This is the transcript of “Pursuing Outreach Opportunities: Lifespan.io’s Experiences in Promoting Healthy Life Extension”, a talk that LEAF Outreach Director Elena Milova gave at TransVision 2018, a transhumanist conference in Madrid, Spain.
My name is Elena Milova, and I work with the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation, a non-profit organization headquartered in New York City. Our main activity is to support research on regenerative therapies that can possibly make human life healthier and longer. To do that, we have developed the non-profit crowdfunding platform Lifespan.io, and, as of now, we have gathered more than 300 thousand dollars in support of 7 scientific projects. We are currently running a campaign to support David Sinclair’s NAD+ Mouse project, a study of NMN and its effect on healthy lifespan in mice.
Another direction of our activity is to educate the public about the potential of rejuvenation therapies.
Around a year ago, we started the Rejuvenation Roadmap, which tracks the development of therapies that address the different hallmarks of aging, and before I get to the main topic of my talk, I would like to show you where we are now.
The first three columns represent studies in animals, the next three show clinical studies in humans, and the last column indicates that the new drug or therapy against a hallmark of aging has hit the market.
As you see, we only have prototype solutions for four of the nine hallmarks of aging. These prototypes entered human clinical trials not long ago. For the other five hallmarks, researchers are still testing potential therapies in animals, attempting to find something that could address the underlying processes of aging in humans.
The process of developing a new therapy or a new drug takes around 15 years, and half of this time is spent in human clinical trials. This means that a complex therapy to achieve negligible senescence in people is still far away. Many people who are alive today will not live long enough to see this, and even my generation can’t really feel safe.
Our lives can depend on how much we can achieve as a community in the next 15 years. What exactly do we need to achieve?
As you know, the primary bottleneck in rejuvenation research is funding. The best source of funding for fundamental studies (in cells and animals) would be governmental, but, sadly, in the absence of public demand for rejuvenation technologies, legislatures prefer to allocate the money elsewhere. Therefore, to achieve a significant change, the public has to know enough to understand that aging can be manipulated and that it is highly desirable to cure the diseases of old age and to radically extend healthspan and lifespan.
Therefore, the life extension community has to run a large-scale information campaign. Numbers matter.
Here is the problem: lack of funding.
The healthy life extension movement is mostly represented by small and relatively poorly funded organizations, LEAF included. Although this seems like an insurmountable obstacle, there are multiple ways to inform millions of people about the promise of rejuvenation research without spending a lot of money. We can leverage our position effectively if we fulfill three conditions:
- The right message
- Attention to numbers
Making a good first impression is very important.
What is the right message?
There are many sociological studies on how people perceive different messages about the possibility of life extension. First of all, most people don’t know what aging is. Whenever we are dealing with a new audience, we have to begin with the basics, explaining aging and its hallmarks and their relation to the development of age-related diseases. We also have to explain how rejuvenation therapies work in animals, extending their healthy period of life, reversing some age-related damage, and allowing them to live longer as a side effect of better health. Unless you explain these fundamentals in advance, you won’t be able to productively talk to people about rejuvenation biotechnology, as they won’t understand what you mean.
Second, sociological studies show that some words and expressions are poor choices because people interpret them in their own ways. The most critical example is the expression “life extension”. We humans are wired to make simple extrapolations. When someone is offering to extend life, people are imagining themselves as being 80 years old, unhealthy and frail, and dislike the idea of extending life in this miserable condition. It is better to avoid this expression and to only talk about extending healthy life and postponing disease. Another unfortunate word is “immortality” because pop culture pictures immortals as bad people with criminal inclinations, and the public doesn’t want to identify with them.
On my slides, I offer a list of sociological studies that offer more information about methods for better communicating our ideas.
Now, to the next point: numbers.
To achieve a turning point in how society perceives aging, we need to teach millions of people. The United States has around 320 million, Russia has around 140 million, and European countries have more modest numbers, but we are still talking about tens of millions of people. How do we reach all of these people without a budget? Simple.
A couple of years ago, Keith Comito, our president, started to collaborate with big YouTube channels that publish popular science content and already have an audience of several million people. Lifespan.io’s collaboration with the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt (7 million subscribers) in 2017 led to the creation of two short movies about rejuvenation biotechnology, and each of these movies, as of now, has around 4 million views. A recent collaboration with the YouTube channel LifeNoggin (2.4 million subscribers) led to the creation of a short movie about rejuvenation biotechnologies, which has, so far, received around 290,000 views.
There are popular science channels in most countries, so this experience is reproducible. You can ask Keith for networking advice, but I can give you a spoiler for what he’ll say: he’ll tell you to be persistent.
The second workable strategy is to educate and support reporters who work with major media companies by providing them with news and reference materials, helping them connect with leading researchers and even volunteering to make footage for them if they cannot come to an event due to financial limitations. In 2018, Lifespan.io contributed footage featuring experts at the Undoing Aging conference to a longevity program produced by the Russian TV channel Star (Zvezda), which has a daily audience of more than 3 million people.
Our collaboration with expert journalist Anna Dobriukha from Komsomolskaya Pravda led to a series of articles and interviews from the Undoing Aging conference. Komsomolskaya Pravda has 24 million readers online. Of course, not all of them have read these articles, but, nevertheless, the impact of collaborating with mass media is quite significant.
A few months ago, I decided to start a new project called the School of Longevity Journalism. In order for a journalist to start writing about aging and rejuvenation research, that person needs a good introduction to this topic. A few days ago in Sochi, Russia, there was a MediaForum – a conference where reporters and editors exchange their experiences. Therefore, I chaired our first School there, and more than 50 reporters and editors were informed about the developments in our field. I was invited to several regional sections of the Russian Union of Journalists to give the same introductory lecture.
Of course, one lecture may not be enough for these people to become deeply engaged and start writing right away. However, we also provided them with a list of experts in aging research and public activists who they can ask for commentary, interviews, or help, which increases the chances of publishing high-quality material on aging. Once my program is polished, I plan to start doing the same thing at the International MediaForums, as there are plenty of them organized each year.
Again, local activists in any country can undertake this kind of project in order to introduce the topic to reporters and help educate the general public as a whole.
The third workable strategy is to create opportunities to attract audiences and potential partners from other fields. Although projects of this type are not necessarily directly related to rejuvenation research, they can pay off by supporting scientific progress in general and bringing new members into the community or by acquiring connections with influential people. In 2017 and 2018, Lifespan.io joined the initiative to promote Open Access by interviewing Alexandra Elbakyan, the creator of Sci-Hub. We contributed the footage to Paywall: The Business of Scholarship, a documentary about paywalls in academic publishing. These interviews have received tens of thousands of views on LEAF/Lifespan.io’s social media pages and elsewhere, and as a positive side effect, our president, Keith Comito, has been invited to the screening of the movie at the United Nations Headquarters which helped to find new partners in the United Nations who could help promote our cause.
Each of these strategies can be reproduced by the local life extension community without the need for a significant investment of manpower or funds. Yet, each of them allows us to engage or influence millions of people instead of hundreds.
Let’s discuss our final topic: infrastructure.
When we let people know about rejuvenation research for the first time and they become interested, their next logical step is to look for like-minded people and start digging to find more information. Therefore, our activities should bring them to other resources that offer the information they seek. This is why it makes sense for advocacy organizations to produce original content, to be represented in social media, and to develop toolkits that can let people join the organization and engage in public activism together with us or independently. Having one thing is good, having two is better, and having all three is wonderful because of their synergy.
For example, two years ago, we started our research blog from scratch. Once we established a pipeline of content production, mostly thanks to my amazing colleagues Steve Hill and Nicola Bagalà, we started to post it to our Facebook page, and, from there, it is automatically fed into Twitter.
Our Twitter account, which we have been feeding with Facebook posts for two years, grew from 5 to almost 8 thousand subscribers without any additional effort on the part of our team.
Posting on Facebook started to attract more attention, and the number of subscribers who liked our page started to grow, going from 14 to 105 thousand as of now. As we post the articles to Facebook, people come to read these articles on our website, increasing our traffic. A little bit of the funds that we get from advertising on our website go to supporting our growth on Facebook.
Then, we offered regular visitors the chance to subscribe to our newsletter, and they are now receiving it every second week. This newsletter is basically a summary of our articles and activities. Because we send it over email, it is easy to share with friends, it has all the links to our social media and websites, and we believe that sharing it allows us to acquire even more subscribers.
The most interesting thing right now is that most of our websites’ traffic is now organic, so we don’t really depend on social media anymore; however, we keep growing our social media presence as an independent tool to educate and engage the public. We have a Journal Club with Dr. Oliver Medvedik to discuss the latest scientific articles, and we have short movies about aging research created specifically for Facebook. Not long ago, we started the Rejuvenation Roundup podcast in partnership with Ryan O’Shea, who founded the Future Grind podcast.
In two years, our traffic has increased tenfold. In absolute numbers, it might not be very big – right now, we have about 30 thousand visits per month – however, if we keep growing at this rate, in two years, it will be 300 thousand per month.
One of our new infrastructure projects is an event kit for grassroots activists. It provides the members of our community with a guide on how to organize a local event and a set of materials that is ready to be used to give a talk or to organize a discussion on aging research. Last month, Tatjana Kochetkova, who is a bioethicist from the Netherlands, used this kit to organize a lecture in Leiden for a group of people interested in rejuvenation research and biohacking. We hope to see more of such initiatives in the near future.
Last but not least, this year, we launched our Longevity Investor Network to support rejuvenation biotechnology startups that have achieved enough progress to be appealing to investors. My colleague Javier Noris is hosting pitch sessions every month – let me know if you are interested in joining.
See? The starting point was to create the infrastructure.
I hope that our experience will inspire others and encourage hesitant people to become more active. Each of the projects that I have listed can be easily performed locally. If you do not plan to start your own project, however, please consider supporting us as a Lifespan Hero; you can learn more about making these recurring donations at www.lifespan.io/hero. We would be grateful for a donation of any size. Every donation boosts our growth, and we focus that additional energy into fostering the development of rejuvenation therapies.
You can also support us by sharing our articles on social media, helping us as a volunteer, or joining us on Discord to chat about different aspects of aging research.
We really need the cures for aging. We really need governmental funding for rejuvenation research. Therefore, we really need to inform millions of people in our countries, and we need to do it as fast as possible. I can assure you that, so far, we are among the only people on the planet who aspire to a future free from age-related diseases, an ageless and healthy future that most other people have not yet seriously considered. Therefore, it is our task to let them know, and we have to accomplish this task as best we can.
Therefore, I’d like you to take home this message: We should remember our most important requirements for success, such as a well-tailored message, a focus on projects that provide a large reach, and the development of an infrastructure that welcomes the new members of our community, helps them to learn, and helps them to engage in grassroots activities.
I want to thank everyone I am working with for their help with this presentation – and for all our achievements that would not be possible without their contributions.
At the end, the secret ingredients for success are human genius and the human heart.
If we rely on those, my friends, we will have a better chance of enjoying healthy and amazingly long lives. Thank you!