“Who wants to be sick?”, asked Prof. Andrea B. Maier, facing an audience of researchers, policymakers, corporate directors, entrepreneurs, media personnel, athletes, and even middle school students, among other members of the public during the closing of the 2023 Healthy Longevity Talent Incubator (HLTI23).
Unsurprisingly, no hands were raised.
Such unanimity might have proven challenging to achieve had the topic not invoked humanity’s most abhorred antagonist: disease.
Yet, perhaps the closest reachable consensus today is the world’s enthusiasm for longevity.
A new approach but not as new as some might think, longevity medicine tilts the axis when it comes to approaching disease, and centers it on a common culprit: aging. Longevity experts have evidence to believe that aging is a manageable and potentially even curable phenomenon. Accordingly, what people have spent millennia bitterly accepting as a normal part of existence might not be so after all.
With that, it becomes easy to see where the worldwide enthusiasm comes from. This past decade has seen plenty of remarkable longevity strides whereby targeting aging mechanisms has been posited to increase not only lifespan in model organisms but also healthspan; the portion of life that one spends healthy.
Several of these strides have taken place in Singapore. Hence, the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) was the ideal birthplace for the first-of-its-kind program which is the Healthy Longevity Talent Incubator.
Over the course of 10 days in July, HLTI23 brought together young professionals to learn from some of the longevity field’s most influential leaders. I, Al Hussein Elwan, a volunteering content writer at SASTA, was honored to participate in the seminal program. Below I will delve into what made HLTI23 a truly transformative experience for participants, and how it has paved the way for next-generation education.
Longevity with No One Left Behind
Organized by the newly-founded Academy for Healthy Longevity at NUS, HLTI23 prioritized diversity and inclusion. This commitment is immediately evident from the nationalities of the 39 selected participants, who represented 20 countries spanning all inhabited continents.
However, HLTI23’s quest for diversity extended beyond geography, as the program’s faculty made sure to select participants from various disciplines, including research, clinical practice, engineering, business, and more. Not only that, but the program also featured participants from different career stages and age groups, emphasizing potential over experience.
“Research shows that diversity boosts productivity and creativity. In this Talent Incubator, we fostered participants’ growth by encouraging them to interact with peers from varied academic and cultural backgrounds”, remarked Programme Manager Dr. Hataitipi Tasena in an exclusive interview with SASTA. “Recognizing aging as a global concern, we made sure we also extended this opportunity to young talents in developing countries. Our efforts paid off beautifully as our participants quickly embraced diversity, forging lasting bonds”.
Ultimately, the careful selection painted a colorful, spontaneously recurring picture where somebody like me—a pharmacist from Egypt—could share a table and exchange a plethora of ideas with an MD from Indonesia, a postdoctoral researcher in aging from the UK, and a BSc student of Nutrition and Exercise from Australia, among other auspicious professionals from all walks of life.
An Everything for Everyone Program
The expression “something for everyone” commonly refers to occasions where a wide range of options is presented for different people. In HLTI23’s case, a more accurate expression would be “everything for everyone”.
Reflecting on the program’s pedagogical approach, Dr. Tasena stated, “Our course content was meticulously designed to foster the next generation of healthcare leaders. It encompassed a comprehensive range of Healthy Longevity knowledge. Beyond the robust content, we offered a diverse array of learning approaches, including expert lectures, interviews with thought leaders, group assignments, and the opportunity to adopt healthy lifestyles through healthy diets and daily exercises throughout the course.”
Aside from six senior mentors of unique backgrounds, the program hosted 19 guest lecturers to collectively narrate the intricate story of longevity. Topics included the biological hallmarks of aging, aging population studies, animal models for studying longevity, exercise for healthy longevity, integration of longevity science into clinical practice, management of a longevity-focused business, the economics of a longevity dividend, the role of Artificial Intelligence in identifying aging biomarkers, and the ethics of longevity research and life extension in general.
Just as longevity opens windows into all facets of health, HLTI23 spurred fruitful discussions into all facets of healthcare. Through these discussions, participants were able to look beyond their own fields and gain fresh insights into the interconnectedness of longevity.
Curiosity, Questions, and Open Dialogues
A natural product of the program’s diversity of participants, lecturers, and sessions was curiosity. By all means, HLTI23 fostered that curiosity and made it easy for participants to act on it by asking all sorts of questions.
One of the ways that was apparent was the regularly anticipated Question of the Day Award. The initiative incentivized participants to ask what was on their minds no matter how technical or philosophical. Even the legitimacy of longevity medicine itself was questioned. Often, such questions blossomed into open dialogue, which HLTI23 also saved ample room for.
For example, one of the program’s highlights was a series of sessions by senior mentors, Prof. Suresh Rattan and Prof. Günter Lepperdinger, titled: Conversations on Age and Aging. These chat-like sessions were designed to drive interaction from participants, spark healthy debates, and collectively arrive at insightful conclusions.
A Focus on Career-Building
While theory and fundamentals played a crucial role in the program’s curriculum, HLTI23 went beyond the classroom. With equal dedication to advancing participants’ careers, the program aimed to equip them with essential skills and delved into practical career-building strategies.
Because networking forms the backbone of professional growth, the program invited 18 career professionals for one-to-one speed networking sessions with participants. Each participant had the opportunity to connect with up to ten mentors for questions, career advice, resume feedback, and more.
HLTI23 additionally spotlighted a number of skills essential for building a strong career in longevity, including leadership. Duly, Prof. Johannes J. (Hans) Meij, the director of the Academy for Healthy Longevity and one of the program’s six senior mentors, orchestrated a pivotal three-part workshop on how to become a leader in the longevity field.
Singapore’s Call to an Aging World
Last September, SASTA organized the Global Conference for Diaspora Networks in Science (GCDNS22), featuring representatives of diasporas from 35+ countries. The most substantial call to action was to facilitate the exchange of research between nations to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. This global perspective ensures progress is inclusive and not confined to a single part of the world. In this context, Singapore undoubtedly stands out, actively contributing through gap-bridging programs like HLTI23.
HLTI23 participants got to be immersed in a wealth of quality longitudinal studies originating in Singapore that examined the effects of biological, lifestyle, and socioeconomic factors on aging. Upon returning to their home countries, participants could reference these studies to shape policies, influence public health initiatives, and inspire similar research endeavors.
In return, as a parting gift to Singapore, participants were invited to partake in special graduation projects named: “SG City Missions”. Divided into five groups each studying a distinct aging-related topic, participants traversed the island to survey the public, conducted quantitative and qualitative research, and presented their findings and recommendations during the closing ceremony of HLTI23.
This whole cycle echoes the resounding call from GCDNS22. Singapore, a nation currently grappling with its own aging-driven challenges, leverages its resources and research to reach across borders. Investing in international talent not only tackles Singapore’s struggle against aging but transcends into a global endeavor, nurturing a world where every nation gains from shared insights, and every individual benefits from collective knowledge.
On the continuation of this vision post-HLTI23, Dr. Tasena added, “Many alumni continue to meet at international events, co-author articles, and lead concurrent studies in their countries, fostering enduring global collaborations.”
What Is Next for Longevity and Where Does the Arab World Stand?
The longevity industry is experiencing massive growth, with more than 23,000 entities and 9,000 investors dedicated to advancing this field.
Dr. Tasena expressed her optimism about the future of the field sharing that, “In the coming decades, we envision an increasing number of public healthcare clinics, frequented by healthy individuals who want to prolong their healthy lifespan. We also anticipate a society where aging citizens continue to enjoy both physical and psychological well-being, and where all generations experience inclusivity and fulfilment throughout their lifetimes.”
While the momentum is strong globally, Arab nations are gradually recognizing the multifaceted advantages—health, social, and economic—that come with embracing longevity research and initiatives.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of Arab diaspora representatives spearheading longevity breakthroughs on several verticals. Eminent figures include Dr. Peter Attia, pioneer of Medicine 3.0 and host of the popular The Peter Attia Drive podcast; Prof. Samia Mora, Professor at Harvard Medical School; Dr. Hanadie Yousef, CEO of Juvena Therapeutics; Dr. Sajad Zalzala, Co-founder of AgelessRx; Dr. Salah Mahmoudi, Associate Director of Discovery Research at Alkahest; Dr. Adam Bataineh, Founder of Numenor and creator of the Dr. Adam YouTube channel; and Dr. Amine Zorgani, Owner of The Microbiome Mavericks. The achievements of these determined individuals signal a promising trajectory, suggesting that a wave of longevity pioneers could soon emerge from Arab countries.
In this endeavor, programs like HLTI23 and its upcoming editions play an essential role, acting as catalysts that inspire, educate, and unify future leaders committed to advancing longevity’s frontiers.
“Looking ahead to the future, we see our alumni emerging as seasoned experts who will boldly push the boundaries of the field, enabling the advancement of both research and implementation of healthy longevity science and medicine”, affirmed Dr. Tasena at the conclusion of her interview with SASTA.
The Academy for Healthy Longevity has already announced the Healthy Longevity Talent Incubator’s return for 2024. Readers who are interested in applying to the second round are encouraged to follow the Centre for Healthy Longevity for all the updates.