A point in case would be the very recent announcement by GWG Holdings (GWGH). Following on on pioneering work by Marioni et. al., Zhang et. al., and Chen et. al., on epigenetic DNA-methylation based prediction of mortality , GWG Holdings, a financial services company engaged in the life insurance secondary market, announced that it exercised its option to secure the exclusive license for the “DNA Methylation Based Predictor of Mortality” technology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The technology was discovered by Dr. Steve Horvath who in 2013 reported that human cells have a mechanism that records biological aging progression based on DNA methylation that is independent from chronological aging progression. Dr. Horvath discovered a specific set of DNA methylation-based bio-markers that are highly predictive of all-cause mortality. The discovery was made through a statistical analysis of bio-markers found in DNA samples from over 13,000 individuals whose health was studied for decades.
The implications of Dr. Horvath’s discovery and the work of other authors in the field are simple and profound: Individual biological lifespans can now be estimated with significantly greater precision across large groups of individuals and will revolutionise the prediction of human longevity. GWS expects to immediately implement this technology into their current business to enhance their actuarial underwriting precision. In addition, GWS intends to explore a more comprehensive application of this technology to the life insurance business.
It will be interesting to see, how not only GWS, but the life insurance industry as a whole is going to deal with that now seemingly accessible information on human longevity. Are we looking at models with life insurance policies only issued with a companion test (i.e., epigenetic DNA-methylation test) in the future? Who (i.e., which authority) would approve such test? At what point would such models become discriminating against individuals with certain un-favorable test results? Would there be individuals who simply could not obtain life insurance? Moreover, from real life, an important question would be how reliably confounding factors of life, such as traumata, warfare childhood, famine, infection outbreaks, etc., to name just a few, are going to be represented in detectable ways in epigenetic test. It appears that there remain some fundmental questions to be resolved, bevor widespread application of the “life insurance policy with companion test” becomes reality.