Pondering the Next Round Number

Short term predictions for the future, such as looking at the next ten years, are especially challenging; the random nature of life and circumstance tends to dominate on that timescale, which means the trends that can be picked up from various 30-60 year time frames are not so helpful as guidelines for progress. One good day or one bad day for a developer or fundraiser somewhere in the world can can spiral outward to move a due date for new technology a few years in either direction, but that sort of stochastic noise evens out over longer periods of time.

I've pondered the late 2030s to early 2040s in past years - which are still enough business cycles removed from here and now to expect a certain evening out of the uncertainties of progress. But what about the next round number between here and there: 2020? That is a more challenging and uncertain prospect, but here are some thoughts:

  • There will be a $5 million per year budget devoted to SENS-like research by a single organization. That may be the SENS Foundation, or it may be an existing organization whose leadership have become SENS-sympathetic.
  • The first batch of results from SENS Foundation research into removal of cellular aggregates will be somewhere in the middle of the Big Pharma pipeline, having been licensed out for development.
  • Simple stem cell transplant therapies will finally be available in the US without the FDA trying to shut them down - re-injection of largely unmodified stem cells from the patient to treat arthritic joints, for example. Look to what is available today for veterinary practice to see what will be available legally for humans in 2020. More sophisticated therapies will only be available in overseas clinics, and the best of those will be far better and far more effective.
  • No group will have yet doubled the life span of a mouse, and nor will there be any available means to do so. Yet.
  • The research community will have accomplished solid life span studies in normal mice for removal of senescent cells and partial correction of mitochondrial DNA damage. Both will be shown to extend life, but not by as much as we'd all like - and researchers will still be looking into why. Nonetheless, these are some of the first life span studies to involve repair biotechnologies to reverse aging, rather than alterations of metabolism to slow aging.
  • Decellularization of donor organs followed by transplant will have been made to work successfully for all major soft internal organs of the body in laboratory mammals.
  • A research group will have printed, from scratch, a full, functioning animal heart, kidney, or liver, and transplanted it successfully into a recipient lab animal.
  • A service somewhere in the world will offer culturing and implant of replacement natural teeth grown from dental pulp stem cells.
  • Cancer immunotherapies are still largely in the lab in the US, but first generation immunotherapy treatments - such as granulocyte transplant therapy - are widely available through medical tourism, and are becoming a hot topic of conversation in the cancer community due to their effectiveness.
  • Amateur groups organize online and offline to produce crowdsourced DIYbio lab protocols for personal improvement through biotechnology - the logical next step for self-help health engineers. This might range from engineering your own tailored probiotics or mouth bacteria at the low end, to groups trying to produce a gene therapy to boost muscle mass at the high end.

There are many other things that might happen between now and then that would be a big deal if they came to pass, but seem to be a roll of the dice in terms of odds - or at least I've no idea what the odds are. For example, will researchers figure out how to recreate salamander-style limb and organ regeneration in higher animals? That may or may not be possible with any ease, and the answers might be right around the corner or might take another twenty years to work themselves out. Or, to pick another example, researchers find a definitive gain-five-to-ten-years-absolutely-for-certain longevity mutation or therapy in humans. That seems pretty unlikely, but you never know.

Equally, SENS might acquire a Russian backer with exceedingly deep pockets - perhaps unlikely, but everyone else seems to have one. Any sort of large influx of interest or funds tends to throw off all the predictions for SENS and other nascent programs; the uncertain nature of fundraising is one of the reasons why near term predictions are so hard.


Given that De Grey has been saying Robust Mouse Rejuvenation is but ten years away since 2005 or so, it's sobering to think we'll barely be any closer to that goal in 2020. Of course, the "with adequate funding" caveat has always applied.

If he was right to make those speculative predictions when he did we're already talking about hundreds of millions of avoidable deaths that are now assured, and still no closer to RMR.

Posted by: Ben at March 5th, 2012 6:46 PM

Very insightful. As someone who tries to observe these trends too, my guess is you're pretty spot on. Most of what will come to fruition by 2020 is in development in one small-scale way or another at present.

Also, speaking of myostatin inhibition, I just read this amateur proposal last week:


Posted by: Patrick at March 6th, 2012 12:12 AM

I would add two more:

Blood will not come from donors anymore, but will be built from stem cell in a laboratory.

Arteries used in bypass procedures will be built using tissue engineering.

Posted by: Javier at March 6th, 2012 1:06 AM
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