Health Talk with Camillo Ricordi: Crafting longevity and creating a ‘healthspan’

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A pioneer in bioengineered pancreas transplants is advocating for improving healthy lifespans, as that could save trillions of dollars globally.

“Healthy lifespan must become a priority,” said Dr. Camillo Ricordi, the inventor of islet cell isolation technique for diabetes and a professor of Biomedical Engineering and Microbiology and Immunology at Miami University. 

Ricordi made the remarks during a recent interview with CGTN’s Wang Mangmang. He brought this idea of “healthspan” to China with his new book “The Healthspan Code: How to Reverse Biological Age.” 

Search for a cure

For decades, people with diabetes have been relying on insulin. But despite being a life-saving treatment, insulin therapy has been linked to a number of chronic complications with diabetes. Besides, diabetes itself is an “accelerated aging disease,” according to Dr. Ricordi. Even with the help of insulin, the condition can lead to a decline in health and a reduced quality of life.

In some cases, the body may view insulin as a foreign substance and attack it, necessitating the use of anti-rejection drugs which come with their own set of side effects.

In addressing these issues, people have been exploring for the next game-changer in diabetes treatment, including development of artificial pancreas and insulin pump systems, which according to Dr. Ricordi, have steadily improved the quality of life for those living with diabetes. 

But the ultimate solution lies within the hope in finding a biological cure that could “replace the function of the pancreas in producing insulin,” Dr. Ricordi said, thereby addressing these disadvantages and providing a more sustainable solution for people living with diabetes.

He pointed out the potential of stem cell-derived islets, which could be developed in bioreactors to provide an almost unlimited supply for patients with diabetes.

Diabetes as a global health issue 

A study published in The Lancet last year reported a substantial increase in the number of diabetics in China, from 98.4 million to nearly 141 million over the past decade. 

“It’s a global epidemic, not just [specific to] China,” Dr. Ricordi said, adding that people have to differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. He noted that while both are increasing, type 2 diabetes, which is more associated with lifestyle and nutrition, accounts for the majority of cases.

He stressed the importance of healthy nutrition and moderate physical exercise in preventing more than 50 percent of diabetes cases. Dr. Ricordy also discussed the role of genetic predisposition in the development of diabetes, emphasizing that while having a family history increases one’s risk, lifestyle choices can significantly influence the outcome.

Promoting healthy lifespan

Dr. Ricordi urged a shift in focus from merely increasing lifespan to enhancing healthy lifespan, or “healthspan.” He advocated for personal responsibility in promoting one’s health through daily actions such as walking and physical exercise. The doctor also highlighted the economic benefits of increasing healthy longevity, citing a study in “Nature Aging” that showed adding one year to the global health span could save the economy $38 trillion.

“You could reinvest this massive amount of resources in other challenges that face our century,” he said. “That is a very strong message to the international community.”