Changing Dynamics of Aging, Research and Technology Enhancing Longevity

Changing Dynamics of Aging, Research and Technology Enhancing Longevity

Hemraj Singh, CO Founder, Building DoctCo, 0

A couple of years ago, you would have scoffed at the idea that human beings could be immortalized. Not anymore!

Medical science has made rapid strides over the last few decades and the ‘Human Genome Project’ unravelled mysteries about the building blocks of the human body. Today cutting-edge research is facilitating identification of diseases and finding cures for them.

Advancements in deep technology such as AI/ML, 3D printing, Blockchain, etc., are driving rapid changes in how we consume healthcare and more complex medical surgeries, procedures, and transplants.

Organ transplants have now become more or less commoditization, saving more complex and riskier transplants in liver, heart and lung. Today, medical experts and scientists are talking of a ‘full body transplant’, which would entail transplantation of a brain onto another body - not an easy proposition with the current technologies and medical expertise.

But what human beings can imagine, can accomplish. Dr Christiaan Barnard with his team performed the world's first human-to-human path breaking heart transplant operation on 03 December 1967 at Cape Town, South Africa. This set the stage for many similar seemingly challenging body organ transplant programs globally.

Yet, nothing satisfies the human spirit. Therefore, science is now exploring new frontiers in immortality. Ancient alchemists were obsessed with finding the elixir of life but it resides at the genetic level; the cellular, and genetic. Egyptians mummified human bodies hoping that they could be brought back to life someday. This could well be possible in future. Additionally, scientists are trying to revive a species of mammoths by separating its DNA from the corpse found recently.

Today, you can grow organs on the back of an animal for use in humans or 3D print some of the organs. Advanced research in regenerative medicine makes it possible to even regrow some of the damaged or malfunctioning organs. Stem cell therapy, for instance, can help repair and rejuvenate damaged organs and also treat some of the cancers.

Another emerging area seeing promising research is reversing aging. Epigenetic factors that affect gene expression are diet, environment, lifestyle, even our thoughts and most of us tend to overeat. Calorie restriction is another way to reverse aging.

Biological age is an indicator of how efficiently your vital body organs are functioning. Chronological age reflects only the number of years you have lived. That’s why you would often find people running marathon in their seventies and some getting exhausted even while climbing staircases.

Science is now exploring the possibility of Android bodies, an initiative that seeks to replace human bodies with robotic avatars. That is, if the contents of your brain can be downloaded, death becomes inconsequential, as long as it is running happily on IT, in the cloud. It would need a fine integration of a brain with machines and thanks to projects like Neuralink, an on-going project undertaken by Elon Musk that could see the light of day 2040.

Moreover, it is becoming increasingly possible to upload our identities on cloud. Human beings could live through computer simulation, by experiencing every sensation through imagination rather than physical stimuli. At the same time, we could also download our identities from the cloud into a robot body.

Likewise, nanotechnology has thrown immense possibilities, by incorporating AI; it can repair damaged organs or body tissue. It can find major use in treating cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and diabetes. Eventually, these nanobots will be able to eliminate biological disease and aging.
Genome is the driving force for all biological processes in the human body. Telomeres, repetitive nucleotide sequences at the end of a chromosome, are at the heart of longevity in human beings and form the basis for gene therapy. Telomeres are continuously shortened with cell division. This means that more the telomeres shorten, the faster the human body ages.

These technologies could help us re-imagine human lives in a different avatar, as we gradually morph into the digital age

Telomerase, an enzyme that lengthens telomeres, was identified in the late 80s. This enzyme can add DNA back to telomeres and has been described as the ‘immortality enzyme’. Research in UC Berkeley in 2018 set the stage for the usage of this enzyme. Once fully developed, it can be used to treat diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.

By infusing plasma from young people in older people, through regenerative blood transfusion, aging can be reversed. Blood of younger people is shown to contain high levels of GDF-11, an anti-aging protein. As people age, they gradually lose this protein. Although, studies in this field are inconclusive.

Cryonics technology is being used to freeze people at super cold temperatures, hoping that advancements in future technologies will enable them to come back to life again. In this, the body is cooled using liquid nitrogen hardening it without forming cell-damaging ice. Some companies in the West are already selling such technologies and solutions.

Today longevity pills are available in the market that could potentially extend human life by as much as 50 percent. The NAD+ supplementation molecule is known to slow down aging.

Another technique, cloning organs, is considered better than 3D printing. Scientists have been able to clone bone, ears, and skin in the past. This could be used to clone more complex organs in future. There are associated ethical questions in cloning of organs or human beings or attaining immortality.

Human desire to live into perpetuity is driving advancements in medical technology. Many faiths believe that human life is preordained, and mankind should not interfere with it.

India is at the forefront of fledgling organ transplantation programs in liver, kidney, heart, lung, cornea, hand transplant, intestines and now even uterus. Many of our healthcare facilities have been successfully performing these transplants on both domestic and international patients.

Many Indian companies are involved in stem-cell research and other emerging technologies. But a lot requires to be done in giving a fillip to these path breaking technologies. In the future, attaining immortality could be potentially a trillion-dollar industry.

Adequate investments at this stage could propel India in the pantheons of the greatest technology powerhouses in the world. Indian holy scriptures talk of the life after birth. These technologies could help us re-imagine human lives in a different avatar, as we gradually morph into the digital age.
There are a host of regulatory and ethical questions that need to be addressed before this could become a movement and gain appreciable traction.

There are always counter arguments on both ends of the spectrum, but human lives may perish in pandemics, wars, or natural calamities. Besides, how many lives can mother earth sustain if everybody wants to attain immortality. What happens to new births, shall we have them, or cloning will suffice? What about marriage as an institution? Will human relationships undergo a change or rejig as well? How will inheritance shape up? What about education, job, workplace, citizenship? There are too many imponderables that beg answers.

Covid pandemic has demonstrated the transience of human lives. But the ultimate conquest is still a far cry. It may take few more decades before the human quest to attain immortality becomes a raging reality.