Read Up On Serious Anti-Aging Science Weekend, Part II

Yesterday, I pointed you towards the work of Aubrey de Grey and Joao Pedro de Magalhaes. Today, I'll ask you to think about regenerative medicine and nanomedicine - two broad fields presently in their infancy that could have profound effects on your healthy life span.

Regenerative medicine - especially that based on the use of stem cells - is essentially aimed at controlling existing cellular processes to promote healing that would not otherwise have occurred. Implanting (or reimplanting) adult stem cells that release biochemical signals encouraging new healthy tissue growth is regenerative medicine. This can presently be accomplished. Engineering large masses of tissue - including, researchers hope, entire organs complete with the proper blood vessel structure - via therapeutic cloning of a patient's own cells is also regenerative medicine. We will most likely see this happen within a decade.

Regenerative medicine is, in essence, the path to a toolkit that allows damaged tissue in the body to be replaced, repaired or regrown. How long would your car last without replacement parts? How long will it last with access to replacement parts? That is the sort of difference that regenerative medicine could make to the healthy human life span.

Regenerative medicine will grow and become ever more effective as researchers understand more about human genetics and biochemistry. We are barely at the start of this process, yet we can already effectively treat heart disease in human trials using adult stem cells, and have cured the equivalent of Parkinson's and diabetes in mice using embryonic stem cells.

(As an aside, I should note that regenerative medicine cannot protect us from cancer - which appears to result from a different sort of age-related process. Even if the effects of disease and age-related conditions will be repaired with regenerative medicine, our vulnerability to cancer will still increase with time. The threat of cancer must be dealt with in other ways. Fortunately a great deal of progress has been made towards transforming cancer into a chronic, survivable condition).

Nanomedicine is simply the "wet" applications of nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter and creating machines on a scale of nanometers - the same size scale as cells, bacteria and viruses. It is natural that we would turn newfound expertise in nanoscale manufacturing to medical applications.

The first applications of nanotechnology to medicine are diagnostic in nature. Control of fluids in microarrays, sophisticated genetic tests embedded in silicon chips and similar marvels have enabled great advances in the sophistication and capabilities of diagnostic medicine. Diagnostics are not a sideshow - preventation is always far better than a cure, and diagnostic advances shift the balance of medicine towards identification of risks and use of appropriate prevention strategies. Early diagnosis is already the difference between surviving and dying from cancer, for example.

Early nanomedicine is already looking to merge with regenerative medicine - through reprogramming cellular processes via the use of nanoscale devices. This may turn out to be very much more efficient, and thus less costly, than current methodologies.

More advanced nanotechnology offers some impressive future visions and opportunities to greatly extend our healthy life spans. Scientists are investigating how to use medical nanorobots to carry oxygen in blood, fight infections and repair damaged DNA - all many times more efficiently than our existing biological mechanisms can manage. These advances are probably no more than a few decades away; researchers can already construct fairly complex nanoscale structures - efficient mass production is the goal that takes time to reach.

As you can see, a great deal of medical research currently taking place could have a large impact on the future of our health and longevity. You owe it to yourself to be aware of this - it greatly affects your plans for the future. Beyond that, remember that we get the future that we work towards and call for. Nothing is set in stone. If you want to ensure that regenerative medicine and nanomedicine are used to extend the healthy human life span - and there is no certainty that this will happen - then you have to speak out!


Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.