- Dina Radenkovic: I do not compromise. I want to make menopause optional.
- Dina Radenkovic: Books can make you smart. But unless you go through hard situations, you’re just not tough.
The Pill, when it was first put to market in the 1960s, revolutionized women’s health. Today, in a Pavlovic Today exclusive, I had the opportunity to speak with a doctor who wants to revolutionize medicine again for all women. Processes like aging and menopause have been accepted for too long as facts of life, but there is at least one woman innovator working longevity research who wants to change that. And she just might succeed.
Dina Radenkovic, Chief Medical Officer at Hooke and partner at SALT Fund, is one of the youngest doctors in longevity, one of the fastest evolving and most exciting fields in the world. Dina was trained at UCL and completed her medical elective in the field of preventive cardiology at Harvard University. As one of the most respected leaders among women in longevity medicine, Dina, without a doubt, is a rising star to watch.
Dedicated to a new approach to aging and preventive medicine, Dina started her first company during medical school, focusing on digital gestational diabetes, a program that became part of the NHS Glucofocus Accelerator. Helping women who have diabetes in pregnancy and are at high risk of developing type two diabetes after birth got her into the Brent Hoberman’s Founders Forum, a competition called the “X factor for STEM.” Dina was interviewed by the British TV presenter Davina McCall, and before she knew it, she was set off on a path to a successful entrepreneurial journey.
During her medical training, Dina co-developed an algorithm based on fractal geometry for cardiac MRI that can automate the way we diagnose some parts of cardiomyopathies. “We created a free version that was available to all researchers and also a commercial version with the largest cardiac MRI reporting company. I always try to combine how we can create a good piece of science with clinical application and then commercialize it. To ensure great access to that technology, not just to be commercialized to a very specific group,” she said.
“I focus on prevention because aging really is about prevention of more chronic diseases of aging. Five chronic diseases that are more likely to kill people are atherosclerosis, type two diabetes, metabolic cancers, dementia, age-related macular degeneration. Why would we focus on preventing each one of these conditions in isolation? If we prevent one, people will develop all the others within five to seven years and die of them. Why don’t we focus on the unifying pathways causing all of these chronic conditions and then reverse these? That way, we don’t have to worry about preventing atherosclerosis, diabetes. We can control the processes that drive all of these major chronic diseases,” said Dina.
“If we’re looking at prevention, and we’re looking at aging pathways, we’re basically approaching a healthy population. We’re approaching people from their early 20s, throughout their life, and we’re saying, look, no matter how old you are, you can always be a better version of yourself. You could improve all the disease processes that are taking place with you right now. Or you should at least know your numbers and know where these disease processes are going to. We have to be very cautious that we don’t over medicate people too early. Because if we’re telling them, ‘oh, you’re now a patient, because you have pre- pre- pre- pre- pre- diabetes, that experience needs to feel good.’ And we need to ensure that we give you actionable items.”
One thing Dina always recommends to everyone is to do a cross-sectional medical checkup. “Know your numbers,” Dina said. “If you don’t check your blood sugar for five years, you can end up with late-stage diabetes. But if you do it regularly, you can be, ‘Okay, I’ve had a stressful year, we had pandemic, we had lockdown, I gained a bit of weight, I’m a bit high on sugar, but I will take the next three to six months to focus on that, so I might be able to reverse it before it gets too bad.’”
Dina was born in Nis in the Serbian south into the family of a professor of histology and embryology and a fashion model mother. By an early age, she was pulled into the intersection of medicine and entrepreneurship. “People talk every day about e-commerce, new dresses, new songs, but they don’t talk about: Oh my blood sugar is high. They don’t talk science because it’s just not as attractive and there is an unfair knowledge gap.” Dina’s driving question was, “Can we hijack that pathway? Can we make science more relevant or interesting?”
After an early high school graduation in Serbia in mathematics, Dina finished the UK high school program and moved to the UK on her own to study a dual degree in medicine and psychology at UCL. In the cohort of three hundred students, Dina came out first in her class at medical school for pre-clinical medicine.
“That showed me there’s just a lot more that can be done,” she recollected. “I always wanted to innovate and solve problems. While she felt that “medicine is just equipping you with so much knowledge,” she wanted to do more and innovate.
“I’m a first-generation immigrant,” Dina said proudly. “I was very fortunate to get into good schools, and my parents were always very supportive and willing to sacrifice a lot so I could always have an excellent education. I also think I was very fortunate that I met great people that gave me a few first opportunities. I would ensure that each opportunity was used well. And then to jump into the next one,” she said.
“It took me a while to find the group in which I fit in. I usually found it at these big conferences in meetings where I see people leading companies. This is where I feel at home. I get inspired by people who break barriers, people who don’t compromise in life. I like to deal with the most difficult problems.”
Moving through different countries all on her own, Dina quickly understood that she had to make her own opportunities. “I think, in life, you are only as tough as you need it to be. I’m actually grateful because I probably would not be who I am right now if I hadn’t had those challenges to overcome. You may be born with a bit of a talent. Books can make you smart. But unless you go through hard situations, you’re just not tough. If you don’t have an evolutionary pressure to become tough, no matter what that pressure is, leaving family early, having to do adapt to new environments, new cultures. It’s tough, moving to a new city, when you don’t know anyone. It happened to me, so many times, and I’m like, why do I keep doing this to myself? But what I’ve learned during my life after every difficult situation, something better comes along. If the situation is more difficult than I thought it would be, then what will come will be even better than I could plan for it. So right now, when I go through hardships, I almost have learned to love it. I know a reward will come, and I will feel like a new person,” Dina said.
“I think there’s nothing better than a woman who dies and rebuilds herself multiple times. So I’m not scared to push through hardship because I know that I can be born again and probably be born as a better person.”
Dina is living her American dream. “I would say that, honestly, there’s no place like America. This is the country in which I’ve met the people who have given me the most opportunities. I think this is why America is still at the forefront of innovation. People here give you opportunities, and they care less where you come from,” she said.
Most recently, Dina was a speaker on the longevity panel at SALT NY, a global forum founded by Anthony Scramucci.
“I’m fortunate to have joined forces with my partners at SALT, which is an incredible platform. This entrepreneurial mindset, the country that gives opportunity to immigrants is what makes America the best country in the world. That’s why I really identify myself with these core American, entrepreneurial values: inclusivity and openness to new ideas. You’re allowed to be who you are, here in America. That’s what I love about it,” she said.
Dina is focused on good health, happiness, and a sense of purpose. While life expectancy has doubled in the past years, menopause has remained constant since the beginning of the collection of medical records, in the 1800s. “It is like a status quo and something that cannot be modified,” Dina told me. She believes that something has to be done about it.
“If you push menopause, just by one year, you increase female life expectancy by 2.4 to 2.6%. I don’t believe that with the current increase in lifespan and current increase in education, women should have to be forced to lose their fertility, and then spend more than half of their lives not having the ability to have fertility and go through this postmenopausal accelerated aging state.”
Dina says that men are not aware of the depth of the problems that females go through, and unless women start talking about it and make it relevant, these problems will not be solved. “It’s something that we have to do together,” Dina said with certainty.
“Some people say it’s a natural process. And I’m like, look, that’s fine, but some people do not want to compromise with having to accept that that is the natural process. I believe, if we thought that was normal, we should have accepted that we all die at 38 from, you know, bacteria, right? And then we would not have antibiotics, improved sanitation. I do not compromise. I like to solve challenging problems and push boundaries. I want to make menopause optional,” Dina said enthusiastically.
Dina Radenkovic is working on menopause with her colleague, Dr. Jennifer Garrison, the founder of a Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality. Dina told me that Dr. Garrison has set up an entire network of academics to work on the subject. “I feel like as more women climb the social ladder, as we become voices, as we get more board seats, we will start screaming about these things. And we’re gonna go, ‘Look, I don’t want to go through four weeks of hot flashes and mood disorders during my best, most productive years. I want to feel amazing. I want to be the best version of myself,“ she concluded, setting her eyes on a new frontier.