Who wants to live forever?

It’s the stuff of myth isn’t it?

The fountain of eternal youth.

The elixir of life.

Outwitting Father Time.

It’s a cosmetics favorite too – “guaranteed to reduce the visible signs of aging”.

Turn back the clock.

Take years off your life.

Freddie Mercury asked the question. Little did Freddie know that a question like that wasn’t one for the bright lights of the music biz but for the corporate fluorescents of Massachusetts.

Cambridge. Massachusetts. 2006.

Trees, alternating with street lights, try to soften the glass and concrete frontage. The effort at green falls short. It needs more.

Some grass. Other planting, maybe. Something.

Inside number 200, at Sirtris, they probably don’t care about the industrial look and uninviting frontage. They’re looking for something else.

Sirtris Pharmaceuticals was founded to make drugs.

Powerful, potent drugs.

Drugs that could make people rich. Drugs to die for.

Inside, research chemists hunkered over microscopes, comparing notes, hoping for the big one.

Leads and red herrings. Repeat.

In this game, hopes are, frequently, raised and dashed, raised and dashed. Still, they look, striving for the breakthrough.

At Sirtris, they think they’ve cracked it.

Of mice and men

You see, their mice lived longer than others. Sirtris had extended their lifespan.

Think about what that means for humans if you can extend life.

Population increase. Urban planning problems. Aged care ghettos. And longer working lives. More productivity. Fewer, or maybe just delayed disease costs. That’s just for starters.

Sirtris, and others, are working on a small group of genes believed to protect many living things, mammals included, from familiar diseases of aging. They’re called sirtuins. And there’s evidence, really good evidence, that we can jumpstart them and kick them back into action, with profound implications for health.

In 2006, David Sinclair published the work, showing as much. But others disagreed. The studies were flawed they claimed. Sinclair’s conclusions couldn’t be drawn from the work. It was a step too far they opined.

Sirtris, and Sinclair, still thought they’d cracked it.

Pharmaceuticals companies thought so, too. Sirtris is now a GlaxoSmithKline company who bought the research project in 2008, kept Sinclair as an adviser and who, like an expectant father, is just waiting for the project to bear fruit.

March 8, 2013

Professor Sinclair’s work was published in the March 8 issue of Science, after some considerable effort to isolate, and target, an anti-aging mechanism. The goal is to slow or, better, prevent, aging, and extend lifespans.

Along with this comes the potential that the familiar nasty age-related diseases of cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, could have met their match. There has already been promising, exciting work in trials with benefits for Parkinson’s disease, cataracts, fatty liver disease, osteoporosis, sleep disorders, muscle wasting, colitis, psoriasis, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.

It’s due to a single, anti-aging enzyme.

It’s called resveratrol. Learn how to say it so you can casually drop it into conversation, emphasis on the ‘ver’.

Res-VER-a trol.

Professor David Sinclair, from UNSW Medicine and now based at Harvard, might have a tiger by the tail. Check him out on TED just after his 364th birthday.


Resveratrol works by boosting the effects of SIRT1, a specific sirtuin. In particular, it energizes the mitochondria. Imagine a cell, with a wind-up handle. As we age, the handle turns more and more slowly. Resveratrol winds it back up again, recharging the mitochondrial battery.

Mice have been shown to have twice the endurance and stay largely free from obesity and the effects of aging. What would the military make of that?

And there’s never been a drug that does what this does.

For the pharmacophobic (fear of taking medication), SIRT1 is turned on naturally by two key things

  • calorie restriction
  • exercise

Diet and physical activity. Go figure.

Resveratrol is different again. It’s a SIRT1 activator, directly working on the SIRT1 enzyme. You find it naturally in red wine (grape and berry skins, peanuts too).

But red wine isn’t what interests GlaxoSmithKline, is it?

Back in the lab, four thousand (you read that right) synthetic agents, each 100 times more powerful than a single glass of red wine, have been worked up.

The best three are in trials.

Red wine pill, anyone?

You’ll be able to take them orally or, as a topical to smear on your skin. While they haven’t been aimed directly at anti-aging cosmetics, it is just a matter of time. Skin care companies are playing with it in face crème. Watch this space.

In mice, overweight mice given synthetic resveratrol ran twice as far as slim mice, and then outlived them by 15%. Fat and happy.

Given results like that, it’s understandable that diabetes is probably the first target. As you may have read before, that’s also good news for brain health and dementia prevention.

It may one day, Sinclair says, be taken as a preventative.

So here’s the take home bit

In case you missed it, two of the best ways to prolong life are, still, by eating well, and by exercising. They are fundamentals of general brain fitness.

Red wine, too, is also good for you, taken moderately.

But the real work is still to come.

Red wine pills are a clear objective, as are interventions and preventions for a number of conditions.

Sinclair believes that living to 150 is achievable.

There are significant implications for wider society, industry and military.

It might not be as much of a myth as we thought.

Impressive words to drop into the morning coffee chat

Resveratrol, sirtuins

What do you think?

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About brendonbclark

Hi, I’m Brendon, but people usually call me B. I’ve a Masters degree in psychology, postgraduate qualification in mental health, and qualifications in counselling, professional supervision and adult education. I consult, speak and blog. Join me, you can subscribe for free.
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2 Responses to Who wants to live forever?

  1. bce says:

    Interesting. But the REAL thing to do is to make the most of the life we have.. Certainly, treat our bodily properly especially in nutrition, but strip out the debilitating things like wasteful, senseless, mind stultifying activities….

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