The keys to the kingdom of biology are numerous and small - but those are the only obstacles to obtaining control over growth, structure, disease and aging. If you have the tools to manage the small, then progress towards the end of disease and aging is only a matter of many willing hands, investment and hard work.
We humans will adapt to anything, including the stream of constantly amazing, wonderous demonstrations of medical technology arriving thick and fast in this new century. No-one is as amazed as they should be any more by the likes of this:
In a dramatic demonstration of what nanotechnology might achieve in regenerative medicine, paralyzed lab mice with spinal cord injuries have regained the ability to walk using their hind limbs six weeks after a simple injection of a purpose-designed nanomaterial.
"By injecting molecules that were designed to self-assemble into nanostructures in the spinal tissue, we have been able to rescue and regrow rapidly damaged neurons," said Dr. Stupp at an April 23 session hosted by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. "The nanofibers -- thousands of times thinner than a human hair -- are the key to not only preventing the formation of harmful scar tissue which inhibits spinal cord healing, but to stimulating the body into regenerating lost or damaged cells."
Stupp's work hinges on a fundamental area of nanotechnology -- self- assembly -- that someday should enable medical researchers to tailor and deliver individualized patient treatments in previously unimaginable ways. Stupp and his coworkers designed molecules with the capacity to self-assemble into nanofibers once injected into the body with a syringe. When the nanofibers form they can be immobilized in an area of tissue where it is necessary to activate some biological process, for example saving damaged cells or regenerating needed differentiated cells from stem cells.
Imagine if scientists could peer into the blood and see the very first aberrant cells that will give birth to leukemia and then watch as the disease slowly progresses and takes over the body.
Well, Canadian researchers have done just that - converted normal human blood cells into leukemia stem cells, then transplanted them into lab mice and witnessed the disease unfold.
"What's new and different is they've actually been able to take a specific gene rearrangement that we have known about for quite a number of years in human leukemias and been able to take that specific abnormality and put it back into normal human cells and show that it does in fact cause leukemia."
There should be no doubt that disease and aging - which are, after all, nothing more than undesirable rearrangements of biological molecules - can be defeated in the long run. Look at what can be done today, and extrapolate out by decades of breakneck advances in scale, quality and cost reduction. Moving molecules around with precision and intent is something that scientists are eagerly engaged in perfecting.
The real question of importance is not "if," but rather "when?" Will the technologies of longevity, rejuvenation and healthy life extension arrive soon enough to benefit those of us reading this today? That's very much up to us, and how much we care to help matters along.