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Friday, 8 February 2013

Immortality by 2045 - Or Longevity Today?

Immortality by 2045?
Or Longevity Today?


According to several thinkers, scientists, and inventors human immortality by 2045 or even as early as 2029 is not only possible, but it is inevitable. They all are currently exploring different paths to achieve this goal and are looking for more public support as well as public debate of this issue, but surprisingly there isn’t that much of it going on right now.

Given the social, political, moral, and spiritual implications of these coming new biotechnological breakthroughs and how radically they can change the lives of each and everyone of us, I believe that we all need to give this some thought, or we will be swept off our feet by all the changes that will come upon us within the next couple of decades.

In February of 2011 Time Magazine published a feature article titled, 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal, which described the predictions of a very well known inventor and currently Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzwail, who argues for some time now that we are about to approach what is called a “singularity point” due to exponential power of computing that we already possess beyond which we will surpass all biological limitations as a species including that of mortality.

Kurzwail envisions humanity being able to cure all major diseases such as cancer and diabetes through explosion in medical innovations for example through nano technology and robotic implants, the latter  of which he points out that we are already doing, giving as an example the pacemaker for people with heart disease and brain implants for people with Parkinson’s disease.

http://www.ieet.org/images/uploads/onhundred2.jpg In the future he sees us merging more and more with the increasingly powerful and intelligent machines that will serve as an extension of ourselves into an infinite future though he dislikes the term often used  for it “transhumanism,” because he argues that this will not make us lose our humanity, but will enhance it, though many other people do not see it in such a positive way. Kurzweil concedes to his critics that such technology as any other one invented by mankind will be a double edged sword and could be used for evil, but he warns that trying to stop it will only force it underground and thus make it even more dangerous. Instead he suggests that we must keep it all in the open and develop ways to harness it for good.

Instead of merging with the machines or transferring our consciousness’ onto them in order to live forever, Dr. Aubrey de Grey is working on ways that we could simply repair any damage caused by natural aging process at the cellular level. He likens it to “car maintenance” through which we can allow a machine (our body) that would otherwise fall into disrepair, function well way beyond its intended “lifespan”, so to speak.

Grey sees it as a natural consequence of medical science and technology’s striving to cure illnesses. He says that when we are able to cure damage caused by aging, we will prevent the development of any disease in the first place and thus prevent death due to these damages. Therefore according to Grey, immortality will be simply a by-product of our ability to repair any damages in our bodies.

This of course will not eliminate death by car accidents, starvation, murders and wars, but it will allow people to live up to hundreds of years of age or even more. He predicts that even if we start doing those “maintenance” sessions on people in 20 years, this will allow them to live well until the next session by which time the technology will have improved and that individual then would be able to have his biological clock set to 40 years prior and would thus have his life extended by double that amount with each maintenance session extending life further and further.

 While I am very wary of the Kurzweil’s road to longevity, I see the way of Aubrey de Grey as more plausible and less spiritually controversial as it would not alter our God given genetic code whatsoever. I can already see how great of a difference to aging process simple lifestyle choices and nutrition can make. A couple of weeks ago I looked through a family album and at one of my Mom’s pictures.

I realized that she was only 31 when this particular picture was taken and that I am now older than she was back then, but I look at least 10 years younger! And it wasn’t only my opinion. Some other family members and friends said the same thing, which means that due to my healthy lifestyle, I am aging at much slower rate than my Mom. My Mom started to smoke, drink alcohol socially at age twenty  as well as from even younger age she was very much given to sun tanning, all of which I don’t do, hence  I am doing less damage to my body and age slower.

 So, how big a difference these maintenance sessions could make? I think they could extend life spans greatly, especially if they start early in life. It sounds at once very scary and very exciting, depending on which road into the future we will take, but as these experts point out it is coming upon us and coming soon. We cannot escape it and we should take an active role in discussing these issues and its implications sooner, rather than later.


Harvard scientists reverse the ageing process in mice – now for humans

Harvard scientists were surprised that they saw a dramatic reversal, not just a slowing down, of the ageing in mice. Now they believe they might be able to regenerate human organs

Laboratory mouse in a scientist's hand

In mice, reactivating the enzyme telomerase led to the repair of damaged tissues and reversed the signs of ageing.
Photograph: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Scientists claim to be a step closer to reversing the ageing process after rejuvenating worn out organs in elderly mice. The experimental treatment developed by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, turned weak and feeble old mice into healthy animals by regenerating their aged bodies.

The surprise recovery of the animals has raised hopes among scientists that it may be possible to achieve a similar feat in humans – or at least to slow down the ageing process.

An anti-ageing therapy could have a dramatic impact on public health by reducing the burden of age-related health problems, such as dementia, stroke and heart disease, and prolonging the quality of life for an increasingly aged population.

"What we saw in these animals was not a slowing down or stabilisation of the ageing process. We saw a dramatic reversal – and that was unexpected," said Ronald DePinho, who led the study, which was published in the journal Nature.

"This could lead to strategies that enhance the regenerative potential of organs as individuals age and so increase their quality of life. Whether it serves to increase longevity is a question we are not yet in a position to answer."

The ageing process is poorly understood, but scientists know it is caused by many factors. Highly reactive particles called free radicals are made naturally in the body and cause damage to cells, while smoking, ultraviolet light and other environmental factors contribute to ageing.

http://api.ning.com/files/Tf*NEf9UKxStQ07FMIVAxtHdj9lz1PFotpA5e7MxzpdU7c8nbUzuV5zge6EcvWBzqHQ7*lLKHx-9tTlvuk4HCPlBjK8owOoj/transhuman.jpg?crop=1%3A1&width=171The Harvard group focused on a process called telomere shortening. Most cells in the body contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, which carry our DNA. At the ends of each chromosome is a protective cap called a telomere. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres are snipped shorter, until eventually they stop working and the cell dies or goes into a suspended state called "senescence". The process is behind much of the wear and tear associated with ageing.

At Harvard, they bred genetically manipulated mice that lacked an enzyme called telomerase that stops telomeres getting shorter. Without the enzyme, the mice aged prematurely and suffered ailments, including a poor sense of smell, smaller brain size, infertility and damaged intestines and spleens. But when DePinho gave the mice injections to reactivate the enzyme, it repaired the damaged tissues and reversed the signs of ageing.

"These were severely aged animals, but after a month of treatment they showed a substantial restoration, including the growth of new neurons in their brains," said DePinho.

Repeating the trick in humans will be more difficult. Mice make telomerase throughout their lives, but the enzyme is switched off in adult humans, an evolutionary compromise that stops cells growing out of control and turning into cancer. Raising levels of telomerase in people might slow the ageing process, but it makes the risk of cancer soar.

DePinho said the treatment might be safe in humans if it were given periodically and only to younger people who do not have tiny clumps of cancer cells already living, unnoticed, in their bodies.

David Kipling, who studies ageing at Cardiff University, said: "The goal for human tissue 'rejuvenation' would be to remove senescent cells, or else compensate for the deleterious effects they have on tissues and organs. Although this is a fascinating study, it must be remembered that mice are not little men, particularly with regard to their telomeres, and it remains unclear whether a similar telomerase reactivation in adult humans would lead to the removal of senescent cells."

Lynne Cox, a biochemist at Oxford University, said the study was "extremely important" and "provides proof of principle that short-term treatment to restore telomerase in adults already showing age-related tissue degeneration can rejuvenate aged tissues and restore physiological function."

DePinho said none of Harvard's mice developed cancer after the treatment. The team is now investigating whether it extends the lifespan of mice or enables them to live healthier lives into old age.

Tom Kirkwood, director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, said: "The key question is what might this mean for human therapies against age-related diseases? While there is some evidence that telomere erosion contributes to age-associated human pathology, it is surely not the only, or even dominant, cause, as it appears to be in mice engineered to lack telomerase. Furthermore, there is the ever-present anxiety that telomerase reactivation is a hallmark of most human cancers."

From The Guardian @ http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/nov/28/scientists-reverse-ageing-mice-humans

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