The ground breaking discovery may be ready for human trial in six months.
Humans live with a bittersweet curse. We’re aware of our own existence, but as a consequence, we’re also aware of our mortality. We have always dwelled on death; be it with what happens after we die, dreaming of fountains of youth, or in personifying death as a grim reaper. Whether we believe in an after life or not, most of us exhibit a fear of death, and for as long as there has been human culture, and story telling, there have been tales of immortality; the pursuit of ever-lasting life. So far, we haven’t done all that well. Every generation that came before us has died; but perhaps we will actually be the ones to live beyond our biological limits.
Scientists have developed a special compound which has reversed aging in lab mice. They have discovered a cellular mechanism which allows them to activate a repair system in the DNA of a mouse’s cells, effectively reversing the aging process and protecting the DNA from future damage. They anticipate that they’ll be ready for human trials within six months.
“The cells of the old mice were indistinguishable from the young mice, after just one week of treatment,” said lead researcher David Sinclair from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia. “This is the closest we are to a safe and effective anti-ageing drug that’s perhaps only three to five years away from being on the market if the trials go well.”
Sinclair previously made headlines in 2013, when he discovered that younger mice had a higher concentration of a chemical called nicotinaminde adenine dinucleotide, or NAD+, in their cells than their older counterparts did. His team injected the older mice with the compound, and after a time, they began to observe that the mice were starting to look younger. Unfortunately, while the scientists could plainly see that NAD+ had a potent effect, you can’t develop a medicine until you understand how and why the effect works.
Now Sinclair and his team have done their homework and in a new study, they detail the mechanisms behind how NAD+ works. In very rough terms, all of our cells have the ability to repair DNA. Our genetic code gets damaged through random mutations, and whenever we’re out in the sun for too long, but the cells are able to identify and fix the damage. However, as we age, our ability to repair our DNA declines, and a lot of it is linked to a DNA-repair compound called PARP1. PARP1 contains NAD+, but as we age, the levels decrease, and the repair compound becomes less effective.
Sinclair’s team dosed the mice with a precursor to NAD+, called nicotinamide mononucleotide, or NMN. This was enough to kickstart the repair process in the mice, and not only protect the DNA from damage, but undo some of the damage that had already been done. It’s an amazing discovery, but before we get too excited, let’s remember that many trials that prove successful in mice don’t work on humans. Let’s keep our fingers crossed though.