Engineered Longevity, Longevity Science Research

Longevity Science Research

Funding Aging Research

Engineered Longevity

posted on June 9, 2009

"According to the actuarial tables used by insurance companies, if you are in your 20s now you prob­ably have about 50 years more to live. If you are in your 40s, you have only about 30 years more and if you are in your 60s your life-expectancy is only about 10 years. These tables are based on averages, of course - not everybody dies precisely at the median age of 72.5 years - but these insurance tables are the best mathematical guesses about how long you will be with us. Right? Wrong.

Recent advances in gerontology (the science of aging, not to be confused with geriatrics, the treatment of the aged) have led many sober and cautious scientists to believe that human lifespan can be doubled, tripled or even extended indefinitely in this generation. If these researchers are right, nobody can predict your life expectancy. All the traditional assumptions on which the actuarial tables rest are obsolete. You might live a thousand years or even longer."

The words above were written in 1978 by Robert Anton Wilson, one of a number of advocates for engineered longevity who have since aged to death. They looked at the pace of research in their era and saw themselves at the dawn of an age of biotechnology and radical life extension. They were wrong, and they were too early - which should make all of us at least a little uncomfortable. How are we any different? What can we point to that shows us to be in a better situation, actually at the dawn of the era of engineered longevity, rather than once again a generation too early?

"The Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) could have been proposed in the 1970s, in a very similar way to their present form, had some determined fellow existed with the keys to research vaults and a great deal of time to assemble all the necessary insights. But in the 1970s, getting proto-SENS to work in mice would not have been a billion-dollar, ten year proposal as is presently the case. It would have required a far greater initiative, one to rival the space program or the formation of the NIH. In 2009 we live in an age of biotechnology and life science capabilities that is far, far removed from the rudiments of 1970.

Work that today can be achieved by a single postgrad in a few months for a few tens of thousands of dollars would have required entire dedicated laboratories, years of labor, and tens of millions of dollars in the 1970s.

"Today, we can point to such things as successful efforts in the laboratory to safely replace all damaged mitochondria in living animals, for example. We know that the present state of biotechnology is sufficient to make real progress in the repair of aging, and that this technology base is advancing much more rapidly than in the past."

Thanks to Reason from for this information. Notice that the average lifespan in 1978 was only 72.5 years? Now it™s up to 78. That™s a 7.6% increase, almost 2 ½ months a year, and we™re just getting started.

Have you seen h+ Magazine?

It is reminiscent of the old, more adventurous Wired, but with much more of a slant towards life sciences and longevity engineering. Short, snappy fascinating articles on other technologies too that will let you glimpse the future. 


Enhancing Muscle Regeneration (June 04 2009)
In many situations we won't always need stem cell transplants to build a regenerative therapy. In theory, with sufficient understanding, we could instruct existing stem cells in the body to do the job instead: researchers "have discovered a powerful new way to stimulate muscle regeneration, paving the way for new treatments for debilitating conditions such as muscular dystrophy. The research [shows] for the first time that a protein called Wnt7a increases the number of stem cells in muscle tissue, leading to accelerated growth and repair of skeletal muscle. This discovery shows us that by targeting stem cells to boost their numbers, we can improve the body's ability to repair muscle tissue. The Wnt7a protein, when introduced into mouse muscle tissue, significantly increased the population of these satellite stem cells and fueled the regeneration process, creating bigger and stronger muscles. Muscle tissue mass was increased by nearly 20 per cent in the study. Our findings point the way to the development of new therapeutic treatment for muscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy, sarcopenia and muscle wasting conditions resulting from extended hospital stays and surgeries."

An Example of Corneal Regeneration (June 04 2009)
From the Australian: "Three Australians have had their sight restored thanks to their own stem cells and ordinary contact lenses. Although the novel technique was used to reverse blinding corneal disease, it promises to be a quick, painless and cheap treatment for other visual disorders. It may even be useful for repairing damaged skin. We're quietly excited. We don't know yet if (the correction) will remain stable, but if it does it's a wonderful technique. Two of the three patients were legally blind in the treated eye; they can now read big letters on the eye chart. The third could read the top few rows of the chart but is now able to pass the vision test for a driving license. The idea to team stem cells with contact lenses came from an observation [that] stem cells from the cornea, or front of the eye, stick to contact lenses. To obtain the stem cells, Dr Watson took less than a millimeter of tissue from the side of each patients' cornea [and] cultured stem cells from the tissue in extended wear contact lenses. Dr Watson then cleaned the surface of the patients' corneas and inserted the lenses. Within 10 to 14 days the stem cells began to attach to the cornea."

Regenerating Lost Hair (June 03 2009)
We humans are driven by vanity. I'd give fair odds that tissue engineering of new hair will be widely available before tissue engineering of the simpler internal organs. Here's an example progress in this field:
"Professor Lin Sung-jan took 10 hair follicles from rodents and cultivated 8 to 10 million dermal papilla cells in vitro in 20 days. Using aggregates of between 3 and 5 million dermal papilla cells, he mixed these with rodent skin cells and transplanted them onto bare rodent skin, which sprouted hair. Discovering that dermal papilla cells function to send signals and implement instructions, Lin developed biomaterial that can assemble and produce such cells. He also developed a bio-reaction device for use in mass-producing micro-tissues to induce hair follicle regeneration. Lin has also taken human hair follicles and conducted similar experiments, successfully growing hair on the skin of rodents. In future, he hopes to be able to control the size and color of hair grown."

Prospects for Combined Gene and Stem Cell Therapy (June 01 2009)

Here is news of a technology demonstration that hints the future of medicine, "proving in principle that a human genetic disease can be cured using a combination of gene therapy and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology. The hope in the field has always been that we'll be able to correct a disease genetically and then make iPS cells that differentiate into the type of tissue where the disease is manifested and bring it to clinic. After taking hair or skin cells from patients with Fanconi anemia, the investigators corrected the defective gene in the patients' cells using gene therapy techniques. They then successfully reprogrammed the repaired cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Since bone marrow failure as a result of the progressive decline in the numbers of functional hematopoietic stem cells is the most prominent feature of Fanconi anemia, the researchers then tested whether patient-specific iPS cells could be used as a source for transplantable hematopoietic stem cells. They found that [the] cells readily differentiated into hematopoietic progenitor cells primed to differentiate into healthy blood cells. We haven't cured a human being, but we have cured a cell. In theory we could transplant it into a human and cure the disease."

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