. It’s just a job to do. Need more hands and good heads.
Well, in conclusion, I want to say the following. Often I say this, because the idea of getting rid of age-related diseases for some people seems to come exclusively from the community for longevity, and not universal. This is completely wrong. This is a global idea. Opinion polls show that one third to half of the population in developed countries welcome the development of anti-aging therapiesif they will prolong youth and health.
In addition, there is a higher-level public consensus about this idea. Remember what is the purpose of the World Health Organization? Its goal is the achievement by all peoples of the highest possible level of health . At the same time, WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not just the absence of diseases and physical defects . Pay attention to the words "absence of disease." This refers to all diseases, including age-related. Control over the aging process in order to eliminate age-related diseases is the realization of the universal desire for perfect health. This is a worthy goal, and we should work on it. All together.