When I was born there was no such thing as a desk-top computer. When I was born, there was no such thing as a cell-phone. Cable television didn’t exist. The first functional laser was demonstrated after I was born, so CDs and barcode scanners and so forth weren’t around.
And I’m only 50.
I have been trying to figure out what’s going to change the world as much as the laser and computer have changed it. I think the candidates fall into the broad category of ‘biotech’.
The ones that’ll take everything by storm are the biotechs that extend quality lifespans, and secondarily extend lifespans period.
I suspect that anyone under the age of 30, and think it likely anyone under the age of 20, will not only see the leading edge but have ‘regular’ access to techniques and capabilities that will let them live significantly longer, healthy and active lives.
I would be unsurprised to discover that these people will be as healthy and active — and have an appearance in line with — what I have now when they’re pushing 100.
Oh, and I think I’m out of luck. I might get some of this, but I’m probably a bit too old. See, I don’t think we’ll see most of it for the general population for another couple of decades. As I’ll be 70 then, barring something that today seems miraculous I’ll be ‘stuck’ with a 70 year old body at best, in which I’ll linger for another 30 years or so.
So what are some of the things going on that make me believe all this? Well, I could start with cloning. Instead I’ll save that for a bit. Instead, let me mention some things I’ve seen here and there.
There’s DARPA’s skin spray. Instead of a skin graft, spray on this compound, protect it for a while (as in weeks to months for now) and the body grows new skin. Yes, it’s still experimental. OTOH yes, it works.
There’s another DARPA event of note: a hand transplant. Attach hand from a donor, while using a variety of other techniques. After a while it’s ‘just a hand’, with feeling and control. If that doesn’t amaze you, you haven’t worked through the issues of connective nerves.
And if you’re connecting nerves, you’re on the road to solving other issues.
But these are quality of life issues. What’s the deal with extended life?
Skin. Organs. Muscles. All we have to do is make them young again, right? We’re off on a couple of visits.
Visit one is the amazing Heber-Kretz regenerative mice. Cut off a limb, cut out an organ, and provided the mouse doesn’t die from the loss it regrows the part. It’s become pretty apparent the process is closely related to cancer — essentially cancer is uncontrolled regeneration of deformed cells, and this is controlled regeneration of properly formed cells. The mice have problems with high rates of cancer, but it appears learning how they regenerate is also giving insights into controlling the cancer. (One article, no longer linked, mentioned that a mouse with a cancerous organ could have the organ removed and the regen capability would replace the organ with a correct one. However, organ would then develop cancer down the road. It’s an interesting cycle.)
That process may not be transferable to people. On the other hand it wasn’t supposed to be possible in mice. Oh – it’s worth noting that if non-regenerative mice receive in an injection certain cells from the regen mice, they become regenerative. Transference is possible without cross-breeding.
The other process takes us back, finally, to cloning. For what it’s worth, don’t watch cloning in the US. We’ve pretty much blocked its development here in any meaningful way. But in other nations there are some significant strides taking place.
The flashiest news is in the UK. That’s because they’ve succeeded in producing animals (sheep and cows) by cloning them, and brought them to maturity. They do have problems but they’re getting there.
The news to watch is in South Korea. There, they’re trying to grow parts instead of whole animals. The problems in the whole animals are more obvious when in single organs. As a result there’s not been a “successful” growth. However, it appears to be the goal of this group to grow a heart and then transplant it. Expect to hear of one for a small animal in the next couple of years. Expect to hear of a larger animal success a few years after that. Human trials…. depend on the nation’s laws regarding them.
By the way, expect some of this to move fairly swiftly. The reason is simple vanity. It appears possible to replace follicle growing skin by way of a combination of DARPA’s skin growth and some things learned in cloning. In other words, a cure for male pattern baldness may be only some field tests away.
The future is here, and we have no idea how much it’s going to change our lives. Having lived through the past half-century, I can only predict the next is going to be wild. Buckle up.