The science of aging is certainly a mysterious one. Scientists and experts in the field all agree that there isn’t a “miracle” cure to stop aging completely in its tracks, but at the same time, they are seeking out ways to allow the body to age much more smoothly and gracefully. Dr. S. Jay Olshansky is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. Dr. Olshansky and Dr. Diane Hamilton take a look at the current state of the science of aging. While the field of aging science is still growing, Dr. Olshansky has a lot of fascinating and important information to share, so don’t miss out!
I’m glad you joined us because we have Dr. S. Jay Olshansky here. He is the Cofounder and Chief Scientist at Lapetus Solutions. You’ve probably seen his work published in The Wall Street Journal or seen him interviewed on 60 Minutes with Morley Safer. He is an interesting guy. We’re going to talk about how long we’re going to live and how to extend our lives. It’s great research.
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Aging With Grace With S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D.
I am here with Dr. S. Jay Olshansky who is a Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. He’s also Chief Scientist at Lapetus Solutions and Board Member of the American Federation for Aging Research. It’s nice to have you here, Jay.
Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.
I saw one of your articles in The Wall Street Journal about whether we’re going to live past 100. The first question was, “Is the first person who will live to 150 alive today?” I was fascinated by that. As you know, a little background, I’ve worked in pharmaceuticals and I have some medical education from going through that. It’s a fascinating topic in the midst of all that we’re going through with COVID and health and research. Since I’m interested in curiosity, I want to find out more about you and what got you interested in this because I did watch the 60 Minutes piece on you and a lot of the stuff that you’re talking about is going to fascinate a lot of people. Why don’t you give us a little bit of background?
I thought you’re going to ask me about what the secret was to living to 150.
I will. I’ve got to figure out what the secret was of you getting this long though first.
That particular story is an interesting one because there are stories that come out every year, usually Time Magazine, but a bunch of different magazines talks about aging and longevity. There’s a lot of exaggeration in our field. Many years ago, an exaggerated story came out about somebody living to 150. This was picked up by some insurance companies like Prudential that made claims that the first 150-year-old person is here, so you better plan accordingly. I’m shaking my head thinking to myself, “Come on. This is ridiculous.” The oldest person in history was 122. To make it to 150, you’d have to break this record by 28 years and it’s a difficult record to break.
When I saw the story that included a quote from my colleague that he thought somebody would live that long, and my colleague is a well-respected scientist in the field of aging, Dr. Steve Austad. I said, “Come on. You can’t believe that.” He goes, “It’s possible that one person might make it.” That’s what ended up in turning into this bet, $1 billion wager. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. It’s one of the more famous bets in science and it ended up leading to the creation of a website called Long Bets by Wired Magazine where there are similar bets like this, but the bet was fairly straightforward. “Will anybody alive in the year 2000 be alive in the year 2150?”
We put enough money down so that with compound interest, it will be worth about $1 billion in 2150. I said, “No, it’s not going to happen.” Steve said, “Yes, it was.” It’s morphed into the story in The Wall Street Journal, “Is 100 the new norm for life expectancy?” Which is a little more reasonable than 150, but not by much. The bottom line is that human longevity has been rising rapidly throughout most of the twentieth century. It’s slowed down as expected in the last several years. The real question is how much higher can it go? The reason why can’t go extremely high is the same reason why you can’t run a three-minute mile or jump 10 feet.
It’s because these bodies weren’t made to last that long or run that fast or jump that high. It’s just not even biologically possible in these bodies, and that’s a debate that’s going on. That ultimately answers your question about how I got into this. Why do we live as long as we do? That’s a question that we know the answer to. There’s a reason why we don’t live as long as whales, which live 210 years or Greenland sharks, which can live for over 500 years or a mouse that lives for three years. There are reasons why we live as long as we do.
Why aren’t we pregnant as long as elephants? I’m glad about that one.
Do you want that?
It’s funny that you would ask that question because as it turns out, the duration of life of a species is calibrated to reproduction. This idea of when a species goes through puberty and menopause when reproduction begins and ends, that ultimately is the determining factor for why animals, including humans live, as long as we do. It’s a genetically fixed program for growth, development, and aging as an accidental byproduct of that. It’s funny that you would have mentioned reproduction because that’s the driving force.
I did not know that. I would like to bring back attention a little bit to the 60 Minutes piece. Was it 2005 when Morley Safer interviewed you?
They were also interviewing Dr. Aubrey de Grey, right?
His point was you could live in the thousands eventually and you were saying no. Whatever happened with what predictions he said versus what you said, I’m curious how that debate changed or if it’s the same.
What’s changed is we’re all older and a lot of the people that believe are now dead. I published a chapter in a book entitled Why do anti-aging doctors die?. This claim that we can live forever or we can live for 1,000 years isn’t new. It comes from a field that’s called anti-aging medicine. It’s been called various things for the last 2,000 or 3,000 years and the claim has always been the same. We’re on the verge of some great breakthroughs that are going to make us live for 1,000 years. The origin of modern chemistry originated with alchemy. Remember, alchemy was the effort to transmute lead into gold, and gold was sought after because kings wanted to drink out of gold cups.
Not because it was cool to do so but because they thought that they could consume minute quantities of the gold, which would give them the properties of immortality that gold had. I’ve called this industry that is selling these kinds of products and this line of reasoning as the second oldest profession. We all know what the first oldest profession is. Nothing has changed. Aubrey, there’s no more chance of living to 1,000 now than there was years ago. It’s pure hype. It’s great. It makes good headlines for newspapers and radio programs and it’s great for interviews when somebody comes on and says, “We’re going to live to 1,000.” That means it’s not going to happen.
It doesn’t seem likely to me either but sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. In the past, we had humor and that was everything. Everything changes through time of what we learned from big breakthroughs. I remember listening to a Neil deGrasse Tyson book where they were talking. Famous physicists would say, “We’ve learned everything we know. We could ever learn about physics.” Of course, they have no idea what everything is now that they’re interested in all this black matter, dark matter, and all these things that no one can explain. Do you think that there’s a possibility that there’s a big piece of this puzzle that we’re missing that makes us curious?Human longevity has risen rapidly throughout the course of the 20th century. Click To Tweet
That’s what Aubrey would say. If he was part of this, he would go, “Jay, if we were over 100 years ago and you asked the question, could we ever fly? That’s ridiculous. That’ll never happen,” and here we are flying into space. You’re asking that question, is there something that we don’t know about the human body that might lead us to live to 1,000 years? I don’t rule anything out. I’m not saying that there’s a 0% probability that there’s something we don’t know that could allow us to live to 1,000. Let me point out, by the way, that Aubrey, I, and a whole large group of scientists in the field of aging believe that we are on the verge of a breakthrough that is going to allow us to slow the biological process.
The reason why we know this is possible is because it’s already been done. It’s been done for other species and even within humans. There are people alive now that make it past the century mark called centenarians and people that make it past 110 called supercentenarians. We think they can live that long because their bodies are ticking at a slower rate. Their biological clock is ticking at a slower rate. We think that we can manipulate this clock and allow us to extend the period of a healthy life. The research scientists that are in the field aren’t trying to manipulate this clock for the purpose of making us live longer. Although that will be one of the secondary effects.
The primary purpose of slowing aging is to extend the period of a healthy life. Life extension without health extension is a disaster, and we don’t want that. Nobody wants that. We’re going after this approach to extend the period of a healthy life. Will it allow us to live to 1,000? There’s no evidence to suggest that that is plausible. We might live a few years longer, but 1,000 years is just made up out of thin air. Keep in mind, we have body parts that aren’t replicating. There are parts that do replicate. You have cell division.
The blood is constantly replenishing itself and the skin and other body parts, but the brain and muscles do not replenish. Eventually, you run out of muscle mass and brain matter. Until we can influence the aging of muscle, and brain and maybe we will be able to do that at some time in the future, we have an Achilles heel. In our existing bodies, we simply cannot push out the envelope of survival beyond where we are now. We shouldn’t even be trying to overcome those limitations because we may not like what we see if we succeed in any way in extending life without extending health.
You bring up an interesting point because in my family, most people have died from heart disease and I’d certainly rather die of that than cancer because of the suffering involved. Is it worth living an extra five years if you’re going to be suffering from chemotherapy and whatever to get through the extra age that it gives? That’s a tough thing, but it also reminds me of the old Star Trek where they didn’t get sick and they’re trying to get infected because of overpopulation. You’ve got Social Security and all these things that are financial things to consider. Nobody seems to be proactive in preparing for this extra lifespan in terms of that part. If we’re still not wanting to hire people over 50 and all the things that we see in the workplace, what happens to everybody who’s living this long?
As it turns out, there is another company that has formed called Wealthspan Financial group. This particular group of advisors is acutely aware of these issues associated with lifespan and healthspan. In fact, they’ve partnered with Lapetus. That’s how I know about what they’re doing, and they realize that people don’t know about their own longevity and healthspan. When you go into a financial advisor, your advisor might plan for a projected lifespan of 90 or 95. They make the numbers out of thin air because they don’t know.
What these companies are doing like Wealthspan and Lapetus is they’re providing a science-based estimate of lifespan for an individual and healthspan, healthy life expectancy for an individual that can be used for financial planning purposes, so you’re right. Under current conditions, most people aren’t acutely aware of how long they’re likely to live and what their planning should be for their future. Once you learn about this, it will help individuals make better decisions about planning for the future. It will provide some guidance to social security.
The Social Security Administration, for example. I’ve served on their advisory board and they are now acutely aware of what the potential implications are if we succeed in slowing aging. Keep in mind, if we successfully slow aging and extend the period of a healthy life, in a way, it’s good for social security because people will probably remain in the labor force for a longer time period. They will continue to contribute to social security for a longer time period. The proper interpretation when we succeed, by the way, is that it will take 70 years to become 50. It will take 80 years to become 60.
Your biological clock will tick at a slower rate and you will feel younger for a longer time period. A lot of people are probably going to remain in the labor force longer. Life extension is not necessarily going to be harmful to a program like social security. A lot depends on when people start drawing from social security but it’s not a bad thing. The alternative is an extension of unhealthy life and I can’t think of a worse scenario than that.
Keep in mind that one way in which the extension of unhealthy life might occur is if we cure some of the major fatal diseases. You said you’d rather die from cardiovascular disease than cancer. If we cure cancer, life expectancy for the population rises to about 3.5 years only. That’s all. A little bit more for cardiovascular disease. Why? Isn’t it more than that? There’s an underlying biological process of aging that’s operating beneath the surface that’s leading to many of these diseases and disorders.
There are trade-offs that are occurring at later ages. When one thing goes down, something else goes up. It’s a big game of whack a mole, and that’s where we’re at. We have to be careful because we may not like the moles that come up when something else goes down. The projection that many of us have is Alzheimer’s disease might be the one thing that we see with greater frequency in the future if we succeed in reducing cancer and heart disease.
In the movie Final Destination, they were all supposed to die but they didn’t so they have to die this horrible way because they didn’t die the first time, and that’s what it’s bringing to mind. First of all, I want to know what the company said. Do you know how long you’re going to live based on their prediction for you?
Yes. Not only was the prediction done for me using the conventional way, but there’s also a genetic test called the Generian Longevity Panel which we’ve developed, that Lapetus was going to be used by Wealthspan. I’m a carrier of two genes. One’s called the FOXO3 gene and one’s called the APOE e2 genetic variant. Both of which are associated with a long, healthy life. As it turns out, my father lived to 96, my mother to 90, and my sister is doing well at 69. She went through menopause late, which is associated with exceptional longevity. The prediction for me is at least the mid-90s.
That’s healthy mid-90s.
Hopefully, most of it will be healthy. With my colleagues that I published the paper on the projected health and longevity of all of the presidential candidates in the election, at the time they were 27. Of course, we’re down to two. We are going to publish a follow up to that on the projected health and longevity of both Joe Biden and President Trump.
Can you tell us anything as a sneak peek?
No, I cannot. I do have a good idea of what it’s going to be, but I don’t want to scoop myself.
How about former presidents who are still alive?
Yes, Bush and Obama. I was the first scientist to publish an article in a medical journal on the observed and projected longevity of all of the US presidents. It came out in the Journal of American Medical Association and I documented the fact that presidents live significantly longer than average. This was counterintuitive because some people believed erroneously that presidents would die early because of the stress associated with being president. They see pictures of the president going into the presidency and coming out and they look a whole lot different.
I said, “If you take a picture of anybody eight years apart, they’re going to look a lot different.” Especially when you get up into your 50s and 60s. Since we don’t die from graying hair, it’s probably not that much of an issue. I’m sure the presidents thrive for the most part on the added stress associated with the presidency, so they tend to live significantly longer. Part of it has to do with high education, high income, access to healthcare, and the things that make some other subgroups of the population live long as well. No surprise there.
When you talk about thriving on added stress and slowing the clock down, I’m not sure if we’re talking about hyperactivity, how our metabolism or any of that. Is that part of the equation? If you’re slowing the clock down, is somebody like me who works at high speed, Type A got a fast-moving clock already? Is that any part of the equation at all?
I don’t think you’re going to transform a Type A into a non-Type A by slowing aging. All you’re going to do is you’re going to take the biological processes that are occurring in the body that are either causing damage or associated with the repair of that damage and you’re going to improve that whole process. That means the Type A can continue being a Type A for a longer time period in a state of good health. It’s not going to transform a Type A into something else.
I’m curious about what you do at Lapetus. We’ve mentioned it but other than what we’ve already said, who comes to work with you? What do you study? I know you’ve written books. You have some great books, The Quest for Immortality and A Measured Breath of Life. You were the co-editor of Aging: The Longevity Dividend. You have a lot of books that you’ve written, but what do you do exactly at Lapetus?
The reason why this is an interesting question is because it relates to why Lapetus came into existence. I’m a research scientist in the field of aging and my focus is on estimating how long humans can live. I’ve been writing on this topic for many years. I was invited to give a talk at an insurance company called AIG. Bob Benmosche was the CEO at the time. When I gave a talk at their organization, I was explaining why we live as long as we do and he was shocked by some of the information that came from there. Part of it was the observation that people who look young for their age are probably aging at a slower rate. In other words, the face seems to be a window into the rate at which the aging of the body is occurring.
What I set out to do was to find a way to measure this scientifically, so I went in search of a scientist that is capable of measuring face age and I found him. Dr. Karl Ricanek from the University of North Carolina Wilmington invented the field of facial analytics. The two of us came together to create this company. The only reason why we created the company was because a story appeared in The Washington Post in 2014 about the research we were doing in trying to measure face age as a biomarker for the rate of aging.
We were inundated by investors that wanted to buy into whatever company we were creating. I said, “We don’t have one.” They said, “You need to create one because you disrupted several industries all at once, including wealth management, life insurance, health insurance, and so forth.” We had somebody throwing money at us and we ended up taking an investment of millions of dollars to create Lapetus. We are on a daily basis trying to get insurance, reinsurance companies, and wealth management companies to begin using the science of aging to help them better advise clients and better underwrite people for life insurance. Also, to remove all the friction associated with life insurance underwriting and help financial advisors sell life insurance more efficiently.
There’s no need for blood and urine to be taken anymore during all of these processes. There are lots of ways in which you can do these assessments remotely using your cell phone. In fact, the rise of COVID has accelerated the interest in this technology. Lapetus and Wealthspan are all focused on providing information remotely through your cell phone or your computer. All of these other processes that need to go on like life insurance, health insurance, and financial planning can all be done without somebody coming to your home.
First of all, is that a facial recognition kind of thing? I had Paul Ekman on the show and we were talking about the different expressions we all have. I was asking him because my husband is a plastic surgeon. I go, “How does plastic surgery mess with what you’re trying to do?” Of course, it does. If you’re looking at certain things in your face, this would not work well in Beverly Hills or in Paradise Valley, Arizona, or in different areas.
It’s interesting that you know about plastic surgery. That was one of the areas that we were disrupting and part of the reason is that when patients go to your husband, it’s useful to know to get subsets of what they’re going to look like after the surgery is done. That’s exactly in part of what this technology can do. The irony is that if you put 2 or 12 people in front of him, half of them smoke and half of them do not, with close to 100% accuracy, your husband just with his eyes will be able to determine which one is the smoker and which one isn’t.
What we’ve done at Lapetus is we’ve connected up somebody like your husband to a machine to find out exactly what part of the face or his eyes are going to make the determination of whether or not they’re a smoker or a nonsmoker. My colleague, Dr. Karl Ricanek, has developed this technology to mimic what your husband is doing on a daily basis, which is to detect anomalies in the face and it works. Smoking writes a signature on your face that’s absolutely unmistakable. Your husband can see it and will tell you. Those vertical lines on the upper lip and there are other areas that are associated with smoking that can be differentiated from aging.
That’s what we’re doing at Lapetus. We’re using this technology to pick up on risk factors for diseases like smoking. You can calculate the body mass index from a picture. If somebody’s being underwritten for life insurance and they’re lying about their height and weight, the picture doesn’t lie. You asked about the folks in Beverly Hills that are using plastic surgery and other interventions or people that try to manipulate pictures of themselves, we can’t be fooled.
I’m curious about the BMI thing because some people are off from having a lot of muscle, aren’t they?
Yes. The irony is that the guy that I’m working with, Dr. Ricanek, is a former competitive weightlifter. He is acutely aware of the fact that you can have a large BMI and be mostly muscle.
I’m curious about Schwarzenegger’s because this got to be completely off, right?
Yes. There’s a specific term where you can distinguish between BMI that’s caused by fat and a high BMI that’s caused by muscle. It is possible to tease that out but you’re outside of my area of expertise.
On your phone, instead of having them come to take your blood and do all the invasive types of things that they do, are you able to take blood pressure and different things through your phone? What can you do that they need to do the review for life insurance?
The picture is not being used for the underwriting process. There’s no detection of a race at all. We’re careful to avoid that because you can’t do that during the life insurance underwriting process. We avoid that completely. The picture is being used only to detect fraud and whether or not somebody is lying about their smoking status and whether or not they might be lying about their height and weight. Somebody told me that men overestimate their height by two inches and women overestimate their weight by eight pounds or something like that. If you show females a picture of these silhouettes of all the way from being underweight to being overweight, their image of themselves is to overestimate their weight by 1 or 2 standard deviations. It’s been going on like that for a long time.
It’s fascinating what you can pick up through some of the scannings. There’s so much talk about what we want to have tracked. Do you think we’re tracking too much? Do you worry about what you can track or do you think that all this is more helpful than not?
My personal view is that all of your health information belongs to you. You should be making the decision on what you reveal and what you don’t. In Lapetus, we’re careful about letting anybody know what we do with photographs that come in. We destroy data, but our people reveal too much information about themselves, I don’t think so. This can be useful in the future. I published an article on the computer where I talked about the rise of what I call a health data economy.
As you learn more about your own health status, while extremely valuable to you because it can help you guide your life to improve your health and quality of life, believe it or not, it’s extremely valuable to merchants that want to sell you stuff. That includes not just your blood chemistry, but your genetics, behavioral habits, and all of this information. For example, if your sleep pattern is off and you’re not getting your needed seven hours of sleep, you might get an email from a company that sells mattresses. It should be your choice on whether you make this information available. You should be able to sell it. You own health data. It should be your option on whether you want to sell it. If these companies send stuff to you, fine. I’ll let you send stuff to me for a price.
Once you sell it, it’s out there and who’s going to keep that next person from selling it to somebody else?
It should go out and be identified.The face seems to be a window into the rate at which the aging of the body is occurring. Click To Tweet
I wonder how much blockchain has anything to do with how they track all that. I’m sure a lot. I’m sure you deal with HIPAA quite a bit in the medical, what you can share, and what you can’t share with everybody. Other doctors were doing all this through Zoom and different things that weren’t locked down as well as they’d hoped. You’re looking at patients through Zoom instead of the in-person type of things. Where’s HIPAA in all of this? Are they adjusting to the technology or do you have to adjust to meet them?
I don’t know the answer to this one because you’re right. Telemedicine has taken off in the COVID area. There has to be some HIPAA compliance associated with these interactions that are taking place between doctor and patient. I haven’t done it yet so I don’t know what the experience is like. It’s a good question because clearly, there has to be some security protecting this relationship between doctor and patient. I just don’t know how well they’ve adapted to this new world.
It’s interesting because you pick up a prescription at the pharmacy and people are saying everything that’s wrong with them in front of you as loud as they are in the line. Yet, you have to be super careful somewhere else. All of it could probably use a little tweaking and help in some respects. What you’re working on is fascinating and I’m curious if you’re going to write any more books about what you’re working on because you’ve written or edited certain ones. Is there anything on the docket for the future?
Yes. Here’s the irony. I’ve written two books. One of them is published and it’s called The Rise of Generians: How Science is Revolutionizing Life Industries. Generians, by the way, are people over the age of 70, septuagenarians, octogenarians, nonagenarians. It’s the rise of this population and what it all means. That’s available on Amazon. I am finishing another book called Pursuing Wealthspan, which is this effort by the combined effort of Lapetus and Wealthspan Advisors to change the financial services industry using aging science. There’s a lot going on and I don’t know why I’m productive, but it’s been one of the most productive times I’ve ever had.
You can’t go anywhere. You’ve got to write.
I’m not traveling.
You do a lot of board work. I’m curious, didn’t you serve on a board like a Pepsi in different places?
Yes. Scientific advisory board at PepsiCo and I’m on the board of American Federation for Aging Research. I’m on the board of a couple of other organizations so there’s a lot of board work that I’m doing. The fact is that the older population across the globe is rising dramatically and this population is extraordinarily valuable. There’s a lot of money pent up in the aging Baby Boomers, and where it’s all going to go and how it’s all going to be spent and transferred to subsequent generations. There’s a lot of interest. PepsiCo is interested in developing and marketing new products to help encourage healthy aging, which I was in favor of. I was impressed by what PepsiCo is doing.
What kind of things do they ask you for help? How can you help companies? What kind of input do you give?
For example, the Social Security Administration, when I was advising them or even the World Health Organization, that was all a focus on how much higher life expectancy can rise. Even small changes in life expectancy produce large differences in the expected number of people to make it up to older ages, so those were more technical in form. What assumptions should be made? What assumptions should we be avoiding? American Federation for Aging Research, our focus there is on trying to find a way to slow the biological process of aging. My focus is on helping explain what happens when we succeed. What are the consequences going to be if we can slow biological aging? What does it mean to us on a daily level of how we live our lives and how we plan for the future?
PepsiCo is learning about the unique dietary needs and requirements of people that make it out to older ages and what would be most useful for helping them survive healthily to later ages. If there’s something I don’t know, like a specific type of nutrient that’s required to help individuals survive healthier and older ages, we bring in experts that have that expertise. It’s knowing the basics of human aging and longevity and then taking off from there and applying it to different industries.
You do work as a professor of different things. I was looking at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. What is tropical medicine?
I probably didn’t mention this, but I have published extensively on the rise in the reemergence of infectious and parasitic diseases. That’s the tropical medicine part of it. The COVID pandemic is something that is not unpredictable. We published a piece in the Population Bulletin back in 1997 describing exactly the phenomenon that we are going through and predicting that we would have three pandemics in the 21st century. We didn’t know when it was going to happen but we had luck. We had three pandemics in the twentieth century, 1918, 1957, and 1968. There will likely be three pandemics in this century, so this is not unexpected.
That’s the work that I did back in the latter part of the twentieth century. I was focusing on what the likelihood was that we would have a pandemic and what the consequences would be if we did so. By the way, one of the main predictions that we made back in ‘97 in that article was that some of the worst problems we would see would be in nursing homes and prisons where you get people concentrated together in small areas where the spread of these diseases can occur easily and rapidly. The introduction of plane travel makes it possible to transport these microbes across the globe in a matter of hours.
You made your predictions and I know, of course, the Bill Gates prediction of his talk. He would have a big audience from people following him. Why do you think we don’t heed what we hear in terms of these predictions to make plans for change?
The ‘57 and the ‘68 influenza pandemics were not nearly as bad as the 1918 one and the one we see here. We don’t react until it’s in our face. We started spending less money on emergency preparedness for pandemics with the administration, so it’s been a real problem. I can assure you going forward, we will be planning for the next pandemic. There will be surge protection. You’re going to see Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx advocating and I’m sure that we are going to work hard. There may be a 2nd or 3rd wave associated with this pandemic. We saw it in 1918, which began in the last week in September or might have been early October and lasted until mid-November.
That second wave was somewhere between 5 to 10 times worse than the first wave. There was a third wave that happened in the spring of the following year. These are the things that we need to be concerned about. People have not heeded this because it hasn’t been in our face. You’ve got a whole generation that’s going to grow up remembering COVID. We will be alerted to this for the rest of this century. We will not be surprised by this again.
It’s interesting because my father ended up blind from 1918 with the Spanish flu and my grandmother had been pregnant with him at the time. It was not something that even I, having a father that way, talked about. Do you think this will be played down to point, eventually we get over it and we just go on? Do you think this will have more of a lasting impact on social media and everything else?
It’s interesting that you would ask it that way because polio used to be an absolutely devastating disease and then the polio vaccine came around and we became complacent. Nobody thinks about it because it’s not in our face anymore. The same thing with measles, mumps, and rubella. Remember, we developed vaccines, so now they’re not in our face because we have these vaccines. Is it likely that we’re going to see a vaccine for COVID? I certainly hope so. I saw a story from Dr. Fauci, who was arguing that he thinks we’re going to have a vaccine by the end of 2020 or early 2021, and I’m hopeful. When that happens, I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the time period when we got our sugar cubes with the polio vaccine.
I don’t know if I remember it. I do know what you’re talking about, though.
I went through that and I remember it was a big deal. We all went to the school and the parents rounded up all the kids and everybody got their polio vaccine, and suddenly, polio became a thing of the past. Will we become complacent to COVID? Probably. If there’s a vaccine, life will probably return back to normal. We won’t be wearing masks. We will be shaking hands and hugging our kids and our grandkids. Life will go back likely to where it was if we are successful in developing either a vaccine or a treatment. If we don’t develop a vaccine or an effective treatment, life will not go back to normal for years.
As a pharmaceutical rep for fifteen years, I shook everybody’s hands and opened all the doors that everybody has been touching after coughing. Who knows what I touched? I never thought about it and I ended up getting meningitis later. That changes you forever for what you think about and what you touch. I wonder how much people will be like the same as they were if we will still shake hands. I’d like to get rid of the handshaking thing. Do you think it will come back?
It will come back. I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a vaccine. Once this is behind us, it will fade like many other bad memories fade. We will go back to going to restaurants and doing the things that we did before. That’s my hope. I don’t know for sure that that’s going to happen, but I’m optimistic. I have been following the vaccine research that’s been going on. I’m optimistic that one of the vaccines, perhaps the one at Oxford or the one that’s being tested here that’s moved into phase three, hopefully, is going to lead to a viable vaccine that’s going to work. Memories will fade and we’re going to go back to handshaking and hugging. I certainly hope we get back to hugging because I miss hugging my children and my grandson.
As you’re talking about these choices, I know AstraZeneca has been in the news and I’d worked for them for close to twenty years. I remember they had a product that worked on keeping angiotensin I from turning into angiotensin II. I read somewhere that they were looking at angiotensin as part of this, which is part of a process that happens in the kidneys. Is that how they’re working on this? Is it like a blocker?
Each one of these efforts to create a virus, many of them are pursuing different pathways to block the virus. I don’t know enough about the various pathways that they’re pursuing but I’m sure the AstraZeneca approach is different from the one at Oxford. What’s interesting about this, by the way, and you’ve never seen this before, is they’re already manufacturing massive doses of both.
They’re going to take a bet.
It’s the smartest thing to do. If you get this into the marketplace as quickly as possible, the last thing you want to have is a choke point of not having enough of the vaccine. They’re taking a fly on this and it’s the right thing to do. It’s a smart approach to take because if one of them works, they’re going to give it to the first responders, the nurses, doctors, and everyone that’s on the front line, and then it will go to people over 65 or 70 quickly. It will disseminate to the rest of the population and this will be a bad memory. Hopefully, you and I will be talking again about, “Do you remember COVID?” You’ll say, “No, I forgot.”
About 40% of people wouldn’t even want to take it or they weren’t sure if they wanted to take it. I can’t be positive about that exact percentage, but it was high.
That would be consistent with the influenza vaccine that we have every year because our uptake of the influenza vaccine every year is about 46%. That’s terrible. In 2021, hopefully, it’s going to get up above 90% because that’s part of what’s going to contribute to the second wave. It’s the combination of influenza coming back and we don’t know which strain it’s going to be and mixed with COVID. Hopefully, we’re going to see a large increase in the proportion of the adult population that’s going to get the influenza vaccine.
What do you think of doing the herd mentality thing where you let people get it and have it be over with?
If you like the idea of having a lot of people die all at once, it’s a great idea.
Do you think we’ve done it the right way then?
Yes. Clearly, flattening the curve is not the same as eliminating curve. Flattening the curve just means you’re extending it out for a longer time period, but you’re reducing a peak. The problem with the peak is it overwhelms the healthcare system and that’s when you get a lot of deaths occurring. That’s exactly what happened in New York City and some other places like Italy and elsewhere. You flatten the curve and you extend it out for a longer time period. The longer you wait, the better off you are because we’re learning a whole lot about how to treat people that have the virus. They’ve gotten better at treating the symptoms associated with it. The longer you wait, the better off you are.
It has been a trying time and I know you’ve written a lot about different things. I love your Wall Street Journal article. It was a great big piece on you. You’ve gotten a lot of attention for your work. Wall Street Journal is prestigious. How was it getting on 60 Minutes? Did they want somebody that was the opposite to the de Grey viewpoint? Did they talk to you first? How did that come to be? What was that like beyond 60 Minutes? I’m curious.
It was a lot of fun. First of all, Morley Safer was a real character. I’ll tell you an interesting story. I flew to New York for that and I did the interview with The New York Academy of Sciences. We had the whole building to ourselves and he’s sitting right in front of me. We’re sitting on these stools and he hands me a bottle of water. I started to drink and as soon as I started to drink the bottle of water, he asked me the first question so I started coughing. I said, “Why did you do that?” Apparently, he does it all the time. He did that all the time. That’s the way of it. That was a fascinating interview.
I don’t know who they interviewed first. My guess is it was Aubrey because they were asking me some specific questions about Aubrey’s view. The debate between Aubrey and I is more for fun. I don’t take it seriously. Aubrey is a good friend of mine. We openly disagree on this topic and that’s okay in the world of science to openly disagree. There are a lot of good things that Aubrey is advocating. Both of us completely agree that attacking aging is the way to go in the world of public health in the future. It’s the consequence of succeeding where we differ but going after aging as a primary risk factor, we are absolutely in 100% agreement on, and so is Steve Austad and I.
My colleagues that participated in the debate in the Wall Street Journal are all in agreement that attacking aging is the way to go in the future. We’re optimistic that this is going to succeed. We will come up with something that you and I will be taking at some point that will lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and all the things that we don’t like about growing older. It’s going to make our biological clock tick at a slower rate and hopefully, we will remain healthier longer as a result. The debate itself, I took with a grain of salt. They were looking for somebody to counter Aubrey’s, shall we say overly exaggerated comments on how long we’re going to live.
I thought it was an interesting piece and you guys did a nice job of balancing each other out on the whole thing. I can’t think of a better place to end this. A lot of people want to know more about how they can find your books, read about what you’re doing, or learn more about your company. How can they follow you or reach you?
I can always be reached by email through my university email address. That’s always a good start. It’s SJayO@UIC.edu. They can go out to Amazon and look up my name. They can look up The Rise of Generians, Aging: The Longevity Dividend, and The Quest for Immortality. The book that I published called A Measured Breath of Life is an eBook. I have a website called SJayOlshansky.com. If you want to check out some of the stuff that I’ve done and you can download some of the many of the articles and whatnot, go to SJayOlshansky.com or send me an email or you can go to LapetusSolutions.com and pick up what we’re doing there. I’m easy to get ahold of.
This has been great, Jay. Thank you for sharing great information. I enjoyed this.You can actually calculate body mass index from a picture. Click To Tweet
It’s my pleasure. Those were great questions.
I want to thank Jay for being my guest. We get many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch up with them on DrDianeHamilton.com. There are a lot of people that I’ve interviewed and I know that there are many great guests. I hope you take some time to explore the site. You could also find out about Curiosity Code Index training or the Cracking the Curiosity Code book, and everything on my site. Go to DrDianeHamilton.com and you can find out more. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you enjoy the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Lapetus Solutions
- American Federation for Aging Research
- Dr. Steve Austad
- Long Bets
- Dr. Aubrey de Grey
- Generian Longevity Panel
- The Quest for Immortality
- A Measured Breath of Life
- Aging: The Longevity Dividend
- Paul Ekman – past episode
- The Rise of Generians: How Science is Revolutionizing Life Industries
- Curiosity Code Index
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
About Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D.
Dr. S. Jay Olshansky is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. He is also chief scientist at Lapetus Solutions and a board member of the American Federation for Aging Research.
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