AI: Our Best Shot at Longer Lives?

June 18, 2020 - 8 minutes read

medical app developerArtificial intelligence (AI) is just getting started in healthcare, and venture capitalist Dmitry Kaminskiy thinks it’s the perfect tool to extend the human life span. He’s incredibly passionate about longevity and knows quite a lot about the human aging process, too.

From inflammatory proteins to senolytics research (involving suspending cells in cell cycle arrest), Kaminskiy’s trying to move the needle on the trillion-dollar human life extension industry. And AI may be the engine he needs to do so.

A New Perspective on AI and Longevity

AI wasn’t seen as a promising medical application until just a few years ago. Likewise, the longevity industry didn’t gain traction until recently, mainly because many experts were skeptical. According to Kaminskiy, applying AI and data science to medicine was considered extremely futuristic. But with steady improvement over the years, we’re starting to see AI compete with some of the best doctors in the world.

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Research firm CB Insights says that AI in healthcare investments are booming; the industry is growing faster than almost any other sector of the economy. Last year, promising AI medical startups garnered nearly $1.6 billion in funding. $550 million of these investments came from one organization: London-based mobile app health service provider Babylon Health.

The company uses AI to make recommendations for patients by collecting data, analyzing it, and finding comparable matches. A substantial amount of its investment funds went towards Insilico Medicine and Juvenescence, two companies that focus on longevity research and development.

The True Cost of Health Problems

Insilico Medicine has become known for its innovative AI applications that use reinforcement learning and general adversarial networks to speed up the drug discovery process. The company recently published an industry-changing paper about how its AI generates a drug candidate in 46 days.

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Alex Zhavoronkov is the Co-Founder and CEO of Insilico Medicine. He believes that extending human life spans would let humans lead more productive lives and help bolster the global economy as well. To understand how, we must examine current costs.

The US healthcare market is controlled by insurance and pharmaceutical companies, making it the most expensive medical system in the world. US citizens spend more money on healthcare than any other country. But life expectancy for US citizens is dropping. A study by the American Medical Association found that American life expectancy has decreased since 2014 for young and middle-aged adults. The causes range from societal to health-related.

According to the Milken Institute, in 2016, the US spent $1.1 trillion on chronic diseases with cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s being the most costly diseases to treat. When you take into account lost economic productivity, the cost jumps from $1.1 trillion to $3.7 trillion — almost 20% of the national GDP.

Investing in Unprecedented Life Spans

Kaminskiy sees enormous benefit in extending human longevity for the economy and financial institutions. Of course, it’s paramount that we include a variety of support for those living longer lives. After all, it isn’t simply about quantity; quality in terms of healthier functionality and better productivity are integral aspects to consider.

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He’s co-authored a book with Margaretta Colangelo, who is a managing partner at Deep Knowledge Ventures. The company launched an investment fund, longevity.capital, that specializes in investing in the human life extension industry. According to Kaminskiy, there are probably 20 similar investment funds that focus on investing in longevity and companies.

At the AI for Longevity Summit in London in November, Kaminskiy and his team announced the launch of the Longevity AI Consortium, an initiative that allows academics and industry professionals to collaborate at the King’s College London. The goal is to provide an AI Longevity Accelerator program that interfaces between UK investors and startups.

Deep Knowledge Ventures already committed $9 million to the accelerator program over the next three years. The company also wants to establish similar programs across the world.

Delaying the Aging Process

Franco Cortese is a partner at longevity.capital, and he directs the Aging Analytics Agency, which focuses on publishing papers to accelerate research and development in human life extension. One recent paper details an outline of Biomarkers for Longevity.

Biomarkers can indicate underlying issues like disease or a general decline in the patient’s health due to aging. They’re measurable data points that can be used universally. For example, BMI is a biomarker that indicates whether a patient is obese, a quality that brings about a host of health issues. Other biomarkers include the measurement of telomeres, which are the protective caps of our chromosomes that shrink as we age over time.

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It’s imperative that we compile enough data from a variety of biomarkers so that analyses yield ways we can use them to improve longevity. Some researchers are focused on a “magical cure,” but Kaminskiy believes the answer lies in the biomarkers of aging.

With biomarker tracking, eventually, patients could see their own biomarker health and progress. Sensors would measure different biomarkers and alert us to a potential incoming case of the flu or warning signs of diabetes.

For this vast amount of data generation, AI will be essential to organize, make sense of, and analyze the data. And when used to find new drugs, AI would be instrumental in finding new treatments, therapies, and dosage amounts to help patients maintain bodily homeostasis.

AI Is Still Young

Kaminskiy imagines the data generated from biomarker sensors will be uploaded to a cloud computing system that monitors them in real-time. He says sophisticated AI algorithms are needed to make longevity work on a large scale as well as at the individual patient level.

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It’s difficult to gauge how far we are from promising findings in this field. AI itself is still quite young. But it presents immense hope for a healthier future for humanity. Teams around the world are invested in making this combination of healthcare and technology work. Hopefully, we see breakthroughs before we become too old to benefit from them.

What do you think of the human life extension industry? Do you think AI will lead the way towards life-changing discoveries? Would you want to live to 200 years old? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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