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One of the world’s leading hospitals is preparing to offer longevity clinical services to patients. Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, is poised to open a dedicated longevity centre in 2023, with the goal of democratising the extension of healthy lifespan for the masses.
Longevity.Technology: While research, development and investment in longevity are at an all-time high, the implementation of longevity clinical practice in mainstream healthcare is virtually non-existent. While private clinical practices are now making longevity services accessible to those who can afford it, the societal benefit of improving healthspan can only be realised if everyone can access it. To learn more, we caught up with Professor Tzipi Strauss, Director of Neonatology at Sheba Hospital, who is the driving force behind the new centre.
It may seem curious that a paediatrician is the instigator of an initiative focused on improving aging, but Strauss explains that the relevance of longevity begins at birth.
“It is very important to look at every aspect of healthcare from a longevity perspective and it should start in my department,” she says. “Thanks to advances in medicine and technology, every baby that is born in my department can now expect to live up to 100, or even 120. But from the minute you are born you start to age, so longevity needs to be considered, even at this early stage.”
Longevity is more than prevention
The largest medical facility in the Middle East, Sheba Medical Center is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top 10 leading hospitals and already takes a highly preventive approach to healthcare.
“We already have amazing preventative screening programmes and patients already come for whole body screens once a year,” says Strauss. “But this is not longevity medicine. It is more about checking if you have cancer or cardiovascular disease or any other problem you may have. Longevity is all about risk assessment – how to maintain high performance, how to prevent decline, how to improve muscle mass, cognition or sleep, all of which will affect your health in the end.”
Strauss’s interest in longevity is deeply personal. She discovered the longevity field while going through menopause and sought to broaden her understanding of the effect aging was having on her body.
“It was my own experiences that led me to get involved in longevity – hormonal disturbances, sleep disturbances, cognitive support, lifestyle, intermittent fasting, cold baths, and so on,” says Strauss. “I got completely hooked by the longevity bug and the amazing research going on in places like Harvard, Stanford, the Buck Institute and Singapore.”
Having become personally and professionally convinced by the clinical benefits of longevity, Strauss then met with the CEO of Sheba Medical to make the case for a dedicated centre within the hospital.
“We had a discussion and we agreed that we should be doing longevity at Sheba Medical because our hospital has a vision of promoting health,” she says. “The Hebrew word for hospital means ‘home for the sick’ but we want to become a ‘city of health’ – not only taking care of sick people but offering preventive medicine and health education. Longevity is about improving healthspan along with lifespan, and this exactly fits our vision.”
Democratising longevity medicine
In 2021, Strauss was given the green light to create the longevity centre; she then began assembling a team and conducting the required research to decide how a longevity programme should be delivered.
“It took us almost a year to understand what’s going on in the world of longevity, and what we want to offer in a public hospital,” she says. “Because this is not a private clinic that will cost tens of thousands – the idea is to democratise longevity by making it affordable.”
“If we want to learn and we want AI to learn, we cannot learn from a very small segment that can afford it, we need everybody – with different genes, different environments, different lifestyles. By offering longevity services in a public hospital, this will provide better data which will enable better algorithms that will be more reliable.”
So, what does Strauss mean when she says “affordable”?
“Our first year will be a pilot, and the cost to the first 2,000 patients will be around $500,” she says. “This is approximately the cost of seeing one doctor in Israel but, in our centre, you’ll have input from five different doctors, plus all the tests and the follow up. But it’s not necessarily about doing as many tests as possible, or the most expensive tests, it’s about knowing what to do and what not to do. After the pilot, we will review the costs and see if they need to be changed.”
Strauss is also hopeful that insurance companies will pay for patients to go through the longevity centre.
“If the patients in our centre benefit and are less likely to become sick and have a better healthspan, then that should work for the insurance companies as well,” she says.
Longevity assessment, intervention & research
The longevity programme at Sheba will cover everything from cognitive and physical to mental factors – but Strauss stresses that all tests and interventions must be “validated and credible.” The work of the longevity centre will be largely divided into three key areas: clinical assessment and intervention, technology and innovation, and research.
“The assessment phase will take a few hours – a comprehensive assessment covering all lifestyle components, physical, mental, along with metabolomics, proteomics, genomics and so on,” says Strauss. “With follow up of the patient using smartphones and wearable devices.”
Based on the results of the assessment, appropriate interventions will be suggested.
“As with the tests, it’s important that any intervention is validated,” says Strauss. “If we see that you need to improve your muscle mass, for example, there may be a special physiotherapy for that, or if you’re not sleeping well, we will give you interventions that are already validated for that. And then, of course, we do the follow up to ensure that what we are doing is having the right effect.”
The final aspect of the longevity centre’s remit is to conduct longevity-related research.
“The most important thing in longevity medicine is to have measurable outcomes, and I think this is lacking in longevity,” says Strauss. “This is the major component that we want to work on, so we have measurable outcomes to help us understand what we can affect and improve. We are a university hospital, so of course we are interested in doing clinical trials. For example, interventions that are not yet validated to recommend, such as supplements or devices, will be researched in randomised placebo-controlled trials.”
Data, of course, is a major asset to improving the effectiveness of longevity medicine. Sheba’s longevity programme will be no different.
“As a hospital, we already gather a lot of data on our patients, which is extremely valuable because we can continue to follow them and see how the data changes over time,” says Strauss. “This will enable us to see trajectories – cause and effect. There’s a lot of data that we cannot fully understand yet. But in 10 years’ time, we will be able to use AI, big data, and deep machine learning to help us treat our patients as individuals, optimise their health, and most importantly, prevent the decline in the last 10 years of their lives.”
Longevity education for doctors
Another significant component of Sheba’s longevity initiative is to educate physicians about the field and how it relates to modern medicine.
“The mission is to put longevity in the field of traditional medicine, but that’s not going to be easy,” says Strauss. “When I started here to talk in the hospital about longevity, I’d say at least 70% of the physicians didn’t even know what it was.”
Strauss plans to leverage the longevity medicine courses developed by Longevity Education.
“We need to educate physicians and change the way they think about healthcare – starting in medical school,” she says. “For example, we have discussed with the Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, and we are going to have a longevity course that will begin in the first year of study. We will also enter it to the school of public health, and medical school. And we also want to bring longevity into specialised areas of medicine, for example when you study endocrinology, you will also study endocrinology longevity or general medicine longevity, and so on.”
While there is little doubt that longevity medicine has far to go before it becomes standard practice in healthcare, initiatives like Sheba Medical’s longevity centre are a promising sign that the journey is now underway.
Published at Longevity Technology