Anti-ageing drug could be used by future Mars astronauts to stave off effects of radiation
A new drug that reverses the ageing process could be used by astronauts travelling to Mars in the future to reduce the impact of long-term exposure to radiation.
Researchers working with two biotech companies hope to begin testing the treatment on clinical trial patients in the next six months and believe it could hit the market within the next three years.
In early experiments, the drug - nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) - had a dramatic rejuvenating effect on ageing mice.
Lead scientist Professor David Sinclair, from the University of South Wales (USW) in Australia and Harvard Medical School in the US, said: “The cells of the old mice were indistinguishable from the young mice, after just one week of treatment.
“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.”
NMN boosts levels of NAD+, the oxidised form of the chemical nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, which is naturally present in every cell of the body and helps regulate protein interactions that control DNA repair.
Accumulated DNA damage is believed to be a major driver of natural ageing and a primary cause of cancer.
Levels of NAD+, a “co-enzyme” or “helper” chemical that assists essential proteins, in the human body naturally decrease with age.
Recent work highlighting the chemical’s potential anti-ageing properties has led to an influx of NAD+ supplements available online. However, there is no hard evidence that the low-dose supplements really can keep ageing at bay.
The work has attracted the interest of the American space agency Nasa, which is looking for ways of shielding astronauts from the effects of radiation on the long voyage to Mars.
High levels of cosmic radiation mean that the chances of unprotected astronauts developing cancer could approach 100 per cent.
A competition run by Nasa in search for possible solutions was won by Prof. Sinclair’s team last year.
Over the past four years, Prof. Sinclair and USW colleague Dr Lindsay Wu have been working with two spin-off companies MetroBiotech NSW and MetroBiotech International to turn NMN into a drug treatment.
The first clinical trial is expected to get under way at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, USA, this year.
As well as helping astronauts, NMN could protect frequent flyers from the effects of radiation on passenger jets and combat the accelerated ageing seen in childhood cancer survivors, said Dr Wu.