Forever Young

Reporter: Liam Bartlett / Producer: Sandra Cleary
Sixty Minutes
October 2, 2008

It's one of our oldest dreams, to discover the fountain of youth. A mystical potion, the key to eternal life.

Sure that's fantasy but what about living to the ripe old age of 150, or even 200.

The experts sat that's not only possible, it's just a matter of time.

The scientific race is certainly on to find the drug that will help us live longer and stay healthy.

No fuss, no effort. And the startling news is, there's a good chance that race has already been won.

By an Australian, who's claiming a stunning breakthrough in the quest to extend the human use-by date.

A magic pill that will keep us forever young.

Full transcript:

LIAM BARTLETT: It's the height of rudeness to divulge a woman's age but when you look this good why hide it? Sarah Grant is 58 and in amazing shape. She intends to stay that way with anti-ageing work-outs from trainer Sky Hunt.

SARAH GRANT: Well, to be honest, I think getting older for all of us is scary. To watch ourselves age, you know you can be walking along the street and suddenly you catch a glimpse of yourself in the window and you go, "who's that old person?" When I was going through these last night and I started looking and I thought, "Oh my God!" and I did see the ageing process. You go - "I look so young."

LIAM BARTLETT: As a model, looking good has been Sarah's stock-in-trade for 40 years. Even got a Playboy cover in here.

SARAH GRANT: I know, I know. It's only the cover.

LIAM BARTLETT: Incredibly, through diet and exercise her measurements haven't changed since she was 16. But other changes are inevitable. Are your thoughts dominated by staying young?

SARAH GRANT: Oh, look I think we go through stages becoming a bit self obsessed but I think you can go mad if you stay there. So you have to get past yourself.

LIAM BARTLETT: Just accept I'm going to be old, it's going to happen.

SARAH GRANT: Yeah, it's going to happen to us all.

LIAM BARTLETT: Easier said than done when youth is the must-have accessory of our times. We live in an age when the most famous 50-year-old in the world - Madonna - looks like this. SKY HUNT: We always talk about ageing at this table don't we? Whenever we are out.

LIAM BARTLETT: For trainer Sky Hunt, and her generation of 30 somethings being fabulous at 50 is just the beginning. FRIEND: I think I'd like to live to be about 100. FRIEND: I want to live longer. I want to be there for my friends and family.

LIAM BARTLETT: The goal is to live a lot longer, look a lot younger and feel good doing it. How old do you want to live to? SKY HUNT: 125. I've actually visualised that.

LIAM BARTLETT: You're planning to be around for quite a time to come? SKY HUNT: I'm here for the long haul. I'm not going anywhere.

LIAM BARTLETT: But until now, our journey from cradle to grave has been one of inevitable degeneration. As we age, cells decay and eventually stop regenerating leaving us vulnerable to the diseases that strike in our twilight years like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. But imagine if one pill could slow down that process. A daily dose of longevity. Well, imagine no more.

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: This is real and itís coming whether we like it or not and as a society as a world were going to have to get ready and deal with it.

LIAM BARTLETT: Australian scientist, Dr David Sinclair has made an astounding discovery. Head of Harvard Medical School's anti-ageing research team, he's developing what could turn out to be a genuine elixir of youth. Could be the world's first anti-ageing drug to hit the chemist shelves?

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: That's it and that's where we're headed with this and it's in trials. It's working in patients and it could hit the market pretty soon.

LIAM BARTLETT: You haven't got a glass of water have you?

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: It's tempting, huh?

LIAM BARTLETT: Very tempting. In the back yard at home with his family, David Sinclair may not look like a man who's about to change the world. But if his drug lives up to the early clinical trials it will be the biggest medical discovery of our time. What was the moment when you knew you were onto something?

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: The discovery in my lab and others around the world that there are genes that control the ageing process. Who would have thought that it could be so simple? Tweak one little gene and organisms live twice as long.

LIAM BARTLETT: But the challenge was to find the trigger that would switch on that one little gene - the longevity gene. David discovered a magic molecule that did just that - resveratrol found naturally in the skin of red grapes. He fed it to his lab mice for three years and hoped. And guess what - it worked.

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: They were resistant to diseases, diabetes, cataracts, heart disease, osteoporosis, all that slowed down and they lived 20% longer and they could even run further on a treadmill. They were as though they'd been exercising not just dieting.

LIAM BARTLETT: Marathon mice?

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: Marathon mice. This was an added bonus that I hadn't even expected. So this was even beyond my dreams.

LIAM BARTLETT: Now the dream is to achieve the same spectacular results in humans. With initial tests predicting at least an extra 10 years of healthy life. Not surprisingly, the world's pharmaceutical giants have beaten a path to David's door. He's sold his company for $750 million and the drug is expected to be on the shelves within five years.

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: This is one of the Holy Grails of the pharmaceutical industry.

LIAM BARTLETT: Well there's enormous payoff at the end, we're all getting old.

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: Well it's been estimated by economists that this drug could be worth upwards of US$40 billion a year just in this country, the US.

LIAM BARTLETT: There has always been big money in fighting Father Time. Businesses like Alan Yovich's Life Extension Clinic on the Gold Coast, market youth with the popular but controversial hormone replacement therapy.

ALAN YOVICH: When we're young, all our hormone levels are right up there at the peak and the kids are running around having fun. As you age, your hormone levels are going to drop down and this causes the ageing. So I say, if you want to maintain a good level of living you've got to keep those hormones up.

LIAM BARTLETT: Alan, who's 64, and his wife Pauline - a very youthful 58, practise what they preach downing a daily cocktail of supplements, hormones and vitamins at a cost of $16,000 a year. You both take one of these each every single day?

ALAN YOVICH: Every day. I know it seems a lot. People say I must rattle.

LIAM BARTLETT: But some of those supplements like Human Growth Hormone and Testosterone have been linked to an increased risk in cancer. You both think it's a risk worth taking?

ALAN YOVICH: I don't think it's a risk. PAULINE YOVICH: It's stimulating the hormones that are already in your body. It just gives them a little boost.

ALAN YOVICH: You know, since I've been on it you know, people get old I feel fantastic, I really do. I'm really proud of myself.

LIAM BARTLETT: You'll be playing golf until you're at least 85, you reckon?

ALAN YOVICH: Absolutely. And don't forget there may be a little bit of sex on the side as well, with my wife.

LIAM BARTLETT: Have you got anything to say about this Pauline? PAULINE YOVICH: What can I say?

LIAM BARTLETT: Probably wise to say nothing. PAULINE YOVICH: Exactly.

LIAM BARTLETT: But there are no pills and potions here. Okinawa in the South China Sea, is known as the 'Land of Immortals'. Everyone here lives long healthy lives... often beyond 100. and it's all natural. This is the house of Chiyoko Asato, she's 110. Chiyoko is one of the oldest people in the world turning 110 just last week.

PROFESSOR CRAIG WILLCOX: To live calmly to have this relaxed attitude is extremely important.

LIAM BARTLETT: Okinawans like Chiyoko have the world's lowest rates of heart disease, cancer and stroke.

PROFESSOR CRAIG WILLCOX: So they're living longer with less disability so they're more functional.

LIAM BARTLETT: After two decades of studying the Okinawans, Canadian Anthropologist Professor Craig Willcox believes their longevity comes down to diet. What sort of diet do you have?

PROFESSOR CRAIG WILLCOX: She doesn't like butter. She also said that she loves sweet potatoes she eats them every day.

LIAM BARTLETT: But it's not so much what they eat, it's how much. Traditionally, Okinawans eat small meals consuming 40% less calories than we do.

PROFESSOR CRAIG WILLCOX: Well, one of the local customs is called hara hachi bu and what this means is basically eating until you're about 80% full.

LIAM BARTLETT: So what you never fill up?

PROFESSOR CRAIG WILLCOX: Well, you always leave a little bit of room in your stomach at the end of the meal. You don't stuff yourself.

LIAM BARTLETT: Whether they knew it or not, for centuries, the Okinawans were practising what science now calls calorie restriction. The only proven way to extend life.

PAUL MCGLOTHIN: We need about another 100 grams.

LIAM BARTLETT: Meredith Averill and Paul McGlothin are dedicated followers of this long-life diet. They weigh every calorie and eat just two meals a day - breakfast and lunch. But do you ever feel hungry, though?

MEREDITH AVERILL: Oh, yes, well hunger is actually a choice - obviously our way, and we prefer to experience a little bit of hunger. Part of the reason is that the hunger hormones are great for our hearts.

PAUL MCGLOTHIN: This is some barley and some vegetables.

LIAM BARTLETT: Hunger has the added benefit of switching on that elusive longevity gene that protects us from disease. 62-year-old Meredith and 60-year-old Paul are taking part in the first human trials on calorie restriction to see how many extra years this extreme diet can give them. How long do you want to live?

PAUL MCGLOTHIN: I would like to live as long as I feel good. I really hadn't thought of a number but right now things are going great so I just hope it continues.

LIAM BARTLETT: What about you Meredith?

MEREDITH AVERILL: I have to tell you that for some reason decades ago I started planning my 125th birthday party.


MEREDITH AVERILL: I guess this is the eternal optimist.

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: I really admire people who can do calorie restriction. I tried it for about a week and gave up. Because I enjoy food.

LIAM BARTLETT: Not everyone can stomach the calorie restriction diet. And that's where David Sinclair's magic little pill comes in... ..providing all the benefits of calorie restriction and activating that longevity gene without the hunger pains. Are you taking it?

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: Well the answer is yes and the reason is that if I'm really going to believe in my research I want to use myself as a guinea pig.

LIAM BARTLETT: How does your wife feel about that?

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: She's taking it too so are my parents. So we are believers.

LIAM BARTLETT: If his pill delivers, David is sure to win a lot more converts.

SARAH GRANT: Of course I'd take it. Who wouldn't? Who wouldn't? No one wants to grow older. But if were going to grow older then we do want to have quality of life.

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: I think of what I'm doing as really the early days of flight. I'm the Wright brothers, but there is a long way to go, but I think 150 will be achievable one day.

LIAM BARTLETT: It does sound like a bit of a dream doesn't it?

DR DAVID SINCLAIR: It definitely does. I have to pinch myself occasionally it does sound too good to be true. But it's true.

Original article: