Do You Want to Live Forever?
The global average life expectancy has been on a steady rise due to the constant advances in modern medicine. Breakthroughs in various fields of technology have also made the past century an unbelievable roller coaster. More importantly, technology and medicine have become very important partners in modern medical practice. But the search to conquer the effects of aging and the challenges it brings is still out. It’s innovations in the fields, of tissue engineering and biorobotics, for example, which are making living past a century very realistic within our lifetime. But what about immortality? We’ve already identified more than 60 genes responsible for our aging and there is enough evidence to suggest that living for thousands of years is possible, although we haven’t discovered the secret just yet. However, leading scientist Dr. Aubrey De Grey believes that the first human to reach 150 years old has already been born and the first person who will live to 1,000 is likely to be born less than 20 years after the first person to reach 150. Want that person to be you? Here are some modern breakthroughs that will help get you there:
Imagine not needing to wait for an organ donor. Imagine implant materials that can "grow", reshape themselves, or change their function as the body requires and provide the basis for regeneration. This is something that is very possible thanks to recent advances in tissue engineering. According to Professor M.V. Sefton at the University of Toronto’s institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, “tissue engineering involves the development of a new generation of materials or devices capable of specific interactions with biological tissues.” Essentially, these organs would be constructed using a patient’s original cell structure and DNA from their own body; ensuring that the new organ will work inside the patient’s body once transplanted. Any errors along the way however, and the new organ will not work. This method is still in the early stages of development but once perfected, organs such as the pancreas, liver, lungs and skin will be able to be replaced very easily. Experts predict the average life expectancy will smoothly reach 100 years of age once this technology is fully developed.
Although prosthetic limbs have been around for a long time, they are far from perfect. Recent advance in technology, however, have allowed patients to attain a greater sense of comfort and control over their new prostheses. Taking this a step further, scientists and medical experts have begun designing robotic prosthetics that can be controlled via neurons in the brain. Using myoelectric signals, -- signals that cause muscle fibers in the body to contract -- artificial limbs will be enhanced allowing their users fine motor control and movement. This will allow for a higher quality of life for those who have lost their limbs. But that is not all; currently, developers are looking to incorporate the sense of feeling into prosthetics as well and are working on making them appear less robotic and more life-like through the development of artificial skin. It’s not inconceivable that one day even healthy individuals will be opting in for prosthetic enhancements to improve our body’s natural abilities.
An industry still in its infancy, biorobotics seeks to create biological organisms through artificial means. Using the life sciences, which include such fields as biology, psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary theory, biorobotics applies these sciences to robots so they act like living organisms. This would enable these machines to also adapt to their surrounding environment. These types of robots could have huge benefits for the medical field. In 2009 at Italy’s Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, researchers were able to design the “spider pill”, a miniature robotic device that can be swallowed and whose movement is inspired by a living spider. This “spider pill” can be used during testing to detect cancerous cell growth in the stomach and colon. This device is also fixed with a camera and controlled wirelessly from the outside, giving doctors a clear picture of any abnormal cell growth. The moveable legs on this tiny biorobot provide a comfortable and painless experience for the patient. After testing is complete, the spider pill exits the body naturally making the process virtually harmless. Eventually, scientists hope to create miniature biorobotics organisms than can be dispersed within the blood stream and act as white blood cells, destroying any harmful bacteria or other cells that may be harmful to our health. Experts predict the life expectancy with such devices would increase to nearly 130 years once successfully implemented in health systems.
The skin protects us from many harmful elements in our various environments. Throughout your lifetime your skin takes a lot of damage from these elements and loses its ability to produce collagen, a fibrous protein essential to maintaining young and healthy skin. As the skin ages, it loses its elasticity resulting first in fine lines and eventually wrinkles. Current technologies are available to stimulate collagen production over the course of a few months to a year. Researchers are looking to create an instant spray on chemical that can be sprayed directly onto the skin and erase years in a matter of a few minutes. These chemicals would provide a cure to aging skin rather than a preventative measure, which is what is mainly available presently through most technologies. Last year, a spray on technology called ReCell® Spray On Skin™ was introduced into the market. This new innovation “enables surgeons and clinicians to treat skin defects using the patient's own cells in a regenerative process, accelerating healing, minimizing scar formation, eliminating tissue rejection and reintroducing pigmentation to the skin” (Avita Medical). This technology has been designed for use in a wide variety of reconstructive cosmetic procedures including scarring and burns. Patients can complete the process in a half hour outside a laboratory. Innovations such as these are making the goal for permanent youthful skin more attainable than ever before.
With the partnership of technology, health and science, breakthroughs are becoming larger and more common. New fields within the medicine industry are emerging every year as a result of these innovations and research yielding very promising results. And while immortality may be out of reach just yet, the possibility is beginning to lean in that direction.
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