It seems that we are on the right track to discovering the Fountain of Youth given that scientists made a first major breakthrough toward the goal of eternal life. Group of researchers from the Erasmus University Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have found a method how to activate DNA repair process and to reverse aging in mice. Researchers claim they’re ready to start testing in people within six months.

Hayflick limit

Every chromosome containing our DNA is programmed to die. At the end of each chromosome is a telomere region, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, small segments of telomeres are lost forever. When it reaches a finite number of cell divisions ( about 40 to 60 divisions during lifespan ) telomeres becomes too short, chromosomes stop working properly and finally dies. This process is known as Hayflick limit.

However, it is possible to break Hayflick limit. For example, adding an enzyme to aging cells will enable them to repair damage to the telomeres. Actually, achieving the immortality of cells isn’t the hardest thing to do, especially when we note that cancer cells use the same method for their immortality. We all know the outcome of this struggle and who eventually dies at the end of the battle.

So what exactly scientists did in their research? Three years ago, they revealed that cells of younger mice contained more of an NAD+ ( nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide ) than the older ones. After injecting NAD+ in old mice, researchers have noticed that the mice look younger. The large presence of NAD+ caused that PARP1 ( DNA-repair compound ) keeps DNA healthy. Thanks to this discovery, the team has developed a drug that contains nicotinamide mononucleotide ( NMN ). Injecting NMN in old mice stimulated the production of telomerase and even reversed existing DNA damage.

These two genetically engineered fast-aging mice show the effectiveness of the peptide at manifesting hair regrowth with the mouse on the left receiving the treatment and the mouse on the right going untreated. Image credit: Peter L.J. de Keizer

What does this mean for human aging?

The study results are a major step forward in understanding the mechanism of DNA aging. However, scientists are cautious because they’re aware that many successful studies in mice don’t apply to humans. The plan is to test the drug on people not only for anti-aging purposes but for protection against DNA damage of any kind.

NASA is particularly excited about this trial as they hope that eventually, the NMN drug could be useful for astronauts on their missions to Mars. Also, the reasons for hope have survivors of cancer, as the team hopes that drug could shield cancer patients from the side effects of radiation treatments or even protect people who are exposed to higher radiation work environments from DNA damage. However, we’ll have to be patient as the FDA will certainly demand rigorous and lengthy testing before any commercialization of this technology is possible.

The human trials will begin this year at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston.