The Latest Updates in Longevity Research with Dr. Eric Verdin

By Longevity by Design, December 13, 2023

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This episode of Longevity by Design features an interview with Dr. Eric Verdin—the CEO of The Buck Institute. The Buck Institute was the first center dedicated to aging research, and many discoveries within the aging field have come out of this research center. 

Dr. Verdin, Dr. Blander, and Ashely Reaver sat down in person to discuss the latest updates in longevity research. Dr. Verdin shares his opinion on questions like, “Is aging a disease?” and “Is there a maximum lifespan that humans will never surpass?” 

Dr. Verdin also discusses updates on the future of anti-aging drugs, including senolytics and metformin.

To close the episode, Dr. Verdin gives life advice for five things we can do on a regular basis to improve our healthspan.


Episode highlights

  • Introduction: (0:00–2:40) 
  • About the Buck Institute (2:40–8:00)
  • Biological aging clocks (8:00–14:31)
  • Public opinion and funding aging research (14:31–16:38) 
  • Is aging a disease? (16:38–19:35) 
  • Future of anti-aging drugs (19:35–25:25) 
  • Senescence and senolytics (25:25–29:42) 
  • The hallmarks of aging are interconnected (29:42–36:48) 
  • How medicine and public policy has improved life expectancy (36:48–40:50) 
  • How much of longevity is due to genetics? (40:50–44:52) 
  • Geographic location impacts life expectancy (44:52–51:08) 
  • Is there a maximum lifespan for humans? (51:08–56:40) 
  • Healthspan vs lifespan (56:40–60:04) 
  • The most important interventions to improve healthspan (60:04–1:06:04) 

The Buck Institute  

The Buck Institute is the first and largest research center dedicated to studying the aging process. The Institute's scientists focus both on understanding the fundamental mechanisms of aging in simple model organisms such as fruit flies, C. elegans worms, and mice, as well as on investigating age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and macular degeneration. The Buck researchers study each of the hallmarks of aging, with a particular concentration on cellular senescence.

When asked why it is important to study geroscience, Dr. Verdin explains that the aging process profoundly increases susceptibility to many chronic diseases. By better understanding the mechanisms of aging, scientists aim to develop therapies that can intervene against all of these diseases rather than individually. This contrasts with the classic disease-model approach of modern medicine.

Dr. Verdin's experience with epigenetic aging clocks

The development of accurate biomarkers of aging is critical for the field to be able to conduct experiments on anti-aging interventions. Epigenetic clocks, which measure biological age based on DNA methylation patterns, are a promising development but require refinement and standardization. 

Dr. Verdin has experimented with epigenetic clocks many times, and his analyses showed that different epigenetic clock algorithms can vary substantially. His biological age was anywhere from 42 to his actual 66 years—highlighting that these clocks quantify different aspects of biological aging and that taking any one estimated “age” at face-value is premature. Dr. Vedin says that rather than focusing on one’s estimated biological age, tracking the trend of how that particular clock estimates change over time within an individual in response to interventions or the passage of time may prove more useful. 


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Labeling aging as a disease creates backlash in the medical community

Scientists in the longevity field often have differing opinions on whether aging is a disease. Dr. Verdin gives his opinion, sharing that he disagrees with labeling aging as a disease. “The  problem  with labeling  aging  as a  disease is that you automatically label most of the population as diseased—we start aging at 30. It just doesn't make any sense,” he says. 

Dr. Verdin advocates for messaging that integrates geroscience insights in a less confrontational, more collaborative manner. In his view, positioning aging research as separate from traditional medicine is counterproductive when substantial progress can be made through interdisciplinary efforts to address age-related disease.

The TAME trial—the first clinical trial studying metformin as an anti-aging drug

During the discussion with Dr. Verdin, he shares his excitement for the Targeting Aging with Metformin Trial (TAME). TAME is a national set of clinical trials aimed at examining the effects of Metformin on individuals with age-related chronic diseases. Under the guidance of Nir Barzilai, the TAME trials across fourteen locations will track health outcomes among participants ages 65 to 79 who have age-related conditions.

THe TAME trial is an FDA approved clinical trial and one of the first clinical trials targeting aging with metformin. To learn more, read this paper.

Senolytics are a potential anti-aging drug

In addition to metformin, there has been excitement around the development of Senolytics, a class of anti-aging drugs aimed at clearing senescent cells. Senescent cells accumulate with age and drive chronic inflammation. Cellular senescence is normally a protective response to internal stressors like eroded telomeres, oncogene activation, or tissue damage, inducing damaged cells to permanently stop dividing. While senescence facilitates wound healing and tumor suppression earlier in life, deteriorating clearance of these arrested cells by the aging immune system allows their buildup. Lingering senescent cells secrete inflammatory factors and lose normal functionality, contributing to many aging pathologies. 

Senolytic compounds selectively eliminate senescent cells already present in the body while sparing healthy cells. Dr. Verdin shares that recent clinical studies have uncovered promising results from senolytics in alleviating certain ocular conditions linked to diabetic eye disease. If these translatable findings extend more broadly, senolytic drugs could offer a powerful new avenue to counter systemic chronic inflammation, mitigate associated diseases, and fundamentally treat aging at a cellular level.

The ideal anti-aging drug may already exist

While talking about the potential for anti-aging medications in the future, Dr. Verdin states that the perfect anti-aging medication already exists—physical activity. He shares that 30  minutes  of  walking  every  day  will  decrease  your  year-over-year risk of heart  disease, stroke, cancer,  and Parkinson's by 40%; exercisers live on average seven to 10 years  longer than non-exercisers. “I've argued I think in  the  aging  field  we  should  focus  more  on  understanding  these  lifestyle factors which can profoundly  influence  our life expectancy and our healthspan than pharmaceutical interventions. To me, the idea of popping a pill, hoping to increase your lifespan  without having optimized everything else doesn't really make much sense,” says Dr. Verdin.

How long can humans live in the future?

Another common debate scientists have within the longevity field is how long humans will be able to live in the future. Dr. Verin  calls himself a  realist, stating he doesn’t think a dramatic increase in lifespan is going to happen. He explains the medical issues we are trying to solve are getting increasingly complicated—having  a  bacterial  infection and giving an antibiotic is an easy fix compared to cancer and heart disease. “I  haven't  seen  anything in our work, in the work of anybody else for that matter that would allow you to say that we're going  to have an antibiotic -like molecule that's going to dramatically increase lifespan,” he says. His prediction is that the average human lifespan will not surpass 115 years old.

Top tip for healthspan

Dr. Verdin emphasizes there are five areas of our lifestyle habits that can profoundly improve our healthspan: 

  • Nutrition 
  • Exercise
  • Sleep 
  • Stress management 
  • Meaningful social connections

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Longevity by Design

Longevity by Design is a podcast for individuals looking to experience longer, healthier lives. In each episode, Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver join an industry expert to explore a personalized health journey. The show helps you access science-backed information, unpack complicated concepts, learn what’s on the cutting edge of longevity research and the scientists behind them. Tune into Longevity by Design and see how to add years to your life, and life to your years.

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