A safe and effective drug to reverse ageing and treat cancer may be available in just three years, thanks to scientists who have identified a critical step in how cells repair damaged DNA.
Experiments in mice suggest a treatment is possible for DNA damage from ageing and radiation, researchers from University of New South Wales in Australia said.
The drug is so promising it has attracted the attention of NASA, which believes the treatment can help its Mars mission, they said.
While our cells have an innate capability to repair DNA damage - which happens every time we go out into the Sun, for example - their ability to do this declines as we age.
Scientists identified that the metabolite NAD+, which is naturally present in every cell of our body, has a key role as a regulator in protein-to-protein interactions that control DNA repair.
Treating mice with a NAD+ precursor, or “booster,” called NMN improved their cells’ ability to repair DNA damage caused by radiation exposure or old age.
“The cells of the old mice were indistinguishable from the young mice, after just one week of treatment,” said Professor David Sinclair of UNSW School of Medical Sciences.
Human trials of NMN therapy will begin within six months, researchers said.
“This is the closest we are to a safe and effective anti-ageing drug that is perhaps only three to five years away from being on the market if the trials go well,” said Sinclair.
The work has excited NASA, which is considering the challenge of keeping its astronauts healthy during a four-year mission to Mars, researchers said.
Even on short missions, astronauts experience accelerated ageing from cosmic radiation, suffering from muscle weakness, memory loss and other symptoms when they return.
On a trip to Mars, the situation would be far worse: 5% of the astronauts’ cells would die and their chances of cancer would approach 100%.
Sinclair and his UNSW colleague Lindsay Wu were winners in NASA’s iTech competition in December last year.
“We came in with a solution for a biological problem and it won the competition out of 300 entries,” Wu said.
In theory, the same treatment could mitigate any effects of DNA damage for frequent flyers. The other group that could benefit from this work is survivors of childhood cancers, researchers said.
Wu said 96% of childhood cancer survivors suffer a chronic illness by age 45, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancers unrelated to the original cancer.
“All of this adds up to the fact they have accelerated ageing, which is devastating. It would be great to do something about that, and we believe we can with this molecule,” he said.
The study was published in the journal Science.
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