If you wander over to Maria Konovalenko's English-language blog, you'll find a brace of recent posts on research relevant to those of us interested in engineered longevity.
Your liver is failing critically. A transplant would save your life, but there's a long waiting list and the odds are stacked against you. So instead, doctors extract some of your bone marrow, liver and muscle cells, go back to their laboratory and return in a few weeks with … a freshly grown liver! Does this sound like material from a Hollywood sci-fi movie? Well Not anymore. Australian researchers in Melbourne are now hard at work growing spare parts, proving their stuff in animal - and even human trials!
Working in a handful of medical centers around the country, the biotech firm Geron is treating eight to 10 recent paraplegics. The patients will receive an injection of neurons to the site of the damage, followed by a short treatment of anti-rejection drugs. The first patient is reported as a patient in an Atlanta spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital. To take part in the study, the patient had to have suffered a spinal or brain injury that resulted in paralysis from the chest down. This patient was injected with cells derived from human embryonic stem cells obtained from a fertility clinic. Researchers are optimistic that this human embryonic stem cell therapy will not only help alleviate the symptoms of the injury, but permanently repair the damage that caused the paralysis from the spinal cord injury.
The study shows that the ability of old human muscle to be maintained and repaired by muscle stem cells can be restored to youthful vigor given the right mix of biochemical signals. Professor Irina Conboy, a faculty member in the graduate bioengineering program that is run jointly by UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, is the head of the research team that conducted the study. Previous research that Conboy had done in animals, revealed that the ability of adult stem cells to repair and replace damaged tissue is governed by the molecular signals they get from surrounding muscle tissue, and that those signals change with age in ways that preclude productive tissue repair. Those studies also demonstrated that the regenerative function in old stem cells can be revived given the appropriate biochemical signals!
Perhaps the most exciting possibility exists in the potential for repairing our bodies at the cellular level. Techniques in nanorobotics are being developed that should make the repair of our cells possible. For example, as we age, DNA in our cells is damaged by radiation or chemicals in our bodies. Nanorobots would be able to repair the damaged DNA and allow our cells to function correctly. This ability to repair DNA and other defective components in our cells goes beyond keeping us healthy: it has the potential to restore our bodies to a more youthful condition. .
Aging is fundamentally no different from any other physical disorder; it is no magical effect of calendar dates on a mysterious life-force. Brittle bones, wrinkled skin, low enzyme activities, slow wound healing, poor memory, and the rest all result from damaged molecular machinery, chemical imbalances, and mis-arranged structures. By restoring all the cells and tissues of the body to a youthful structure, repair machines will restore youthful health.
When it comes right down to it, all medicine is nanomedicine - every therapy involves attempts to change specific nanoscale structures in our bodies, replacing or repairing damaged biological machinery. The advance of medicine is exactly a case of producing ever more sophisticated, capable, and controlled ways of accomplishing these goals.