The anti-ageing Australian expat on a billion-dollar quest

Lindsay Wu a National health and medical research counsel RD Wright Biomedical fellow who works with Liberty biosecurity and UNSW to discover how to improve DNA repair during space travel and after radiation exposure. 22nd March, 2017. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Lindsay Wu a National health and medical research counsel RD Wright Biomedical fellow who works with Liberty biosecurity and UNSW to discover how to improve DNA repair during space travel and after radiation exposure. 22nd March, 2017. Photo: Kate Geraghty
GW.  Portrait of Dr David Sinclair who is a scientist with a fellowship at hrvard and a professor at UNSW.  He is working on an anti aging drug.  Photographed in the science labs at the UNSW Randwick Campus.  Pic by Nic Walker.  Date 23rd December 2014. GW151003

GW. Portrait of Dr David Sinclair who is a scientist with a fellowship at hrvard and a professor at UNSW. He is working on an anti aging drug. Photographed in the science labs at the UNSW Randwick Campus. Pic by Nic Walker. Date 23rd December 2014. GW151003

Lunch with Susan David who is a psychologist and author of Emotional Agility.
7th June 2017.
Photo: Steven Siewert

Lunch with Susan David who is a psychologist and author of Emotional Agility. 7th June 2017. Photo: Steven Siewert

Australian expat biologist David Sinclair has been doing the rounds among business people, politicians and scientists in Boston in a bid to raise no less than a billion dollars.

The money is to fund a project that could affect every person in the world. Within his grasp is an anti-ageing cure that he believes could expand the human lifespan by at least 10 years.

"Our goal is to alleviate human suffering in old age," said Professor Sinclair, founding director of the Paul F Glenn Center for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging at Harvard University.

"It's a moon shot but we think we have the technology. It's easy to do in a mouse, now it's about translating that into humans. It's not a question of if but when."

Alongside him is a young Sydney scientist, Lindsay Wu, who has been in Boston to help with the ambitious project that launched in July.

Professor Sinclair's nurturing of emerging Australian talent like Dr Wu is one of many reasons why he has been named one of 10 winners of the 2017 Advance Global Australian Awards.

Five men and women have been recognised for their work in various fields by Advance, a government-supported international networking organisation fostering connections between high-achieving Australians. An overall winner will be announced on October 10.

"These are Australians who are out there literally changing the world," said Advance's chief executive Serafina Maiorano.

Professor Sinclair, who moved to the US 20 years ago, is one of Australia's greatest exports, working towards the medical breakthrough of a lifetime that began in his St Ives backyard.

As a four-year-old, he didn't like the idea that his pet cat was going to die one day. Now, he wants the world to avoid the ailments and disease that come with old age.

His first breakthrough came in the 90s after he left Sydney for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to take up a post-doctorate with Dr Leonard Guarente. The pair discovered the genetic cause for ageing in yeast and later identified a group of enzymes that performed the same anti-ageing role as good diet.

In 2003, he found that a compound in red wine could activate one of those enzymes. Forbes magazine dubbed it the $US40 billion drug however other scientists disputed his findings.

In March, he led a UNSW team with Dr Wu that made another breakthrough: reversing the ageing process in mice through DNA repair.

He believes the first anti-ageing drugs are just a few years away. However, widespread discussion over Australia's ageing population has barely included consideration of reversing aging all together.

"It's still seen as science fiction but there's a tidal wave coming and as a society we need to start talking about what this is going to mean," he said.

"It's going to change retirement, your career, even having families. We're thinking about technology to extend the period of female fertility. Ageing research isn't just about being old."

Professor Sinclair, a creator of 35 patents and several pharmaceutical companies (including one that sold for $US720 million), said Australia punches above its weight globally for medical research. However, he is based in Boston because of the concentration of capital and entrepreneurs willing to make medicines.

"What's lacking [in Australia] is investors willing to take a risk. Over here, if you have a great idea and you've got good science, you can find money to try that idea.

He hopes that by showing off local companies and nurturing talent, he can "stimulate badly-needed investment".

Harvard psychologist Susan David, winner of an Advance Award and author of Emotional Agility, said she was lucky to be surrounded by mentors who "have seen something in me that sometimes I didn't see myself".

"When someone starts to sow the seeds of what is possible, you realise that you need to just start taking the steps," she said.

Fairfax Media is supporting the Advance Awards for high-achieving expat Australians. Details of the winners in each category, from whom the overall award winner is chosen on October 10, can be found atwww.globalaustralianawards.com/winners

This story The anti-ageing Australian expat on a billion-dollar quest first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.