Katie Couric: You believe that there is a singular cause. What is it? Can you break it down for us?
David Sinclair: All of our cells have the same DNA, but they read different genes that tell them what type of cell they should be. A nerve cell reads different genes than a skin cell. When we are young, our cells know exactly what they should be but over time they lose their ability to read the right genes. They lose their identity and start to fail. I believe this is aging. In my book I explain that aging is simply a loss of this information, not the genetic kind, but the “epi-genetic” kind. It’s similar to having a DVD that becomes scratched. The information is still there but the music sounds terrible. I call it “The Information Theory of Aging.”
In your book “Lifespan,” you say that “aging is far easier to treat than cancer.” What do you mean by this?
Our lab has shown it is possible to polish the scratched DVD and recover the information in our cells to be young again. It was never lost, we just needed to find a way to access it. It is a simple solution, if you understand what aging is. We introduce a few genes into cells to tell them to reset, and they reset. They regain their youth, and they regain their function. Nerve cells remember to be nerves. Skin cells remember to be skin. The epigenetic clock of aging goes backward.
So, what would an effective, game-changing treatment for aging look like? How far are we from having one?
We have discovered how to posit the DVD. We also refer to this as accessing the backup hard drive of cells. We have used gene therapy to reprogram cells. We have reversed vision loss in old mice and, in people, hope to treat diseases of the eye and the ear at first. These treatments are at least 6 years away, but we have molecules at our disposal that I discuss in my book.
Do you think there will be a time when people can live forever?
No. I don’t see how we can live forever, but we might be able to reset organs and tissues many times. How many times? We are testing this now.
Living forever, or even longer, raises all kinds of other issues. What are some of them that worry you the most?
Consumption is the biggest problem. We throw away half of our food. We burn too much gas. If we are to be healthier for longer, there will be more money to save the planet and species but we still need to have less impact. I worry about dictators who will be around for much longer and changes in politics.
I don’t worry about population or space — these are not going to be issues, as I describe in Lifespan. The problem is if we don’t do anything. We will keep spending more money on extending life by a year but at great expense. I offer a complimentary approach to whack-a-mole medicine.
What are five things people can do right now to live a longer, healthier life?
Here’s what I do:
1. Eat less often. Not starvation. Not malnutrition, But skip a meal each day and be a bit hungry.
2. Exercise until you are out of breath a few times a week.
3. Eat colored foods, don’t eat too much or too little of any one food group.
4. Keep my BMI optimal, which for me is 23–25.
5. Optimize your microbiome. I eat yogurt each morning that is a homemade (Bravo is bacterial culture, btw).