The discovery was published in the journal Science, describing how NAD+, a natural metabolite in our body, has the function of regulating the interactions controlling DNA repair.
Our cells have the capacity to repair DNA that gets damaged, for example, from being under the sun, but this ability declines as we age.
An experiment was conducted on mice, where they were given a NAD+ booster called NMN.
“The cells of the old mice were indistinguishable from the young mice, after just one week of treatment,” said Professor David Sinclair of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Harvard Medical School.
Human testings of NMN will be held in Boston later this year, involving 25 volunteers.
Dr Lindsay Wu told Fairfax Media that as with mice, humans could expect to lengthen their lifespan by 20% under this treatment, with further years less likely to be affected by disease.
“It’s not just about living longer; it’s about being in better health in old age,” he said.
The hope for Mars expedition
NASA is impressed by the work, having been concerned about its planned journey to Mars exposing its astronauts to large amounts of cosmic radiation.
“That trip will take two years in each direction, so that’s four years of being exposed to cosmic radiation and this is likely to cause a substantial amount of DNA damage to those astronauts,” Dr Wu told AAP.
UNSW said that on a trip to Mars 5% of the astronauts’ cells would die and the chances of them getting cancer would be near certain.
Even on short missions, astronauts return suffering from symptoms such as accelerated ageing, memory loss, and muscle weakness.
Mars astronauts are not the only ones to benefit.
The findings could help people who frequently fly, as a flight from Australia to London would expose travellers to the same amount of radiation that a chest X-ray would.
Impact on childhood cancer survivors
Dr Wu said a vast majority of childhood cancer survivors suffer a chronic illness by middle age, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancers not related to the original cancer.
“All of this adds up to the fact they have accelerated ageing, which is devastating,” he said.
“It would be great to do something about that, and we believe we can with this molecule.”
Professor Sinclair and Dr Wu have also established that NAD+ could be useful for treating ageing diseases and female infertility.