'Our current concept of aging is wrong'

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Two Australians are at the helm of a US-based company looking to revolutionise the health system's approach to and treatment of aging.

CEO Tristan Edwards and Professor David Sinclair AO are the co-founders of Boston-based company Life Biosciences.

Mr Edwards had a long career in finance and investment banking before founding the company with Professor Sinclair in 2017. 

Professor Sinclair is regarded as one of the world’s leading researchers on aging and age-associated diseases. He is a tenured professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and co-Director of the Paul F Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging Research.

Mr Edwards and Professor Sinclair spoke to HealthDispatch during a recent trip to Australia.

Life Biosciences is focused on developing medicines for the treatment of aging. Its business is modelled on setting up individual 'daughter' companies to conduct their research independently. Just last week it moved to take a majority stake in Australian-based company Prana Biotechnology (ASX:PBT) and change its name to Alterity Therapeutics.

Professor Sinclair says aging "should be" considered a disease and treated accordingly.

"In the twentieth century, doctors started classifying diseases one-by-one and ended up with a list of around 14,000, but they left aging out until now."

Mr Edwards says, "Everybody talks about getting old and aging, but no one really talks about how we stop it or manage it as a process or a disease."

"That is a good point," adds Professor Sinclair. "As soon as somebody shows that it can be done, attitudes will change. When cancer was untreatable, it was just accepted as part of aging, off you go and get your things in order."

He says "our current concept of aging is wrong in a similar way".

"We are treating 90-year-olds but we should be acting when they are in their 40s, 50s and 60s to help them avoid some diseases altogether."

On what the future might look like, Professor Sinclair says aging will be recognised as a condition that can be delayed and even significantly prevented.

"People will go to the doctor, maybe at around 40, and have a test. Their biomarkers and biological age will be tested with the doctor able to see where their rate of aging might be exposing them to particular diseases. They might be prescribed a couple of medicines and told to come back in a few months to be retested.

"Basically, it will be about getting ahead, because by the time you are actually diagnosed with something like Alzheimer's it is too late. We are not talking about immortality, just reversing some aspects of aging. 

"It will make this current generation of children able to live past 100, and be able to have a much longer 'healthspan'."

He says life expectancy increased dramatically during the twentieth century but that people now spend a significant proportion of their life unhealthy and often treating multiple chronic conditions that characterise aging.

"We need to focus on increasing the 'healthspan'," says Mr Edwards, adding a change of how people consider aging is essential. 

"The concept at the moment is that the doctor looks at our ailments and says, you have this and that wrong, we are going to treat this but not worry about that," adds Professor Sinclair.

"The future will be a world where we look back to now and say, I cannot believe we used to go to the doctor for treatment of diseases after they had already developed.

"Imagine if we could proactively prevent a disease or delay it by by 20 or 30 years."

He says change will be required, from policy-makers and medical professionals, because medicines are being developed that theoretically prevent diabetes but, in doing so, will also prevent cancer, heart disease and other ailments in a way that might also improve memory and energy levels

"There is also a study that shows treating people with diabetes using a particular medicine reduces their rate of cancer, mortality and Alzheimer's, even though they have diabetes. The point is that it is about seeing the whole equation.

"If we understand the intervention and how these ailments are related, the whole equation, then you can pretty much understand everything on preventing or delaying the impact of aging."