Research on mice which were sent to the International Space Station (ISS) have helped scientists identify a protein that appears to have a major role in the ageing process, suggests a joint study by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Tohoku University.
The research showed that the protein, called nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2, or Nrf2, slowed down mice's part of biological changes similar to ageing, Kyodo News reported on Tuesday.
Known as a master regulator of the antioxidant response, Nrf2 turns the stress defence mechanism on and off.
For the experiment, 12 mice were sent to the space station aboard a SpaceX Falcon rocket in 2018.
Half of these mice were genetically engineered to not have the protein Nrf2.
The study revealed that the mice group without Nrf2 experienced speedy changes in blood components similar to those induced by ageing.
The group with the protein hardly showed such transformation.
"The results highlight the significance of the role Nrf2 plays in cushioning the impact of space-derived stress," Masayuki Yamamoto, Professor at Tohoku University who led the study, was quoted as saying.
The discovery could pave way for new treatments for a wide range of old age-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease and diabetes, according to scientists.
It could also lead to solutions for space travel-related health risks.