Til Death Do Us Part?

Stop. The excitement is killing me.
Back on April 24, 2011, I wrote about the possibility of human immortality. Some of the stuff that was being talked about then was pretty interesting, at least in the abstract. Scientists noted that sea squids and starfish, two asexual species, passed along 100% of their genetic code. In that way their consciousness lives forever even if the vessel of their consciousness (a/k/a body) doesn’t. Which then opens up another can of worms, also an immortal asexual creature since it replaces itself one segment at a time. What, when all is said and done, makes us us? Are we only mental beings who can transfer our selves from vessel to vessel or do we require those vessels to complete us? Later, on December 13, I noted that scientists had prolonged the life span of some C-elegans (a mortal type of worm) to 70 days from 14. If that ratio held for humans we would be talking about 500 year old people. That doesn’t even begin to discuss the research done on the telomerase enzyme. Simply put, take the enzyme away (as nature does over time) and the mice age and die. But, even if it is missing and the mice are closer to mouse heaven than they would prefer, put it back in and the mice revert back to their youthful, healthy, selves. In other words, goodbye aging.

Yeah, those dudes and dudines are getting some serious funding.

Now Jesus Diaz, no relation to his namesake, is reporting that scientists have figured out a way to turn back the clock to when we were 6 day old ….. embryos.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered an efficient and totally safe method to turn adult blood cells “all the way back to the way [they were] when that person was a 6-day-old embryo.” The discovery could be the key to cure the incurable—from heart attacks to severed spinal cord to cancer—and open the door, some day, to eternal youth.

Scientists believe that stem cell therapy could change medicine forever. However, these therapies are impossible to implement on a large scale because you can’t acquire embryonic stem cells without having to use actual human embryos—an extremely controversial undertaking. The alternative has always been to use the stem cells found in umbilical cords—which is why rich people use umbilical cord storage facilities to guarantee future treatments for their kids—or use viruses to reprogram adult cells. These viruses can successfully return adult cells to their stem cell state, but the procedure opens the door to numerous complications as a result of potential DNA mutations. And those mutations could lead to cancer.

But this new method changes everything. To start with, it uses normal adult blood cells from the patient, so there’s not need to keep umbilical cords in storage. It also doesn’t use any virus reprogramming, so it’s completely safe. It’s also very efficient: researchers successfully transformed about 50 to 60 percent of adult blood cells into embryonic stem cells that can then be turn into any type of cell—a heart muscle cell, a bone cell, a nerve cell, anything.

How it works
Described in the August 8 issue of the journal Public Library of Science, the rejuvenating method uses plasmids, DNA molecules that are usually present in bacteria and eukaryotic organisms. These plasmids can replicate themselves independently from the chromosomal DNA, disappearing after they complete their function.

Using electrical pulses, the researchers opened holes in the membrane of blood cells extracted from a patient’s spinal cord. They used these tiny holes to inject plasmids loaded with four genes, programmed to make the cells revert to a primitive state. After the plasmids completed their function, they cultivated the cells with irradiated bone-marrow cells. Seven to 14 days later, the cultivated cells magically turned to embryonic stem cells.

The team is now evaluating the quality of these cells, but the potential to accelerate current and future stem cell treatments like never before is nothing sort of miraculous. By getting rid of all the barriers to entry, medical researchers could experiment at a faster pace. And once new therapies are in place, everyone on the planet would be able to receive self-transplants of embryonic cells to cure diseases, fix spinal cords or eye nerves, and rejuvenate organs by renewing tissues without rejection risks or any other side effect. Hypothetically, if you’re able to perpetually fix any part of your body, there’s no reason you wouldn’t be able to live as long as you wanted.

We are not there yet, of course, but the path is more open and wider than ever. More importantly, this makes the whole political debate about embryonic stem cells absolutely pointless.

Once more, the future is not arriving soon enough.

Oh, I don’t know. It seems to be coming up pretty fast if you ask me. In less than 48 months scientists have gone from some specious contemplation of asexuality as a possible means of human procreation to seeing tangible results that aging is a process which can be controlled and, quite possibly, stopped.

If they succeed that’s gonna mess up a ton of wedding vows, don’t you think?

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