The tablet of youth

April 23, 2013 by Heather Jacobs, Australia Unlimited

At TEDxSydney 2013 the Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School shares a new concept about why we age and how it should be possible to develop medicines to reverse it.

"There are many we know now of that can slow down aspects of ageing in mice. The question is no longer an 'if', but a 'when'," says Sinclair. "Most likely, people in the future will take a cocktail of molecules that can slow ageing and prevent common age-related diseases."

The new class of superdrug – from the man who discovered , a found in , as an anti-ageing molecule – could possibly see people living decades longer.

"We're not sure how much longer people will live but in mice these molecules prevent many diseases of old age, including diabetes, cancer and ," he says. "The molecules were initially discovered by studying a gene in called SIR2. The new molecules that target the human SIR2 are hundreds of times more potent that these original molecules. These are in early stage , so it will be at least a few years before they are on the market."

Sinclair's preoccupation with ageing is driven by the belief that this knowledge can be used to prevent and treat both rare and , helping people live healthier, disease-free lives. His work at Harvard and at a new lab established at the University of New South Wales, focuses on genes and small molecules that mimic exercise and , a diet that slows the pace of ageing in animals.

He says: "Ageing is the root cause of most major diseases. By addressing the root causes of these diseases we should be able to have a large impact on . Am I playing God? Absolutely not. I'm no different than other researchers looking for ways to make people healthier for longer. It's proven that the healthier you make people, the less burden they are on society."

Not content to stay in the lab, Sinclair has also founded four biotechnology companies. These are Sirtris, which treats age-related diseases and was sold to GlaxoSmithKline for a reported US$720 million in 2008; OvaScience, which aims to improve female reproductive health and IVF; Cobhar to treat type 2 diabetes; and Genocea, which develops vaccines against malaria, chlamydia, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and cancer.

You could say it's in his genes; Sinclair's parents are trained biochemists and growing up in St. Ives, in the northern suburbs of Sydney, his parents would talk about their work at the dinner table. He enrolled in a Bachelor of Science at the University of New South Wales. Doing bench research in molecular biology in the lab of Professor Ian Dawes at UNSW, a molecular biologist and geneticist, was a turning point.

"You couldn't drag me out of the lab after that," he says.

He received the Commonwealth Prize for his PhD research in Molecular Genetics. Sinclair then moved to the US to work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Professor Leonard Guarente, an American biologist renowned for his research on life extension.

It was here that he discovered why yeast cells grow old – their DNA is unstable –leading him to be headhunted by Harvard Medical School in 1999. He was 29 years old at the time, one of the youngest ever, and has been there ever since, becoming a tenured Professor. In 2005 he co-founded Harvard's Glenn Laboratories for Aging Research and serves as their Co-Director. He is also a Professor at the Lowy Cancer Centre at the University of New South Wales.

"The thing I love about Harvard is being able to tackle almost any scientific problem because a world leader is likely to be within walking distance," he says.

He may now spend his days solving the most fundamental questions of life, but Sinclair has fond memories of the lifestyle he had growing up in Australia.

"My parents' house was on the edge of a forested gully. There were many native animals and I went into the bush most days. I think this closeness to nature had a big influence on me," he says. "Because I am Australian, I was able to aim high without worrying about the consequences. I would ask myself, 'What's the worst that can happen to me if I fail while in the US?' I get to go home. I can live with that. Things didn't turn out that way, but I was never scared to take on risky projects."

Explore further: Anti-ageing drug breakthrough

Related Stories

Anti-ageing drug breakthrough

March 8, 2013
Drugs that combat ageing may be available within five years, following landmark work led by an Australian researcher. The work, published in the March 8 issue of Science, finally proves that a single anti-ageing enzyme in ...

3 Questions: MIT biologist on new resveratrol study

March 7, 2013
In the early 1990s, MIT professor Leonard Guarente discovered that sirtuins, a class of proteins found in nearly all animals, protect against the effects of aging in yeast; similar effects have since been seen in many other ...

New study validates longevity pathway: Findings identify universal mechanism for activating anti-aging pathway

March 7, 2013
A new study demonstrates what researchers consider conclusive evidence that the red wine compound resveratrol directly activates a protein that promotes health and longevity in animal models. What's more, the researchers ...

More evidence for longevity pathway

May 1, 2012
New research reinforces the claim that resveratrol—a compound found in plants and food groups, notably red wine—prolongs lifespan and health-span by boosting the activity of mitochondria, the cell's energy supplier.

Genes that control 'aging' steroid identified

April 14, 2011
Eight genes which control levels of the main steroid produced by the adrenal gland, believed to play a role in ageing and longevity, have been uncovered by an international consortium of scientists, co-led by King's College ...

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.