The quest to legitimize longevity medicine

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“The term ‘immortality’ should never be part of our discussion… it’s a total pipe dream,” says Verdin, who personally hopes to live to around 95. “My worry is that it makes us like a cult.”

Longevity doctors also tend to agree that, while longevity clinics are a pricey experience for the rich, they should eventually be accessible to everyone. “The clinics charge between $5,000 and $50,000 a year,” says Verdin. “It’s medicine for the rich, by the rich, which is something I deplore.”

At the December meeting, attendees were offered the chance to win prizes. Stick your name in a fish bowl, and get a chance to win a biological age test, or a scan at a private clinic. The total worth of the “ten to twelve” prizes on offer was €20,000, or around $21,600.

High price tags aren’t just an equality issue. They can also exacerbate a placebo effect. People tend to feel better when they’re given a sugar pill if they believe that candy might improve their symptoms. Paying for a treatment can exacerbate the effects, says Nir Barzilai, who studies aging at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and is scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research. “You cannot afford to not be satisfied.” And research suggests expensive placebos are more effective than cheap ones.

But prices should come down in time. “Their vision is to start with high-paying clientele…but in the future look at how we can democratize this,” says Verdin, who advises multiple longevity clinics. And at least three public longevity clinics have opened in the last few years, in Singapore, Israel and the US. These clinics are all affiliated with public hospitals, and the costs to patients are much lower than they are for those who visit private clinics, say the doctors who direct them. These clinics are also all running clinical trials of potential longevity treatments.

The healthy longevity clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester is the first public longevity clinic in the US. Since the clinic opened in July last year, doctors have seen around 100 patients aged between 35 and 81, says Bonnes, the clinic’s medical director.

Some want to maintain their health; others want help managing a disease. Still others have been referred by their doctor because they have already embarked on a longevity regimen, but are taking things too far, says Bonnes.

“Certain supplements that they’re taking may interact with other medications or things that they’re on,” she says. “Taking 20 supplements may not be helpful.” And some who are limiting their calorie intake can have eating disorders, she says. “We don’t necessarily know what’s really going to help, but if we can at least avoid harm, that is a big step in the right direction.”

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