In a recent study, Australian researchers made a discovery that could lead to a revolutionary drug that actually reverses aging, improves DNA repair and could even help NASA get its astronauts to Mars.
The team identifies a critical step in the molecular process that allows cells to repair damaged DNA.
Their experiments suggest treatment is possible for DNA damage from aging and radiation.
It is so promising it has attracted the attention of NASA, which believes the treatment can help its Mars mission.
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.
In the study, the 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 an NAD+ precursor, or “booster,” called NMN improved their cells’ ability to repair DNA damage caused by radiation exposure or old age.
The work has excited NASA, which is considering the challenge of keeping its astronauts healthy during a four-year mission to Mars.
Even on short missions, astronauts experience accelerated aging 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: five percent of the astronauts’ cells would die and their chances of cancer would approach 100 percent.
Cosmic radiation is not only an issue for astronauts. We’re all exposed to it aboard aircraft, with a London-Singapore-Melbourne flight roughly equivalent in radiation to a chest x-ray.
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.
About 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 original cancer.
All of this adds up to the fact they have accelerated aging, which is devastating.
For the past four years, the researchers have been working on making NMN into a drug substance with their companies MetroBiotech NSW and MetroBiotech International.
The human trials have been conducted this year at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston.
The findings on NAD+ and NMN add momentum to the exciting work the team has done over the past four years.
They’ve been looking at the interplay of a number of proteins and molecules and their roles in the aging process.
They had already established that NAD+ could be useful for treating various diseases of aging, female infertility and also treating the side effects of chemotherapy.
The lead author is Professor David Sinclair of UNSW School of Medical Sciences and Harvard Medical School Boston.
The study is published in Science.
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