Can we really hope to slow down the ageing process? The compound nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) has shown plenty of promise at increasing the lifespans of mice, and is about to be put to the test in human clinical trials for the first time.
Next month, 10 healthy volunteers will be given NMN to see if it can slow down ageing without any harmful side-effects. If the results are positive and the drug is given the all-clear for public use, it'll be the first genuine anti-ageing product on the market.
As George Dvorsky reports at Gizmodo, NMN stimulates the production of a class of proteins called sirtuins, which usually grow weaker as we get older.
When tested on mice, NMN was shown to stop the natural declines in metabolism, eyesight, and glucose intolerance, all of which tend to drop off as we get older. The question is, can it have the same effect in humans?
Mice are often used to test treatments because they share 95 to 98 percent of our genomes, and are afflicted by many of the same diseases. That said, there is plenty of doubt over how well tests on mice end up translating to the human body, so we'll just have to wait and see how well NMN does in human beings.
The trial will be run by Keio University in Japan with help from Washington University in St. Louis. The issue of ageing is of course a hot topic in Japan, where 40 percent of the population will be over 65 by the year 2055.
"We've confirmed a remarkable effect in the experiment using mice, but it's not clear yet how much [the compound] will affect humans," lead researcher Shin-ichiro Imai told The Japan News. "We'll carefully conduct the study, which I hope will result in important findings originating in Japan."
While NMN could be the first anti-ageing drug to officially hit the market, it's far from the only one in development. Last year, the experimental Alzheimer's drug J147 was found to have several anti-ageing effects - again in mice - while a common diabetes drug called metformin is also being trialled on humans as an anti-ageing treatment this year.
We're not yet on the verge of a Benjamin Button-style elixir, though - there are so many different factors involved in ageing, from weaker joints to a failing memory, it might even be impossible to stop the process completely.
But drugs that can extend life are definitely on the way in the near future, we'll just have to wait and see if nicotinamide mononucleotide will be the leader of the pack.