I want to explore the different methods available for life extension technology. Now, this post could be a pages-long research paper, or I could do what most bloggers do and make up half-remembered facts from Wikipedia. I will strive to strike a balance between these two extremes and present information in short but accurate form.
The first and least exciting method to lengthen your life is caloric restriction. So far, this is the only method that everyone agrees works. The basic idea is that you reduce the amount of calories (food) you take in on a daily basis. How does this help you live longer? Well, when you live on just the minimum calories your body needs (and you do it consistently), your cells go into starvation mode and make themselves hardier and less prone to disease. That’s the leading theory anyway. This usually translates to a 50% longer lifespan.
The second method is to take Resveratrol. In a famous study by Harvard University, the effects of resveratrol can be clearly seen.
We report a striking transcriptional overlap of CR and resveratrol in heart, skeletal muscle and brain. Both dietary interventions inhibit gene expression profiles associated with cardiac and skeletal muscle aging, and prevent age-related cardiac dysfunction. Dietary resveratrol also mimics the effects of CR in insulin mediated glucose uptake in muscle. Gene expression profiling suggests that both CR and resveratrol may retard some aspects of aging through alterations in chromatin structure and transcription.
In mice fed a high calorie diet, but supplemented with resveratrol, they showed a significant increase in balance and motor coordination. They had a higher quality of life than the mice without the resveratrol According to scientific studies, resveratrol has been shown to lengthen the lifespans of yeast and fish by 60%.
“We made a striking observation,” says Sinclair. “Resveratrol opposed the effects of high caloric intake in 144 out of 153 significantly altered pathways. In terms of gene expression and pathway comparison, the resveratrol fed group was more similar to the standard diet fed group than the high calorie group.”In humans, high calorie diets can increase glucose and insulin levels leading to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In the HC fed mice, researchers found biomarkers that might predict diabetes, including increased levels of insulin, glucose and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Conversely, the HCR fed group had significantly lower levels of these markers, paralleling the SD group.
Organ Protection: Heart and Liver
Three pathologists examined heart tissue from the SD, HC, and HCR mice, and while not knowing which organ belonged to which mouse group, they looked for subtle changes in the abundance of fatty lesions, degeneration and inflammation. On a relative scale of 0-4, the assessment produced mean scores of 1.6 for the SD group, 3.2 for the HC group, and 1.2 for the HCR group. R also activates the SIRT1 gene, that helps increase longevity.At 114 weeks, when the mice reached old age, more than half of the high calorie mice died compared to less than a third of the high calorie mice receiving resveratrol. The overweight resveratrol-treated aged mice were healthier than the overweight mice that were not given resveratrol on a number of measures. For example, the untreated high calorie mice had increased plasma levels of insulin, glucose and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) 1 — markers that in humans predict the onset of diabetes — when compared with their overweight counterparts who did receive resveratrol. In November 2008, researchers at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University reported that dietary supplementation with resveratrol significantly reduced plaque formation in animal brains, a component of Alzheimer and other Neurodegenerative diseases.
The third method is cloning and body part replacement. This has been used for years, in some sense. The first artificial heart was implanted in 1982. Organs from Pigs and other animals have also been used successfully, but the best replacement is from a human. One major issue with organ transplants is that sometimes the host body rejects the new organ because it sees it as a foreign invader. Cloning would solve this problem. If you need a new heart, have one custom grown for you using your own DNA. That way, when it’s installed, your body would accept it as part of yourself with no problems. Scientists have been able to grow individual organs, so the scenario in the movie “The Island” where a complete clone is kept for organ harvesting for rich people, would be avoided. However, sometime in the future, we may be able to grow a full grown clone without conciousness, so that once we can capture and transfer conciousness, would make switching bodies like putting on a new pair of running shoes and throwing out your old, worn out ones.
A fourth method is cryonics. Basically you freeze yourself. You would only use this method if you had some incurable disease in the hopes that at some point in the future, they would 1) be able to thaw you out and bring you back to life. and 2) cure whatever disease you were going to die from.
There are two main problems with this approach right now. One is that if you freeze a normal human body, the water in your blood and cells will expand during freezing and rupture your veins and tissues. When they thaw you out, you’ll be a mushy, leaky, bloody mess. The solution would be to replace all the fluids in your body with antifreeze, prior to freezing. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. People have already successfully vitrified a rabbit kidney, then thawed it and transplanted it into a live rabbit.
The other problem is that right now, society won’t let a scientist help freeze your body while you are still alive. If you had a brain tumor and knew you would be dead in a year, you would want to freeze your body before the tumor expanded throughout your brain causing massive damage. You would want to freeze your (relatively) healthy body so there would be less damage that the future doctors would have to repair. But as it stands now, you would have to wait until you died from your disease, before your body could be frozen. Maybe a change in the language of assisted suicide could help this issue. Because it’s not suicide, you see, it’s just pushing the “pause” button.
Yet another method is mind uploading. This is the farthest out there in terms of technology. If computers continue to follow Moore’s Law (computing power doubles every two years), in 50 years, we should have the means to make a computer as complex as the human brain. Then we would just have to figure out how to take a realtime scan of a person’s brain, noting the precise location of every synapse and neuron. The remaining step would be to recreate that setup in silicon and if everything goes right, we would have a copy of your consciousness in a computer. Then the fun starts. You could replace your body with a robotic one and run your brain through the advanced hardware. But would you be human anymore?
For now, I’ll stick to eating healthy, excercising, and taking Resveratrol. I’m a week into taking it so I haven’t seen any effects yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
Update: I took the Resveratrol for two months and noticed no significant changes. Except maybe that I woke feeling more rested several times. Maybe I won’t see any benefits until I’m in my seventies.