Let’s reverse the otherwise one-way process of ageing, and run to Mars! Turning back the clock of life might not be such a myth after all. Or so suggests a new study published in the journal Science.
How do we reverse ageing? Is this even possible? The answer would lie in understanding how damaged DNA is repaired by our cells, says the new study conducted by a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School, and the University of New South Wales, Australia. These findings could potentially be used to concoct anti-ageing pills, and could take humans even beyond our planet, to Mars, safely.
All of this is based on a discovery the team made: they identified a hitherto-unknown important step in the process of DNA repair. When DNA is damaged—which is quite often—our body cells are able to launch a series of steps that undo the harm done. The mere exposure to the sun might sometimes cause damage to our carrier of genetic material; thankfully, the human body is made such that the effects can be contained. However, this ability wanes with time—with ageing. Scientists do not fully grasp the whys and the hows, and this is why the new study is such a breakthrough: it helps us gain a better understanding of the mysterious processes, and tells us how we can use them to our own advantage.
Led by professor David Sinclair, the researchers focused on the action (on DNA repair) of a molecule existing in all living cells, NAD+, which is the oxidized form of Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. They administered young and older mice with an NAD+ booster called Nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN). The results show that this enhanced DNA repair in the mice whose genetic material was damaged by either ageing or radiation. Sinclair explains that one could not distinguish the cells of the older mice from those of the younger ones in the following week after the treatment.
Now that this treatment has been successful in mice, human trials will start off shortly, in around 6 months’ time. If similar results are generated, the findings might be used to produce not only anti-ageing pills but also therapies aimed at reducing the negative impacts of chemotherapy.
Sinclair is positive that a safe and effective drug can be developed in only 3 to 5 years—provided that the human trials are successful.
The discovery also has implications that sparked NASA’s interest because it suggests a way to protect from the detrimental effects of high levels of radiation to which astronauts are likely to have in space. Moreover, long-lasting missions to the red planet, Mars, constitutes greater risks of such radiation. It is believed that a journey to Mars could result in the death of 5% of the cells of the human body, a state that also increases the likelihood of developing cancer. So, this study might eventually pave the way for us to Mars by guaranteeing a safe way to travel to it.