Dr. Gil Blander Shares Insights from the Aging Research and Drug Discovery Conference

By InsideTracker, November 1, 2022

Gill Blander (1)

Dr. Gil Blander, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of InsideTracker, recently attended the 9th Aging Research & Drug Discovery Conference in Copenhagen. Inspired by what he learned during the conference, Dr. Blander sat down to discuss overarching conference themes and innovation in longevity research. From biological clocks to women’s health, longevity medicine, and new drug discoveries, Dr. Blander provides the inside scoop on the latest research in the field of longevity. 



How do clocks measure biological aging? 

One topic discussed during the conference was the research on biological aging clocks. There are multiple ways that scientists and companies measure biological age one's internal body age. Here, Dr. Blander discusses the research behind specific aging clocks and the opportunities and challenges of various methods. 


Epigenetic clocks

Epigenetic clocks are a form of biological aging clocks based on the epigenome. But what are epigenetic clocks, what are they calculating, and how do they measure aging?  

The epigenome refers to the chemical compounds that provide specific instructions to the genome. Epigenetics is how cells impact gene activity without changing the DNA sequence. And while there are different ways the epigenome can be modified, epigenetic clocks focus on DNA methylation. DNA methylation impacts the function of the gene and may regulate gene transcription. 

The Horvath clock, a prominent epigenetic clock, aims to find correlations between DNA methylation and a person’s age. Dr. Blander explains that while there is a strong correlation between epigenetic age based on DNA methylation and a person’s chronological age, the question remains: why are we seeing this correlation, and what does it mean? 

Dr. Blander points out that when trying to interpret the direct consequence of methylation, unknown factors arise, for example: 

  • Are epigenetic clocks calculating aging or differentiation? 
  • What are the biological effects of over or under methylation?
  • Can this score be modified or improved?

Emerging biological clocks

Throughout the conference, research on new biological clocks were presented. Dr. Blander pointed out and discussed the concepts behind new and emerging clocks including,

  • Facial analysis: An aging clock that can take a photo of the face to estimate age
  • Proteomics: An analysis that measures aging based on protein production
  • Transcriptomics: An aging score based on the transcription of genes and mRNA
  • Organ-specific clocks: Clocks that measure the biological age of each of the body’s organs 


Blood based clocks

Dr. Blander explains that blood biomarker analysis is still the preferred method of calculating biological age—as lifestyle modifications can potentially improve blood biomarkers. Conversely, other forms of biological aging scores aren't necessarily modifiable.


Women's health and aging 

Research, specifically clinical drug research, has primarily been conducted in biologically male subjects and has historically lacked female participants. Dr. Blander notes that women are far more physiologically complex than men, which is one reason cited for their lack of inclusion in studies. But when it comes to drug trial research, it may be no surprise that women tend to experience more side effects of drugs than men. Dr. Blander notes that the NIH is actively working to provide balance here. 



Dr. Blander notes a surprising fact that he learned at the conference—humans are one of the few female animals to reach menopause. Because other animals don’t reach menopause and women are notoriously understudied, there are limitations to our scientific understanding of menopause. 

But is menopausal age predictive of other health outcomes? Dr. Blander notes recent research that points to a strong correlation between menopausal age and lifespan. Studies show that women who reach menopause later in life may also live longer than women who reach menopause earlier. Dr. Blander speculates this may related to the fact that ovaries appear to age faster than many other organs in the body. However, further research is required to understand and unravel this correlation.


What are longevity clinics and who do they serve? 

Longevity clinics have practicing physicians that not only treat those who are sick—but those who are healthy as well. Longevity clinics exist worldwide. Physicians and healthcare practitioners at these clinics  help clients take a proactive and preventative approach to health and often use tools like biological clocks to help clients optimize their health.  

Dr. Blander uses the analogy of “saving for your retirement” to describe taking a preventative approach to health. We know that aging starts as early as your 20s, and building healthy habits earlier gives people a better chance to live healthier and longer.


How do GLP-1 agonists impact weight and fat loss? 

Dr. Blander attended a session on GLP-1 agonists, a class of drugs that may have major implications on metabolic health. Recent studies show that GLP-1 agonist drugs may even help reverse type II diabetes. 

Type II diabetes is characterized by high blood glucose levels and subsequent insulin resistance. Glucose levels naturally rise and fall in response to meals. GLP-1 is a hormone that can increase insulin secretion and lower post-meal glucose levels, and regulate appetite. 

Recent data shows that this class of medication can help treat type II diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Controlled trials find that GLP-1 agonists can lead to 15% weight loss in otherwise healthy individuals. For context, bariatric surgery (a surgery commonly known for its impact on weight loss) typically leads to a weight loss of 20-30% of one’s body weight. And while studies on GLP-1 agonists look promising, Dr. Blander notes that we don’t know the side effects of this drug yet and should only be taken under the care of a physician.


The nuance of cellular senescence as a “Hallmark of Aging”

The “Hallmarks of Aging” is a study published in 2013 that uncovered the ten primary causes of aging. The idea here is that if we can define the major hallmarks of aging, scientists can study molecules that may be causing—or can help delay the aging process. 

Cellular senescence is one of the hallmarks of aging. Cell senescence occurs when cells lose their ability to replicate and divide but remain in the body, increasing inflammation around healthy cells. As a hallmark of aging, researchers looked for molecules that can halt this process from occurring. 

But senescent cells may not all be detrimental to aging. For example, Dr. Blander notes that senescent cells may be part of the mechanism that prevents cancer. This is because cancerous cells quickly replicate and divide. And because senescent cells lose their ability to divide, they may contribute to cancer prevention. 

So, the topic of senescent cells is nuanced. Finding compounds that limit senescent cells may impact longevity but may be detrimental to cancer risk. And further research is needed to parse out  how we can leverage what we know about senescent cells to improve aging and limit disease risk.


The future of longevity research

Dr. Blander closed the conversation by talking about the nearly 30 companies spanning multiple fields that sponsored the longevity conference. These companies spanned numerous industries, including supplement, technology, drug, consulting groups, and aging clocks. Dr. Blander suspects that many of these companies will have scientific findings to report at next year’s conference.





8 Ways to Biohack Your Health

Free eBook


New call-to-action