Dr. Leroy Hood + Dr. Nathan Price—How Assessing Biological Age Improves Wellness

Discover how Dr. Leroy Hood and Dr. Nathan Price are revolutionizing wellness by assessing biological age.

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By Staff Writer

Published June 16, 2024.

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In this episode of Longevity By Design, Dr. Leroy Hood and Dr. Nathan Price discuss their approach to scientific wellness—distilling data into a simple, actionable measurement: biological age. Their goal is to leverage technology to compile data from the brain, body, gut microbiome, and more to create a model for scientific wellness. Dr. Leroy Hood and Dr. Nathan Price aim to integrate scientific wellness into the healthcare system—shifting the focus from disease-care to preventative lifestyle habits that promote wellness. Tune in to hear from the leading experts in the field of Longevity. 

About Dr. Leroy Hood

Dr. Leroy Hood is a world-renowned scientist and recipient of the National Medal of Science in 2011. Dr. Leroy Hood co-founded the Institute for Systems Biology in 2000. Dr. Hood holds an MD and PhD in biochemistry. He and his colleagues developed four sequencer and synthesizer instruments that paved the way for the Human Genome Project’s successful mapping and understanding of the human genome. He is currently carrying out studies on Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, and wellness and has played a role in founding 15 biotechnology companies in addition to co-authoring textbooks in biochemistry, immunology, molecular biology, genetics, and systems biology. In addition to having received 18 honorary degrees from prestigious universities in the U.S. and abroad, Dr. Hood has published over 850 peer-reviewed articles and currently holds 36 patents.

About Dr. Nathan Price

Dr. Nathan Price is the Chief Scientific Officer of Thorne HealthTech and author of The Age of Scientific Wellness. Previously, he was the CEO of Onegevity, an AI health intelligence company that merged with Thorne. In 2019, he was named one of the 10 Emerging Leaders in Health and Medicine by the National Academy of Medicine, and in 2021 he was appointed to the Board on Life Sciences of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. He spent much of his earlier career as a Professor and Associate Director of the Institute for Systems Biology and as a co-director with biotechnology pioneer Dr. Lee Hood of the Hood-Price Lab for Systems Biomedicine. He has co-authored over 200 peer-reviewed scientific publications and given over 200 talks and keynotes.

The current healthcare model

The United States’ current healthcare model uses a “find it and fix it” approach, designed when the top five causes of death included infectious diseases. The healthcare system got very good at finding pathogens and killing them—and while the leading causes of death evolved from infectious diseases to chronic conditions, the healthcare system did not simultaneously evolve.  

The leading causes of death include chronic and age-related diseases—which are preventable and modifiable through lifestyle interventions. Dr. Hood and Dr. Price note that while current medical and scientific enterprise is organized around disease, it should center around wellness and prevention. Interventions, including in scientific research, are typically implemented when a disease has already occurred rather than preventatively. 

Key takeaway: The leading causes of death in the US have shifted from infectious diseases to chronic conditions, which are largely preventable through lifestyle modification. And a shift in the types of conditions requires a new preventative approach.

Shifting the healthcare paradigm 

After years of studying and working in health science, it became clear to Dr. Hood and Dr. Price that the health issues we face today require a completely different healthcare paradigm. They explain that by rigorously studying wellness and how to extend healthspan, we will find successful interventions to both slow aging and prevent disease. Known as scientific wellness, they study and practice healthspan extension rather than focusing on already developed conditions.

The healthcare system can now leverage technology for innovative approaches. Dr. Price explains that technology makes research more cost-effective. The application of computational tools, including AI, allows science to be far more predictive and preventive, influencing earlier health interventions.

Scientific wellness: A data-driven approach to health 

A scientific wellness approach integrates various modes of data to generate personalized, actionable interventions to improve health. This includes combining lifestyle data like dietary intake, exercise habits, sleep patterns, and stress levels with genomics and phenomics data. 

The concept of scientific wellness has sparked a whole new field of mathematics that integrates wellness data by mapping the biological networks that underlie the physiology of wellness and disease. These networks provide insight into three health areas that integrate seamlessly in human physiology: brain, body, and gut microbiome health.

”The reason we feel data combining and these actionable possibilities are so important is they allow you to explore the full potential of your wellness. We can detect disease before it appears clinically and reverse it—hence in the future, we can focus entirely on wellness and prevention rather than disease.” Dr. Hood argues the data-driven approach to health will revolutionize the healthcare system.  

Key takeaway: Scientific wellness integrates health data to provide insight and generate personalized, actionable interventions to improve whole-body health.

Learnings from the Arivale Program (2015)

In 2015, Dr. Hood and Dr. Price started a program called Arivale to study their data-driven wellness approach. They recruited 5,000 patients over four years and collected extensive data on this population. They sequenced each patient's genome, analyzing blood analytes, gut microbiome, and digital health measurements from wearable fitness trackers. Combining this data allowed them to detect statistical correlations that led to actionable interventions. “We are now proposing that we go from 5,000 to one million patients in a similar program, and we hope to do this over ten years. This will allow us to do two things. One: unequivocally demonstrate the power of improving healthcare quality, and two: demonstrate the enormous cost savings that come from focusing on wellness and prevention rather than disease,” says Dr. Price.

Leveraging AI in healthcare

Dr. Price and Dr. Hood discuss how leveraging AI can improve the quality of care that physicians provide to patients. "As you look at the amount of data your body can generate, there's no way it can fit into the standard model that a physician can remember for each patient. If you go back a few decades, your physician was an expert in a certain topic. Now, if you're trying to personalize responses based on even genomics alone, you wouldn’t be able to integrate all of those elements without the interface of computation."

Capabilities that AI brings to modern-day healthcare: 

  • Data access. AI democratizes access to health information, making information delivery more accessible and straightforward than previously. 
  • Data consolidation. AI drives the ability to compile, process, and contextualize information at scale, acting as a portal into scientific literature. Rather than sifting through papers, ask a direct scientific question, and the technology generates a written article. The article instantly derives information from hundreds of thousands of sources.

Leveraging AI provides physicians the ability to deliver healthcare that is more proactive, personalized, and cost-effective. While the use of technology can streamline many processes, it can’t and shouldn’t replace a physician. For example, technology isn’t error-proof and can’t establish causality, which a physician can monitor.

Use of phenomics data

“The phenome is your appearance across time. So, you go from a baby, to a young boy, to a teenager, to an adult, and to an older adult—and those are phenomes at different times. Your phenome is continuously changing, and you have an infinite number of phenoms across your life. Phenomics measures the three elements—your genome, behavior, and environment—that come together to form a phenome at a given point in time.”

Those three fundamental elements can be measured by looking at proteins, metabolites, lipids, and blood biomarkers. They can be measured in the microbiome, activity trackers, and more. 

Dr. Hood and Dr. Price are advancing a program to increase the number of phenomic measurements while driving down their cost. Looking to the past for inspiration, they note, “The human genome drove down the cost of DNA sequencing over a subsequent 20-year period by six or seven orders of magnitude. We think the same will happen for phenomics as well.”

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Biological age as a health marker

Biological measurements from the Arivale population became the basis for a biological age algorithm. “The Arivale population spanned greatly in age—ranging from 21 to 90 years old. They showed that as you age, your ability to confine the expression of your blood analytes diminishes enormously, becoming broader and wider.

And from that, we could actually develop an algorithm for biological age, the age your body says you are, compared to your birthday. And of course, the further it is below your chronological age, the better you're aging.”

And every single participant who had a disease had a biological age above their chronological age, meaning they were aging more rapidly. Patients with diabetes were an average of 6 years older biologically, compared to their chronological age. The opposite was also true—the top 5% of exercisers were, on average, two or three years younger than their chronological age.

Biological age and metabolites

Biological age is a useful metric for assessing wellness. And rather than using epigenetic markers on DNA to calculate biological age, Dr. Price and Dr. Hood use metabolites. They dive into the rationale behind these metrics, “And the reason the metabolites are important is they let you actually determine the biological age of various severe organs like your liver and kidney, and systems like immune and metabolic health, and so forth.

Excess or deficient levels of metabolites give each individual the potential to take action to optimize their levels, and improve the aging process. And we think that's a very important part of biological ages measured by blood elements. Because aging is a risk factor for most chronic diseases, prioritizing healthy habits can decrease the rate of biological aging and extend the time period before one gets a chronic disease.” 

In conclusion, scientific wellness eliminates the well-known factors that cause transitions into chronic diseases. So, aging is a really important metric for assessing and optimizing both scientific wellness and the healthy aging process itself.

Longevity by Design

Longevity by Design is a podcast for individuals looking to experience longer, healthier lives. In each episode, Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver join an industry expert to explore a personalized health journey. The show helps you access science-backed information, unpack complicated concepts, learn what’s on the cutting edge of longevity research and the scientists behind them. Tune into Longevity by Design and see how to add years to your life, and life to your years.