The Quest to Slow, Stop and Even Reverse Aging | Future You | NPR
Elise Hu: This mouse looks young. This one looks old. But they were born on the same day. They’re the same calendar age. How is this possible? In recent years, aging researchers figured out how to accelerate the age of a mouse to make it grow older, faster.
But they can reverse aging symptoms in mice too. David Sinclair: We have a molecule that we put in their water called NMN, and their muscles appear younger, and they can run further. They get new blood vessels.
They have more blood flow. These are old mice becoming young within about a week or so, it’s pretty quick. [Beep.] Hu: Anti-aging molecules that work in mice don’t necessarily work in humans, but this is already generating a lot of buzz as a way to extend our healthy life spans.
So what does emerging science tell us about our future longevity? How might we be able to stop, slow or even reverse aging? I’m diving in to try and reduce my inner age in this Future You with me, Elise Hu.
First I got my blood drawn and sent off for analysis. [Beep.] I wasn’t allowed to shoot in the lab. Sorry you couldn’t see it. It was just a needle going in my arm, and the blood came out, and it filled three tubes.
[Beep.] Then I went to Boston to get my results at a company called InsideTracker. They use a handful of biomarkers like blood glucose and vitamin D to predict life span. They had bad news for me. Gil Blander: You look great, but from the inside you have some issues.
Hu: So according to this, [Drumroll.] I’m super old. Or I’m like way older than my chronological age of 37. [Beep.] I took these results to David Sinclair. [Keyboard spacebar.] [Keyboard spacebar.] The guy you met earlier.
He’s an anti-aging researcher at Harvard. Here he is with Arnold Schwarzenegger. And on the same list of influential people as Beyoncé. And this is his big idea: [Lightbulb sound.] We should be treating aging like it’s a disease.
Something you can stop or even reverse. [Keyboard spacebar.] Before we go any further, I just want to say that aging science is fast-moving and super exciting, but can lead to a lot of hype. So we’re gonna be pausing this video throughout with some footnotes, and sometimes they’ll come from this guy: [Ding.
] Jay Olshansky. Jay Olshansky: Absolutely delighted. Hu: He’s an aging professor at the University of Illinois and the chief scientist at a biotech company. [Ding.] Or, our footnote guy. Olshansky: There really isn’t the scientific evidence to back up claims of exceptionally high life expectancies, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be excited about aging science and aging biology.
[Keyboard spacebar.] Hu: Sinclair hopes that technological and biological interventions, like the ones developed in his lab, could help humans live decades longer than we do now. And that’s the good, healthy kind of years.
Sinclair: Well we believe, based on studies in the lab for about 20 years in mice mainly, that aging can be changed. That you can change the age of a mouse, forwards and backwards, and make them live longer.
Hu: The interventions that you’re talking about don’t necessarily come in just eating healthier and exercising better, you could actually take certain pills. Is that right? Sinclair: Well, yeah. The best thing right now is to exercise, Hu: Ehhhh.
Sinclair: and be hungry a little bit. But what we’re working on are, uh, what would be pills that can be taken to augment, you know, a healthy lifestyle that we all of course undertake. Hu: Youth in a pill isn’t here yet.
The medicine that the mice got is just being tested now in humans. [Ding.] Olshansky: Well we’re not mice, and we don’t react the same way as other organisms to potential therapeutic interventions. So it’s premature for any of this to enter into the world of medicine and public health yet.
But it doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. [Keyboard spacebar.] Hu: So here’s a primer on how this anti-aging molecule could affect how aging works. [Singing: 101] When cells divide, they should make clean copies of themselves.
But as we get older, genetic damage happens, and cells kind of lose their identity. The copies aren’t as clean, leading to aging signs like gray hair, weaker joints or even known killers, like cancer.
Geneticists believe we can extend life span by preserving that cellular information as it passes on to new cells. One way we know we can do this is by stressing out our cells a little bit with exercise or eating less.
Because when we exert ourselves or go a little hungry, our cells produce more of a molecule called NAD+ in our genes. NAD+ is a fuel for something called sirtuins. Sirtuins are like emergency responders for DNA.
They help repair genes when they get damaged. That’s where the molecule NMN comes in. It’s a booster that our bodies convert to NAD+. The NAD+ puts sirtuins to work, preventing cellular information loss.
The effect? Cleaner copies of cells, which Sinclair hopes could help our bodies stay younger, for longer. So to try and not be 50, since I’m not, I called up longevity doctor and oncologist, Dr. Peter Attia.
Peter Attia: How are you? Hu: Hey, I can see you OK. Perfect. How you feeling? Attia: Great. How are you? Hu: Awesome. [Fast-foward sound.] Hu: He prescribed me a regimen to reverse my age the old-fashioned way, with diet, exercise, sleep and more meditation.
The NMN molecule isn’t available in any FDA-regulated drugs right now. Full disclosure, Sinclair is an investor and adviser to pharma companies that are testing it. But the supplement industry is selling NMN and other NAD+ boosters already.
Dr. Attia is studied up on which ones he feels are safe. [Keyboard spacebar.] [Ding.] Attia: Yeah, probably about a quarter of my patients are supplementing some form of NAD+ precursor. The supplement industry is pretty loosely regulated.
And therefore, you can’t always be sure that what somebody says is in there, is actually in there. And truthfully my intuition is that most of them are crap. But I think there are others that are at least legitimately making what they’re saying they’re making.
[Keyboard spacebar.] Hu: I took the NMN that Dr. Attia instructed. Here it goes. Kinda sweet. Kinda chalky. And for six weeks I also did all the old-fashioned things to stay young. [Singing: Elise tries.
] Eat less. Both less food and with time-restricted feeding. I’m very hungry, but I cannot eat until noon. Sleep more. OK bye. Meditate more. [Bell chimes.] And run more. I think I’m carrying too much stuff while I’m running.
Like you. I kept doing this before I got another blood draw to see if I decreased my internal age. But before the big reveal, let’s talk about where this technology could take us in 2050. [Singing: In the year 2050.
] Hu: Giving the aging research you have been involved in, how will we become superhuman by 2050? Sinclair: Well one way that could happen is with this reprogramming technology that we’ve discovered. Hu: Reprogramming our cells? [Keyboard spacebar.
] Listen up. This is wild. Reprogramming our cells really is beyond the anti-aging molecules being tested now. So this is really early days. [Keyboard spacebar.] Sinclair: We could be like Deadpool, where you break your spine, break your neck, cut your face and then you turn on the reprogramming and you heal like you’re a newborn.
That we’re already doing in mice. We’re restoring vision. And we don’t know where this is going, but by 2050 we’re going to be able to restore a lot of things that get damaged. Hu: But where are ways this can go wrong? How do things get worse for the world if we’re all living 120, 130 years old.
Can the planet sustain this many people living this long? Sinclair: Well if we all live forever that’s not going to work. We’ll have to find a new planet. Another bad scenario is we have a lot of people around that are taking up jobs and politicians who stay in power for a century.
That’s a concern. Yeah I’m mostly worried that the economies won’t grow to keep the number of jobs. Hu: What gets thorny? What are the ethics that we need to consider? Sinclair: So one of the ethical issues is who can afford these medicines.
If they’re all very expensive, then we have a disparity where the rich are living 20, 30 years than the rest of us. Hu: OK David Sinclair, what is superlikely to happen by 2050? Sinclair: Well in 2050, we should have medicines that will allow us to live another 10 or 20 years in healthy life.
If reprogramming works, where we can really reset organs and replace them, then we could live a lot longer than that. [Beep.] Hu: OK, big reveal. Did my hard work pay off? Could I reduce my internal age? Results review.
Oh yes! My inner age has dropped. [Drumroll.] After all this work, five years. [Laughter.] My inner age has dropped from 50 to 44.5. [Keyboard spacebar.] [Accordion music.] [Keyboard spacebar.] I’m still older than my calendar age, but at least this process is over, and I’m gonna go eat some glucose.
Also, I should mention that if you want to see this full series, you should go to NPR’s YouTube page: YouTube.com/NPR. Or, NPR.org/FutureYou. This is my cat Cesar. Cesar. Cesar is 15. [Meow.] What’s it like being an old man? You feeling it in your joints? [Meow.
] See look at him, he’s hobbling. I’m going to start giving you some NMN. [Keyboard spacebar.] [Keyboard spacebar.] Hu: He just wants to be pet.