Healthspan expert Dr. Alexander Fleming will lead off the new IHMC evening lecture series in Ocala.
Dr. Alecander Fleming [Photo courtesy IHMC]
Newcomers to Ocala and Marion County might not realize that just off of Silver Springs Boulevard, near downtown Ocala, is a branch of a world-class research facility. The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, or IHMC, is housed in a unique former Marion County Library building at 15 SE Osceola Ave.
IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System. It has a main campus in Pensacola that is home to teams investigating and refining artificial intelligence, augmentics and human-centered computing; robotics and exoskeletons; and health, resilience and performance to maximize biological performance of humans in high-stress, extreme environments and disciplines. The Ocala campus supports computer scientists, engineers and linguists engaged in research of machine learning, natural language understanding, natural language understanding for social cybersecurity, and speech analysis for physiological state determination.
Both campuses offer a popular annual evening lecture series. In Ocala, the next series of lectures will begin on Sept. 28 with a presentation by Dr. Alexander Fleming. His topic will be “Targeting healthy longevity—Why, how and when will we have the means of living longer but healthier.”
Fleming is founder and executive chairman of Kinexum, a company of professionals from around the world with diverse expertise in developing drugs, biotech products, gene and cell therapies, medical devices and digital health technologies. In 2020, Fleming founded the not-for-profit Kitalys Institute as a means of facilitating the testing, regulation and commercialization of healthspan products. Kitalys produces the annual metabesity conference series, first held in London in 2017, which brings together global experts, policymakers and advocates to catalyze progress towards equaling healthspan to lifespan.
The doctor was born in Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, where his father, Jack Fleming a renowned cardiologist, innovator and educator, was doing his residency. Fleming said his family soon returned to Pensacola, his father’s hometown.
“My mother Carolyn, another creative force of nature in Pensacola, was my coach and inspiration,” Fleming shared via email. “I graduated from Pensacola High School and married my high school sweetheart and Pensacola native Deborah Arnold Fleming. We have three daughters and three granddaughters. After living in Washington for 20 years, we have lived in the nearby historic village of Harpers Ferry.”
He said he and Deborah are active in community, musical and church activities.
“My wife and I love music, choral music in particular. We are supporters of several music organizations, including Voces8, which we think is the best acapella group in the world. We are also serious bicyclists. I stay fit by working several hours per day on my elliptical machine with a desktop,” he shared.
Fleming said he received his B.S from the University of West Florida, and his M.D. and internal medicine training from Emory University. Fellowship training in endocrinology followed at Vanderbilt, then laboratory and clinical research in metabolism at the National Institutes of Health. He was responsible at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clinical review of diabetes and other metabolic and endocrine disorders, growth and development, nutritional product, lipid-lowering agents and reproductive indications.
According to his biographical information, Fleming’s regulatory and scientific expertise has been requested in numerous international settings, including the World Health Organization, Geneva, where he was stationed with the FDA during 1991-92. He represented FDA on many international initiatives, was responsible for education and training of FDA reviewers and contributed to multiple innovations in the drug review process. His leadership of the review of the first statin was cited as the model for new drug review, which averaged three years at the time. Lovastatin was approved in 10 months. His approval of metformin was controversial at the time, but it has become the first line treatment for type 2 diabetes and a candidate for increasing healthspan.
Since leaving the FDA as its senior endocrinologist, he has been involved in the development of every therapeutic class aimed at type 1 and 2 diabetes as well as obesity and multiple diabetes technologies. He serves on many corporate and advisory boards to commercial institutions and professional societies as well as the board of visitors of Vanderbilt University Graduate School and the Wesley Theological Seminary, and the advisory board of the London choral group Voces 8.
For his lecture in Ocala, Fleming will discuss how “spectacular scientific progress in understanding the biology of aging suggests that human lifespan can be increased. More importantly, the science shows that we can increase healthspan, the span of life free of chronic disease and disabilities. The global tsunami of aging populations and age-related chronic diseases and disabilities adds urgency that we make humankind’s healthspan close to its lifespan.”
The abstract for the lecture states that we already know things we can do that are safe, effective and inexpensive for staving off chronic diseases and slowing the aging process: good nutrition, physical and mental activity, avoidance of smoking and enriching our personal relationships. But even elite health practitioners hit a healthspan wall beyond which physical and mental decline start to accelerate.
What can be done beyond these common senses measures to increase health span, the abstract asks.
“Geroscience, the field of science that focuses on the biology of sociology of aging, is not just about studies of mice and worms. Human studies are starting to be done of technologies that slow or even reverse aging based on successful results in higher animals. But, there are very big challenges to getting the evidence that would both put these products on the market and encourage you and me to use them consistently for the decades that might be required to deliver the benefits,” Fleming notes.
He said his discussion in Ocala will provide:
- An update [many related IHMC lectures and STEM-talks have been done] on where we are with products and targets aimed at increasing healthspan
- Some answers to the why, when and how questions
- An understanding of the challenges involving regulation and commercialization of these products
- A caution about getting out in front of the evidence for using available products
- Some easy ways you can follow progress in geroscience and development of healthspan products
When asked what spurred his interest in the subject of healthy longevity, Fleming responded: “I have spent most of my career as a physician and as a regulator involved in treatments of disease. Progress in understanding the aging process makes me now more interested in preventing chronic diseases and age-related disabilities.”
As for the benefits, or drawbacks, to slowing or reversing the process of aging, he responded that, “Common sense life-style approaches like good nutrition and physical activity are well established ways to slow the aging process. They have no drawbacks other than the effort involved. Certain drugs have promise but none is yet proven to slow the aging process. Drugs always carry some risks.”
Is there a timeline related to the drugs in development to help slow the aging process and increase healthspan, the “Gazette” asked.
“This is the huge challenge for drugs that only slow or stop the aging process. It will take many more years to show that such drugs work than it takes to see a drug work against diabetes or heart disease. Drugs that actually reverse the aging process would take much less time to see that they work, but there is none such drug that is ready for long term trials. I will go into detail about this challenge,” Fleming shared.
Fleming also shared how he came to be connected with IHMC and its founder and chief executive officer Ken Ford.
“My dad and Ken Ford were collaborators when Ken was just getting started in Pensacola prior to founding IHMC. They developed a kind of artificial intelligence system for managing heart disease. It was way ahead of its time. I went on to a career in medical research, which has led me back to collaborations with Ken Ford,” Fleming said.
“Zan Fleming is a remarkable person who has now turned his focus to healthy aging … a topic of interest to all of us. Zan’s dad was a prominent cardiologist with whom I was privileged to work in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s developing an early AI system for the diagnosis of coronary heart disease,” Ford offered.
The IHMC lectures, which are free, require registration. They begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and the talk starts at 6 p.m.
“I have never had the chance to visit Ocala, but I am greatly looking forward to this opportunity to know Ocala and its people,” Fleming said.
To learn more and RSVP, go to ihmc.us/life/evening_lectures/ocala-lecture-series/