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High School Students Preparing To Join The Fight Against Aging – Forbes

Posted: May 25, 2021 at 1:54 am


High school students planning their careers in the nascent and already booming longevity ... [+] biotechnology industry. Promoting women in longevity at AgingPharma.org, the world's largest non-profit conference on aging research in the pharmaceutical industry.

Have you ever wondered why all of us age? Is aging really just a natural process of life or can it be delayed? Are we predestined to live a certain number of years or do we just wear out over time? According to data provided by the World Health Organization, the global life expectancy increased by over 6 years between 2000 and 2019 from 66.8 years in 2000 to 73.4 years in 2019. Is this the best we can do? Or can we use science and research to extend our lifespan?

Aging research is becoming a trend and is rapidly being commercialized. The field is also gaining scientific and investor credibility. Just like in physics or math, some students are planning a career in aging research from a very early age. Some of these students dream about a bright future without aging and disease, while others take a more pragmatic view and see it as the hottest area in biomedical research with infinite possibilities.

Today, I interviewed participants of the 8th Aging Research & Drug Discovery (ARDD) Inspire Longevity program; the high-school seniors who are planning a career in aging and longevity, and the program leaders who are graduate students at the University of Copenhagen.

I was pleasantly surprised that all of the students in the program were female who knew the material and already did some research in this area.

Harsehaj Dhami, a 16-year-old student in Toronto, told me she is interested to learn how aging can be used to tackle diseases. She said she wants to use artificial intelligence in order to improve the access to education for children with hearing impairment. Andrea Olsen, another 16-year-old, is considering taking a neuroscience approach to longevity in order to advance her research on tackling neurodegeneration for a healthy longevity.

A further high-schooler, Nina Khera, wants to look at longevity through the lens of machine learning and computer programming-based approaches.

I was also pleasantly surprised that all of them are planning to do academic research and then go into industry.

Harsehaj wants to run her own company some day and develop medicine and technology that help in slowing the aging process.

Meanwhile, Andrea collects data and information through her various internships. Nina, on the other hand, likes to create puzzles around her research ideas.

All three high-schoolers want to transfer into the industry and perpetuate science from that platform in order to help commercialize aging research and bring it closer to the patients.

I was happy to interview them and get inspired by how enthusiastic they are in joining aging research. I think now is a great time to join aging research. 20 years ago, was too early. 10 years ago, was a good time. But there isnt a better time to join aging research other than right now.

Aging research is likely to result in a very rewarding, vibrant, stimulating and impactful career that can start in academia and branch into the industry.

Simply put, it is a great time to enter the field!

At the ARDD meeting, the participants will be able to meet prolific academics, pharmaceutical company executives, longevity physicians, entrepreneurs, or government officials, and ask these questions directly, either in person or virtually.

The ARDD is also a great opportunity to present yourself and show initiative, ambition, and skill. And you can also meet your fellow students who have similar ambitions and questions to form long-lasting friendships and support groups.

To help me with this interview and provide a clinicians perspective, I invited Dr. Evelyne Yehudit Bischoff, a longevity physician. Dr. Bischoff is co-chairing the Longevity Medicine workshop at the ARDD.

Interview with the members of Inspire Longevity program - high school students planning their ... [+] careers in longevity biotechnology

Alex Zhavoronkov: As participants of the 8th Aging Research & Drug Discovery (ARDD) Student Ambassador Program, we are all interested in longevity. Maria and Esther will supervise the program while I will advise and navigate the program. Let's start with a round of introductions to get to know each other better.

Maria Thaysen: Im studying for a masters degree in molecular biomedicine at the University of Copenhagen. Im currently conducting research for my thesis in the Morten Scheibye-Knudsen lab. The goal of my thesis is to investigate an in vivo model of a premature aging disorder. Esther and I are coordinating the ARDD program.

Esther Meron: I'm also a master's student at the Morten Scheibye-Knudsen lab. I'm currently conducting research for a master's in Pharmaceutical Science. My research is focused on drugs that modulate DNA repair.

Harsehaj Dhami: I'm a 16-year-old student in Toronto and Im interested in how aging can be used to tackle diseases. Im also interested in how health span can be extended along with lifespan. Aside from longevity and science, I'm interested in the field of artificial intelligence as well as how we can use AI to improve the access to education for hard of hearing children.

Andrea Olsen: I'm a 16-year-old as well and I go to school in England. I'm interested in longevity as well as neurobiology. I'm considering taking a neuroscience approach to longevity in order to further my research.

Nina Khera: I'm also very interested in aging and longevity. My research is centered on mapping cells and their features with machine learning in order to find different features in their mitochondria. I'm also interested in neuroscience and looking at aging when it ceases. I love AI and different computer programming-based approaches.

Alex: Evelyne, since you are organizing the longevity medicine workshop at the 8th ARDD, perhaps you can provide an introduction as well.

Evelyne: I'm based in Shanghai right now but Im from Germany. I made my way through several continents as a medical student and medical resident fellow and I now work as an academic and clinical medical doctor. I have a strong interest in longevity medicine and in bringing our innovative and scientific backgrounds into clinical medicine.

Alex: Great! Lets start the discussion on why you decided to go into aging research and longevity? And how do you plan on pursuing your research?

Maria: I came into longevity or aging research because it allows me to combine my interest in neurology and DNA repair in a way I haven't seen in other areas of science. After completing my master's this summer, I'm thinking about doing a PhD in aging research. I want to continue with the aspects of in vivo modelling because it makes it more approachable and is relatable to human diseases. I hope Ill join the industry in the future because the industry has more resources to conduct clinical trials and research interventions.

Alex: How do you see the industry 15 years from now?

Maria: I think there will be some drugs in the market that can slow down the aging process to an extent. I don't think the drugs will stop the aging process; but it's probable that we will be able to extend our lifespan by a couple of years. I think we see glimpse of this now with drugs like Metformin.

Esther: I got into aging research after having researched different age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular disorders. I think it is interesting to look at aging as an underlying factor. In the future, Id like to gain more experience in basic laboratory research. Ill likely also join the industry eventually.

Alex: Esther and Maria are both planning to go into the industry. How do you see the future in aging research?

Esther: I think we will understand aging more and that will enable us to understand age related disorders. Hopefully we will be able to create new drugs against various age-related disorders by understanding aging itself.

Alex: Thats very interesting. Okay high schoolers, who wants to take a shot at answering the question?

Harsehaj: I never really liked science until I took a webinar on gene editing during March break. It was like a light bulb went off in my head because I thought Whoa! Science is cool.I then looked at where we can actually apply gene editing. So, I started looking at aging with a genetic engineering approach. From there, I moved to solving diseases related to aging with the gene editing approach. And that's where I plan to pursue my research. In the future, I want to go into engineering with medicine and technology. I'm also interested in AI so I want to go somewhere where I can create things with technology and science.

Alex: And how do you see your career path? Are there any possible alternatives?

Harsehaj: There are a few alternatives. The ideal for me is to run my own company and develop either medicine or technology that helps in slowing the aging process. Another possibility is to take the research route and dive deep into understanding the different hallmarks of aging. These are the two paths I'm thinking about.

Andrea: My interest in longevity sparked when I noticed that a common fear that people have is loosing time and approaching the end of their life. As a natural problem solver, I though about the possibility of making some molecule, some elixir of youth that you could drink to stay young, and I started looking at different diseases that contribute to shorter lifespans. Most of these are cancer. I realized that aging is different than cancer and that it's a natural process of cellular life, which we have managed to slow down through treating diseases and changing our lifestyle. I'm deeply interested in understanding exactly this and what can be done to slow down the physical process of not only full organism aging, but single cell aging.

At the moment, I'm trying to gather as much information from sources as possible and interning with some places, for example, with the Atlas Biomedicine Genetics and Oncology Department. I think that longevity is going to be a topic on the rise in the future. I would like to understand longevity from the point of view of neuroscience because these fields are really important at the moment. More specifically, I want to understand how the brain, mind and consciousness have different effects on longevity.

Nina: I got into longevity because my relatives went through some aging related diseases when I was younger and I didn't know what exactly had happened. I realized then that I want to do something about it. So, when I was 12, I started thinking about longevity and the aging process. I began by looking into whatever material I came across regarding longevity and aging. Once I started looking deeper, I noticed that aging is a central cause of many diseases. I had some research ideas as my interest progressed and I began to create puzzles around them. I want to further my interest in this field. I really like start-ups and entrepreneurship, so I think I want to go into the industry in the future. My goal is to stop brain aging.

Alex: I think its phenomenal that everybody here wants to go into the industry. Evelyne, it would great if you can tell us a little bit about your career path. Because in addition to the industry, there is also medicine and some of you might want to consider a career in medicine as well.

Evelyne: I remember myself when I was 16 and I was at the same crossroads as some of you. I faced the same questions as you. Where do you want to go? Where do you want to be? I was really fascinated by gene engineering at that time so I also looked at gene editing back when it was extremely preliminary. I used to have Craig Venter hanging on my wall as I didn't have a lot of mentors at that time. But one person told me that if you would like to one day really drive changes in people, then open your doors a little bit more and go and study medicine.

Being an MD doesn't necessarily mean that you are always bound to the clinic or that you have no access to whatever the industry is offering, especially in the longevity field. Its the opposite. In my opinion, physicians are crucial for this field to develop and to evolve. The industry will need the support and leadership of the physicians to translate what the industry will offer to the patients, in the right way. Being a physician in the short term now will also require working closely with AI.

I find it fascinating and fantastic what you are doing in high school in addition to all of the obligations that you have. So please continue to pursue it. At your age, being curious and hungry for knowledge is the best thing you can do.

Alex: By the way, Nina, kudos on the blogs that you write. I think its very important to disseminate the information you collect. Are you still writing them?

Nina: I have been writing articles for Lifespan IO. Many of these have been focused on recent research in the longevity area.

Alex: What do you like most about ARDD and how do you think this program will help advance your career? In addition, who would you like to interview on ARDD and why?

Harsehaj: I like ARDDs mission of spreading information to people and of addressing public opinion of longevity. I would like to interview David Sinclair because I watched his TED talk about aging when I was first introduced to the subject. Ive read his book as well and have been following up on whatever he's been up to. He's a big role model for me.

Nina: I completely agree. David Sinclairs TED talk was one of my first exposures too. I think ARDD is cool because I believe longevity needs more people since there are many Venture Capital funds willing to fund longevity. It is only a matter of how we get people into this industry; and how we get people to think of ideas to fund. I think this is an amazing mission that I'd be happy to support.

In terms of how it will advance my career, I'm just really excited to learn from all the speakers. I'd love to interview Dr. Judith Campisi. Her paper on Senescence cells caught my interest.

Andrea: I think it's important to learn from people who are really proud of this field and are specialists in it. I also think it's important to listen to a range of people since everyone has their own ideas and approaches to things. In terms of people who Im interested in interviewing, I would say Laura Deming. She is a young researcher and may have some tips or suggestions for young people like us.

Alex: Alright, so we need to invite Laura Deming as a highlight of the program! Maria, Esther and Evelyne, if you were to wind back the clock, five or ten years ago, what would you do better to formulate your career?

Maria: I would not have changed anything because I've been involved within aging research throughout my university career.

Alex: Esther, would you have changed anything?

Esther: I agree with Maria. No, I don't think I would change anything. I come from a pharmaceutical background and only recently got into aging during the last year of my master's for my thesis. I think that brought a different perspective for me.

Alex: That's great to hear! Kudos to Morten because it means that if people go into his lab, they do not have any regrets. What I regret is that I did not go into longevity science right away.

Evelyne: I would change several things in my career path after looking from a different perspective. I would have intensified my learning of Chinese language since the future is in China. China is the center of innovation.

Coming from the medical field, I believe that in the past, there were some restrictions in academia that might have hindered physicians from learning about other fields. We were also far away from the industry, which is now a disadvantage because at some point you see many radical changes that are out there that you can implement to your patients. I would have thus started to look into the field of longevity much earlier.

Alex: So, any questions for the program managers?

Nina: Im curious to know at what stage should you understand that youre ready and able to create your own business or your own company? What sort of things help you and what things set you back in that process?

Alex: I think theres never a right time to start, so any time is the right time. I think that the right time to start a business in this industry would be after youve completed your doctoral studies and have worked in a research capacity for some years.

Evelyne: Were there some things that were really helpful for you?

Alex: I think my previous career in IT helped a lot. A knowledge of computer science and experience with algorithms and writing code helped later when I got into AI for drug discovery.

It also helped to have some business education and working in teams, learning leadership, learning operations, and accounting helps too. I recommend taking courses in project management, operations and consulting so youll know how to find optimal supply and demand as well as to find new solutions to problems. One of the major downsides of my career path is that I did not go into biomedicine right away and had to hack my way in. The absence of this academic credibility and knowledge of the many basics of biomedicine really hurt at the very beginning. So, you really need to be in this industry, know a lot of people, know who is who. Any other questions?

Evelyne: How do you know if you want to go into academia or business or the industry?

Alex: Maybe Maria or Esther might want to take a shot at this question?

Esther: I think for a lot of people, whether you go into academia or the industry, you get to do very similar things. There's so much of it in both places. For me, it's knowing that either way it'll be research and I'll be contributing to the medical field, whether that's at a university or at the industry.

Evelyne: What was helpful for me, was that I was very certain that my goal is my path. There are many opportunities to experience the industry for a little while. And at the end of the day, I think you swing between industry and academia if you pursue both on some level.

Alex: I think it's important to have the industry perspective at all times because regardless of whether you decide to take the academic path, it's important to know how your research is going to be used later on. So even when you're talking about target sciences, target discovery, formulating the disease hypothesis, formulating the hypothesis for a basic biological aging process, you need to keep in mind about what will happen with your research after it is published.

Thank you for starting your journey in this exciting field. What excites me the most is that most of you see this field as the high potential industry in the future!

The ARDD meeting will take place from August 30 to September 3rd in Copenhagen and Online. The meeting is non-profit and is organized by the University of Copenhagen in partnership with the Columbia University, and Insilico Medicine http://www.AgingPharma.org.

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High School Students Preparing To Join The Fight Against Aging - Forbes

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