Stephen Petranek: Your kids might live on Mars. Here’s how they’ll survive

May 12, 2017

It sounds like science fiction, but journalist Stephen Petranek considers it fact: within 20 years, humans will live on Mars. In this provocative talk, Petranek makes the case that humans will become a spacefaring species and describes in fascinating detail how we’ll make Mars our next home. “Humans will survive no matter what happens on Earth,” Petranek says. “We will never be the last of our kind.”

New nuclear magnetic resonance technique offers ‘molecular window’ for live disease diagnosis

May 7, 2017

University of Toronto Scarborough researchers have developed a new “molecular window” technology based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) that can look inside a living system to get a high-resolution profile of which specific molecules are present, and extract a full metabolic profile.

“Getting a sense of which molecules are in a tissue sample is important if you want to know if it’s cancerous, or if you want to know if certain environmental contaminants are harming cells inside the body,” says Professor Andre Simpson, who led research in developing the new technique.*

[+]

An NMR spectrometer generates a powerful magnetic field that causes atomic nuclei to absorb and re-emit energy in distinct patterns, revealing a unique molecular signature — in this example: the chemical ethanol. (credit: adapted from the Bruker BioSpin “How NMR Works” video at http://www.theresonance.com/nmr-know-how)

Simpson says there’s great medical potential for this new technique, since it can be adapted to work on existing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems found in hospitals. “It could have implications for disease diagnosis and a deeper understanding of how important biological processes work,” by targeting specific biomarker molecules that are unique to specific diseased tissue.

The new approach could detect these signatures without resorting to surgery and could determine, for example, whether a growth is cancerous or benign directly from the MRI alone.

The technique could also provide highly detailed information on how the brain works, revealing the actual chemicals involved in a particular response. “It could mark an important step in unraveling the biochemistry of the brain,” says Simpson.

Overcoming magnetic distortion

Until now, traditional NMR techniques haven’t been able to provide high-resolution profiles of living organisms because of magnetic distortions from the tissue itself.  Simpson and his team were able to overcome this problem by creating tiny communication channels based on “long-range dipole interactions” between molecules.

The next step for the research is to test it on human tissue samples, says Simpson. Since the technique detects all cellular metabolites (substances such as glucose) equally, there’s also potential for non-targeted discovery.

“Since you can see metabolites in a sample that you weren’t able to see before, you can now identify molecules that may indicate there’s a problem,” he explains. “You can then determine whether you need further testing or surgery. So the potential for this technique is truly exciting.”

The research results are published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

* Simpson has been working on perfecting the technique for more than three years with colleagues at Bruker BioSpin, a scientific instruments company that specializes in developing NMR technology. The technique, called “in-phase intermolecular single quantum coherence” (IP-iSQC), is based on some unexpected scientific concepts that were discovered in 1995, which at the time were described as impossible and “crazed” by many researchers. The technique developed by Simpson and his team builds upon these early discoveries. The work was supported by Mark Krembil of the Krembil Foundation and the Natural Sciences Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).


Abstract of In-Phase Ultra High-Resolution In Vivo NMR

Although current NMR techniques allow organisms to be studied in vivo, magnetic susceptibility distortions, which arise from inhomogeneous distributions of chemical moieties, prevent the acquisition of high-resolution NMR spectra. Intermolecular single quantum coherence (iSQC) is a technique that breaks the sample’s spatial isotropy to form long range dipolar couplings, which can be exploited to extract chemical shift information free of perturbations. While this approach holds vast potential, present practical limitations include radiation damping, relaxation losses, and non-phase sensitive data. Herein, these drawbacks are addressed, and a new technique termed in-phase iSQC (IP-iSQC) is introduced. When applied to a living system, high-resolution NMR spectra, nearly identical to a buffer extract, are obtained. The ability to look inside an organism and extract a high-resolution metabolic profile is profound and should find applications in fields in which metabolism or in vivo processes are of interest.

Artificial intelligence could build new drugs faster than any human team

May 7, 2017

Artificial intelligence algorithms are being taught to generate art, human voices, and even fiction stories all on their own—why not give them a shot at building new ways to treat disease?

Atomwise, a San Francisco-based startup and Y Combinator alum, has built a system it calls AtomNet (pdf), which attempts to generate potential drugs for diseases like Ebola and multiple sclerosis. The company has invited academic and non-profit researchers from around the country to detail which diseases they’re trying to generate treatments for, so AtomNet can take a shot. The academic labs will receive 72 different drugs that the neural network has found to have the highest probability of interacting with the disease, based on the molecular data it’s seen.

Atomwise’s system only generates potential drugs—the compounds created by the neural network aren’t guaranteed to be safe, and need to go through the same drug trials and safety checks as anything else on the market. The company believes that the speed at which it can generate trial-ready drugs based on previous safe molecular interactions is what sets it apart.

Atomwise touts two projects that show the potential of AtomNet, drugs for multiple sclerosis and Ebola. The MS drug has been licensed to an undisclosed UK pharmacology firm, according to Atomwise, and the Ebola drug is being prepared for submission to a peer-reviewed publication.

Alexander Levy, the company’s COO and cofounder, said that AtomNet learns the interactions between molecules much like artificial intelligence learns to recognize images. Image recognition finds reduces patterns in images’ pixels to simpler representations, teaching itself the bounds of an idea like a horse or a desk lamp through seeing hundreds or thousands of examples.

“It turns out that the same thing that works in images, also works in chemistry,” Levy says. “You can take an interaction between a drug and huge biological system and you can decompose that to smaller and smaller interactive groups. If you study enough historical examples of molecules … and we’ve studied tens of millions of those, you can then make predictions that are extremely accurate yet also extremely fast.”

Atomwise isn’t the only company working on this technique. Startup BenevolentAI, working with Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen, is also developing new ways to find drugs. TwoXAR is working on an AI-driven glaucoma medication, and Berg is working on algorithmically-built cancer treatments.

One of Atomwise’s advantages, Levy says, is that the network works with 3D models. To generate the drugs, the model starts with a 3D model of a molecule—for example a protein that gives a cancer cell a growth advantage. The neural network then generates a series of synthetic compounds (simulated drugs), and predicts how likely it would be for the two molecules to interact. If a drug is likely to interact with the specific molecule, it can be synthesized and tested.

Levy likens the idea to the automated systems used to model airplane aerodynamics or computer chip design, where millions of scenarios are mapped out within software that accurately represents how the physical world works.

“Imagine if you knew what a biological mechanism looked like, atom by atom. Could you reason your way to a compound that did the thing that you wanted?” Levy says.

Artificial intelligence could build new drugs faster than any human team

Video

Watch this all-electric ‘flying car’ take its first test flight in Germany

April 24, 2017

 

Flying cars, that perennial dream for futurists that always seem to be at least five years away, may be a little closer to reality than we realize. A lot of prototypes have been showcased recently, and a lot of money is being tossed around. More people than ever seem to buy into the crazy notion that in the near future we’ll be buzzing between rooftops in private, autonomous drones. Today, Munich-based Lilium Aviation announced an important milestone: the first test flight of its all-electric, two-seater, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype.

In a video provided by the Munich-based startup, the aircraft can be seen taking off vertically like a helicopter, and then accelerating into forward flight using wing-borne lift.

The craft is powered by 36 separate jet engines mounted on its 10-meter long wings via 12 movable flaps. At take-off, the flaps are pointed downwards to provide vertical lift. And once airborne, the flaps gradually tilt into a horizontal position, providing forward thrust.

During the tests, the jet was piloted remotely, but its operators say their first manned flight is close-at-hand. And Lilium claims that its electric battery “consumes around 90 percent less energy than drone-style aircraft,” enabling the aircraft to achieve a range of 300 kilometers (183 miles) with a maximum cruising speed of 300 kph (183 mph).

In many ways, electric-powered aviation is still in its infancy. Electric cars with thousand-pound batteries generally max out at 300 miles per charge. The most sophisticated electric aircraft today can barely muster an hour aloft at 99 mph — and that’s without vertical take-off and landing. But Patrick Nathen, co-founder of Lilium Jet and the startup’s head of calculation and design, said their battery technology will get the job done.

“It’s the same battery that you can find in any Tesla,” Nathen told The Verge. “The concept is that we are lifting with our wings as soon as we progress into the air with velocity, which makes our airplane very efficient. Compared to other flights, we have extremely low power consumption.”

Safety is a major emphasis at Lilium, Nathen added. While the startup is working toward having its aircraft piloted autonomously, it intends to use human pilots in the meantime. There will be parachutes on board, and something called the “Flight Envelope Protection System” will prevents the pilot from performing maneuvers or flying the aircraft beyond safe flight parameters.

The plan is to eventually build a 5-passenger version of the jet. So anyone who dreams of a minivan version of the Jetsons’ flying car, this craft is for you. And naturally, Lilium envisions its aircraft used in dense, urban areas in an on-demand capacity. Pull out your smartphone, book a seat, and make your way to the nearest launchpad, which can be found at street level or on a nearby rooftop. Like Uber, but for flying cars (even though Uber is already working on its own version).And before you dismiss this as another luxury mode of transportation for the super-rich, Nathen insists the goal is to get the cost low enough so everyone can use it. A 55-minute taxi ride from Midtown Manhattan to JFK airport, with a fare of $55, becomes a breezy 5 minute flight in a Lilium jet, for as low as $6.

If it seems fantastical, it’s probably because it is. Flying cars, of course, are ridiculous. Wild-eyed inventors have been pursuing the idea for decades, with little to show for it. Many have gone broke, and some have died, trying to turn their fever dreams into reality. The fact that flying cars act as a stand-in for some distant, unattainable future isn’t a mistake. There are many things about flying cars that make them impractical, unworkable, and even wrongheaded. The problem is that these aircraft don’t solve any problems for normal human beings, nor do they even gesture toward a meaningful impact in the distant future. But that hasn’t stopped many from trying. And with better materials, autonomous navigation systems, and other technical advances, dozens of well-heeled investors are convinced that we’re on the cusp of seeing flying cars — or at least small, electric, autonomously flown commuter planes — take to the skies.

“We are right now at the magical point,” Nathen said. “We have without a doubt started at the perfect time… This is why you can see a lot of different projects from all over the world.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/20/15369850/lilium-jet-flying-car-first-flight-vtol-aviation-munich

Scientists Have Made a Huge Breakthrough In Cryogenics

March 30, 2017

Cryopreservation

Cryopreservation is the process of freezing organs and tissues at very low temperatures in order to preserve them. While it sounds simple in theory, only a handful of cells and tissues have survived this method. This is because while science has successfully developed ways to cool organs to the very low temperatures required for preservation, thawing them out has proven far more difficult. As the specimen thaws, it forms ice crystals, which can damage the tissue and render organs unusable.

Right now, the process is only a viable option for small samples, such as sperm or embryos. Previous efforts using slow warming techniques have proven to be effective on samples of that size, but haven’t worked for larger tissue samples, like whole human organs. The inability to safely thaw the tissue has also precluded the theoretical concept of cryogenically preserving entire human bodies, with the intention of reanimating them later. The concept has roots in cryogenic technology, but is actually referred to as “cryonics”, and the scientific community generally considers it to be more science fiction than science fact — at least for the time being.

A recent study has made a significant breakthrough which may well begin closing that gap even more. Using a new technique, scientists were able to cryopreserve human and pig samples, then successfully rewarm it without causing any damage to the tissue.

As lead researcher John Bischof from the University of Minnesota notes:

This is the first time that anyone has been able to scale up to a larger biological system and demonstrate successful, fast, and uniform warming of hundreds of degrees Celsius per minute of preserved tissue without damaging the tissue.

By using nanoparticles to heat the tissues at an equal rate, scientists were able to prevent the formation of those destructive ice crystals. The researchers mixed silica-coated iron oxide nanoparticles in a solution and applied an external magnetic field to generate heat. The process was tested on several human and pig tissue samples, and it showed that nanowarming achieves the same speed of thawing as the use of traditional convection techniques.

Preserving Organs and Saving Lives

One theoretical application for this discovery would be, of course, bringing cryogenic life-extension techniques out of the realm of science fiction and into reality. But we’re not quite there yet.

A more practical application for the technique would be to safely preserve and store organs for extended periods, thus improving the logistical challenges behind organ transplantation.

According to statistics from the United Network for Organ Sharing, 22 people die every day in the US while waiting for organ transplants. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t because there is a shortage of organs being donated — it’s because organs cannot be preserved for more than a few hours. So, while there are available organs ready to be transplanted, the time it takes to find a matching recipient and transport the organ safely to their location often exceeds the window of time in which the organ remains viable for transplant.

Over half of donated hearts and lungs are thrown out each year because they don’t make it to patients in time. They can only be kept on ice for four hours, and while some organs can last longer than others without a blood supply during transport, it’s still not a long enough in many cases.

“If only half of these discarded organs were transplanted, then it has been estimated that wait lists for these organs could be extinguished within two to three years,” Bischof adds. With the help of cryopreservation technology, we may be well on our way to keeping donated organs viable for longer — meaning they could be transported to patients who need them even if distance and time stands between them.

https://futurism.com/4-scientists-have-found-a-way-to-rapidly-thaw-cryopreserved-tissue-without-damage/

Jeff Bezos, Mayo Clinic back anti-aging startup Unity Biotechnology for $116 million

March 30, 2017

Every once in a while someone in Silicon Valley brings up the possibility of living forever, or at least a really long time, but first we’re going to need to figure out a way to enjoy all those extra years. Unity Biotechnology is a startup focusing on medicines to help us do that by slowing the effects of age-related diseases. And the company announced it has pulled in a whopping $116 million in Series B financing today — some of which came from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

Sometimes your body keeps aging cells around longer. These cells stop dividing after some form of stress,which is an anti-cancer mechanism that keeps damaged cells from dividing and growing out of control. But too much build-up of those types of cells leads to other problems as we age. Unity looks for ways to help your body shed older cells causing inflammation and other diseases linked to aging.

Unity holds a great amount of potential in preventing our bodies from aging as fast and that has perked some of the top investors in science and medicine and is one of the larger private financings in biotech history.

But it’s not the first time Bezos has invested in biotech. The Amazon CEO placed his bets on Juno Therapeutics back in 2014, through his venture capital arm Bezos Expeditions. Juno is one of the IPO success stories in the biotech world for its breakthrough discoveries in cancer medicine.

The Scottish-based mutual fund Baillie Gifford, which has also invested in several biotech companies, also invested in this round — as did Venrock, ARCH Venture Capital, Mayo Clinic and WuXi Pharmaceuticals.

The company also announced it would be placing Keith Leonard — the former CEO of KYTHERA Biopharmaceuticals — in the role of CEO and that previous CEO and co-founder Nathaniel “Ned” David will now be Unity’s president.

Jeff Bezos, Mayo Clinic back anti-aging startup Unity Biotechnology for $116 million

10 Tech Trends That Made the World Better in 2016

March 30, 2017

2016 was an incredible year for technology, and for humanity.

Despite all the negative political-related news, there were 10 tech trends this year that positively transformed humanity.

For this “2017 Kick-Off” post, I reviewed 52 weeks of science and technology breakthroughs, and categorized them into the top 10 tech trends changing our world.

I’m blown away by how palpable the feeling of exponential change has become.

I’m also certain that 99.99% of humanity doesn’t understand or appreciate the ramifications of what is coming.

In this post, enjoy the top 10 tech trends of the past 12 months and why they are important to you.

Let’s dive in…

1. We Are Hyper-Connecting the World

In 2010, 1.8 billion people were connected. Today, that number is about 3 billion, and by 2022 – 2025, that number will expand to include every human on the planet, approaching 8 billion humans.

Unlike when I was connected 20 years ago at 9,600 baud via AOL, the world today is coming online at one megabit per second or greater, with access to the world’s information on Google, access to the world’s products on Amazon, access to massive computing power on AWS and artificial intelligence with Watson… not to mention crowdfunding for capital and crowdsourcing for expertise.

Looking back at 2016, you can feel the acceleration. Here are seven stories that highlight the major advances in our race for global connectivity:

a) Google’s 5G Solar Drones Internet Service: Project Skybender is Google’s secretive 5G Internet drone initiative. News broke this year that they have been testing these solar-powered drones at Spaceport America in New Mexico to explore ways to deliver high-speed Internet from the air. Their purported millimeter wave technology could deliver data from drones up to 40 times faster than 4G.

b) Facebook’s Solar Drone Internet Service: Even before Google, Facebook has been experimenting with a solar-powered drone, also for the express purpose of providing Internet to billions. The drone has the wingspan of an airliner and flies with roughly the power of three blowdryers.

c) ViaSat Plans 1 Terabit Internet Service: ViaSat, a U.S.-based satellite company, has teamed up with Boeing to launch three satellites to provide 1 terabit-per-second Internet connections to remote areas, aircraft and maritime vehicles. ViaSat is scheduled to launch its satellite ViaSat2 in early 2017.

d) OneWeb Raises $1.2B for 900 Satellite Constellation: An ambitious low-Earth orbit satellite system proposed by my friends Greg Wyler, Paul Jacobs and Richard Branson just closed $1.2 billion in financing. This 900-satellite system will offer global internet services as soon as 2019.

e) Musk Announces 4,425 Internet Satellite System: Perhaps the most ambitious plan for global internet domination was proposed this year by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, with plans for SpaceX to deploy a 4,425 low-Earth orbit satellite system to blanket the entire planet in broadband.

2. Solar/Renewables Cheaper Than Coal

We’ve just exceeded a historic inflection point. 2016 was the year solar and renewable energy became cheaper than coal.

In December, the World Economic Forum reported that solar and wind energy is now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries.

“As prices for solar and wind power continue their precipitous fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as ‘grid parity’ within a few years, even without subsidies,” they added.

This is one of the most important developments in the history of humanity, and this year marked a number of major milestones for renewable energy.

Here’s 10 data points (stories) I’ve hand-picked to hammer home the historic nature of this 2016 achievement.

a) 25 percent of the World’s Power Comes From Renewables: REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, published a report showing that a quarter of the world’s power now comes from renewable energy. International investment in renewable energy reached $286 billion last year (with solar accounting for over $160b of this), and it’s accelerating.

b) In India, Solar Is Now Cheaper Than Coal: An amazing milestone indeed, and India is now on track to deploy >100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022.

c) The UK Is Generating More Energy From Solar Than Coal: For the first time in history, this year the U.K. has produced an estimated 6,964 GWh of electricity from solar cells, 10% higher than the 6,342 GWh generated by coal.

d) Coal Plants Being Replaced by Solar Farms: The Nanticoke Generating Station in Ontario, once North America’s largest coal plant, will be turned into a solar farm.

e) Coal Will Never Recover: The coal industry, once the backbone of U.S. energy, is fading fast on account of renewables like solar and wind. Official and expert reports now state that it will never recover (e.g., coal power generation in Texas is down from 39% in early 2015 to 24.8% in May 2016).

f) Scotland Generated 106% Energy From Wind: This year, high winds boosted renewable energy output to provide 106% of Scotland’s electricity needs for a day.

g) Costa Rica Ran on Renewables for 2+ Months: The country ran on 100% renewable energy for 76 days.

h) Google to Run 100% on Renewable Energy: Google has announced its entire global business will be powered by renewable energy in 2017.

i) Las Vegas’ City Government Meets Goal of 100% Power by Renewables: Las Vegas is now the largest city government in the country to run entirely on renewable energy.

j) Tesla’s Gigafactory: Tesla’s $5 billion structure in Nevada will produce 500,000 lithium ion batteries annually and Tesla’s Model III vehicle. It is now over 30 percent complete… the 10 million square foot structure is set to be done by 2020. Musk projected that a total of 100 Gigafactories could provide enough storage capacity to run the entire planet on renewables.

3. Glimpsing the End of Cancer and Disease

Though it may seem hard to believe, the end of cancer and disease is near.

Scientists and researchers have been working diligently to find novel approaches to combating these diseases, and 2016 saw some extraordinary progress in this regard.

Here’re my top 10 picks that give me great faith about our abilities to cure cancer and most diseases:

a) Cancer Immunotherapy Makes Strides (Extraordinary Results): Immunotherapy involves using a patient’s own immune system (in this case, T cells) to fight cancer. Doctors remove immune cells from patients, tag them with “receptor” molecules that target the specific cancer, and then infuse the cells back in the body. During the study, 94% of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) saw symptoms vanish completely. Patients with other blood cancers had response rates greater than 80%, and more than half experienced complete remission.

b) In China, CRISPR/Cas9 used in First Human Trial: A team of scientists in China (Sichuan University) became the first to treat a human patient with an aggressive form of lung cancer with the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique.

c) NIH Approves Human Trials Using CRISPR: A team of physicians at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine had their project of modifying the immune cells of 18 different cancer patients with the CRISPR-Cas9 system approved by the National Institute of Health. Results are TBD.

d) Giant Leap in Treatment of Diabetes from Harvard: For the first time, Harvard stem cell researchers created “insulin producing” islet cells to cure diabetes in mice. This offers a promising cure in humans as well.

e) HIV Genes Cut Out of Live Animals Using CRISPR: Scientists at the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple University were able to successfully cut out the HIV genes from live animals, and they had over a 50% success rate.

f) New Treatment Causes HIV Infected Cells to Vanish: A team of scientists in the U.K. discovered a new treatment for HIV. The patient was treated with vaccines that helped the body recognize the HIV-infected cells. Then, the drug Vorinostat was administered to activate the dormant cells so they could be spotted by the immune system.

g) CRISPR Cures Mice of Sickle Cell Disease: CRISPR was used to completely cure sickle cell by editing the errant DNA sequence in mice. The treatment may soon be used to cure this disease, which affects about 100,000 Americans.

h) Eradicating Measles (in the U.S.): The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that after 50 years, they have successfully eradicated measles in the U.S. This is one of the most contagious diseases around the world.

i) New Ebola Vaccine Proved to be 100% Effective: None of the nearly 6,000 individuals vaccinated with rVSV-ZEBOV in Guinea, a country with more than 3,000 confirmed cases of Ebola, showed any signs of contracting the disease.

j) Eradicating Polio: The World Health Organization has announced that it expects to fully eradicate polio worldwide by Early 2017.

4. Progress on Extending Human Life

I am personally convinced that we are on the verge of significantly impacting human longevity. At a minimum, making “100 years old the new 60,” as we say at Human Longevity Inc.

This year, hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into research initiatives and companies focused on extending life.

Here are five of the top stories from 2016 in longevity research:

a) 500-Year-Old Shark Discovered: A Greenland shark that could have been over 500 years old was discovered this year, making the species the longest-lived vertebrate in the world.

b) Genetically Reversing Aging: With an experiment that replicated stem cell-like conditions, Salk Institute researchers made human skin cells in a dish look and behave young again, and mice with premature aging disease were rejuvenated with a 30% increase in lifespan. The Salk Institute expects to see this work in human trials in less than 10 years.

c) 25% Life Extension Based on Removal of Senescent Cells: Published in the medical journal Nature, cell biologists Darren Baker and Jan van Deursen have found that systematically removing a category of living, stagnant cells can extend the life of mice by 25 percent.

d) Funding for Anti-Aging Startups: Jeff Bezos and the Mayo Clinic-backed Anti-Aging Startup Unity Biotechnology with $116 million. The company will focus on medicines to slow the effects of age-related diseases by removing senescent cells (as mentioned in the article above).

e) Young Blood Experiments Show Promising Results for Longevity: Sakura Minami and her colleagues at Alkahest, a company specializing in blood-derived therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, have found that simply injecting older mice with the plasma of young humans twice a week improved the mice’s cognitive functions as well as their physical performance. This practice has seen a 30% increase in lifespan, and increase in muscle tissue and cognitive function.

More at: https://singularityhub.com/2017/01/05/10-tech-trends-that-made-the-world-better-in-2016/

Scientists reverse aging in mice by repairing damaged DNA

March 30, 2017

Could lead to an anti-aging drug that counters damage from old age, cancer, and radiation.

A research team led by Harvard Medical School professor of genetics David Sinclair, PhD, has made a discovery that could lead to a revolutionary new drug that allows cells to repair DNA damaged by aging, cancer, and radiation.

In a paper published in the journal Science on Friday (March 24), the scientists identified a critical step in the molecular process related to DNA damage.

The researchers found that a compound known as NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is naturally present in every cell of our body, has a key role as a regulator in protein-to-protein interactions that control DNA repair. In an experiment, they found that treating mice with a NAD+ precursor called NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide) improved their cells’ ability to repair DNA damage.

“The cells of the old mice were indistinguishable from the young mice, after just one week of treatment,” said senior author Sinclair.

Disarming a rogue agent: When the NAD molecule (red) binds to the DBC1 protein (beige), it prevents DBC1 from attaching to and incapacitating a protein (PARP1) that is critical for DNA repair. (credit: David Sinclair)

Human trials of NMN therapy will begin within the next few months to “see if these results translate to people,” he said. A safe and effective anti-aging drug is “perhaps only three to five years away from being on the market if the trials go well.”

What it means for astronauts, childhood cancer survivors, and the rest of us

The researchers say that in addition to reversing aging, the DNA-repair research has attracted the attention of NASA. The treatment could help deal with radiation damage to astronauts in its Mars mission, which could cause muscle weakness, memory loss, and other symptoms (see “Mars-bound astronauts face brain damage from galactic cosmic ray exposure, says NASA-funded study“), and more seriously, leukemia cancer and weakened immune function (see “Travelers to Mars risk leukemia cancer, weakend immune function from radiation, NASA-funded study finds“).

The treatment could also help travelers aboard aircraft flying across the poles. A 2011 NASA study showed that passengers on polar flights receive about 12 percent of the annual radiation limit recommended by the International Committee on Radiological Protection.

The other group that could benefit from this work is survivors of childhood cancers, who are likely to suffer a chronic illness by age 45, leading to accelerated aging, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancers unrelated to the original cancer, the researchers noted.

For the past four years, Sinclair’s team has been working with spinoff MetroBiotech on developing NMN as a drug. Sinclair previously made a link between the anti-aging enzyme SIRT1 and resveratrol. “While resveratrol activates SIRT1 alone, NAD boosters [like NMN] activate all seven sirtuins, SIRT1-7, and should have an even greater impact on health and longevity,” he says.

Sinclair is also a professor at the University of New South Wales School of Medicine in Sydney, Australia.


Abstract of A conserved NAD+ binding pocket that regulates protein-protein interactions during aging

DNA repair is essential for life, yet its efficiency declines with age for reasons that are unclear. Numerous proteins possess Nudix homology domains (NHDs) that have no known function. We show that NHDs are NAD+ (oxidized form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) binding domains that regulate protein-protein interactions. The binding of NAD+ to the NHD domain of DBC1 (deleted in breast cancer 1) prevents it from inhibiting PARP1 [poly(adenosine diphosphate–ribose) polymerase], a critical DNA repair protein. As mice age and NAD+ concentrations decline, DBC1 is increasingly bound to PARP1, causing DNA damage to accumulate, a process rapidly reversed by restoring the abundance of NAD+. Thus, NAD+ directly regulates protein-protein interactions, the modulation of which may protect against cancer, radiation, and aging.