David Sinclair, a renowned Harvard University geneticist, recently made a startling assertion: Scientific data shows that he has knocked more than two decades off his biological age, 49.
He says his daily regimen includes ingesting a molecule his own research found improved the health and lengthened the lifespan of mice.
Despite his enthusiasm, published scientific research has not yet demonstrated that the molecule works in humans as it does in mice.
Sinclair, however, has a considerable financial stake in his claims being proven correct, and has lent his scientific prowess to commercializing possible life extension products such as molecules known as “NAD boosters.”
His financial interests include being listed as an inventor on a patent licensed to Elysium Health, a supplement company that sells a NAD booster in pills for $60 a bottle.
Discerning hype from reality in the longevity field has become tougher than ever as reputable scientists such as Sinclair and pre-eminent institutions like Harvard align themselves with promising but unproven interventions — and at times promote and profit from them.
Elysium, co-founded in 2014 by a prominent MIT scientist to commercialize the molecule nicotinamide riboside, a type of NAD booster, highlights its “exclusive” licensing agreement with Harvard and the Mayo Clinic and Sinclair’s role as an inventor.
“The sale of nutritional supplements of unproven clinical benefit is commonplace,” said Stephen O’Rahilly, the director of Cambridge’s Metabolic Research Laboratories.
“What is unusual in this case is the extent to which institutions and individuals from the highest levels of the academy have been co-opted to provide scientific credibility for a product whose benefits to human health are unproven.”
“Until about the early 1990s, it was kind of laughable that you could develop a pill that would slow aging,” said Richard Miller, a biogerontologist at the University of Michigan who heads one of three labs funded by the National Institutes of Health to test such promising substances on mice.
Concerns about whether animal research could translate into human therapy have not stopped scientists from racing into the market, launching startups or lining up investors.
“While the buzz encourages investment in worthwhile research, scientists should avoid hyping specific” substances, said S. Jay Olshansky, a professor who specializes in aging at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
On his LinkedIn bio and in media interviews, he describes how he now regularly takes resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine with potential anti-aging properties; the diabetes drug metformin, which holds promise in slowing aging; and nicotinamide mononucleotide, a substance known as NMN that his own research showed rejuvenated mice.
In an interview with Kaiser Health News, Sinclair said he’s not recommending that others take those substances.
The banner headline on Elysium’s website said “clinical trial results prove safety and efficacy” of its supplement, Basis, which contains the molecule nicotinamide riboside and pterostilbene.
But the company’s research did not demonstrate that the supplement was effective at anti-aging in humans, as it may be in mice.
Done Katch’ng up but want to read more? Read more here.