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Nobody wants to die.

Setting aside all philosophical concerns, who wouldn’t want to stay forever young? As it is, there just aren’t enough days in one lifetime to do everything we want to do.

Only the most arrogant mind could honestly think that death could ever be abolished for good Your Brain On Ice: Is Cryonics Crazy? Your Brain On Ice: Is Cryonics Crazy? Do you want to live forever? It's not a trick question: a technology called cryonics claims to offer a way to cheat death -- but does the idea hold water? Read More  – but it’s those same arrogant minds who have begun to make incredible progress towards this goal, and they’re approaching it from every angle imaginable.

Is it possible that one of those attempts might succeed? One breakthrough could change the human condition forever, and these are the technologies that may make it happen sooner rather than later.

3D-Printed Organs

Once considered little more than a gimmick, 3D printing has evolved 5 Amazing 3D Printing Applications You Have to See to Believe 5 Amazing 3D Printing Applications You Have to See to Believe What would you do with a 3D printer? If the people developing these applications have anything to say about it, you might be surprised. Read More to the point where it now has numerous practical applications. Prosthetic limbs and lab-grown meat may be interesting, but 3D-printed live organs are something else altogether.


How Does It Work?

This particular application of 3D printer technology is called bioprinting. It’s more advanced and expensive than at-home machinery – mostly because bioprinting literally prints live cells.

It’s an additive method that has a lot in common with consumer-level 3D printing: the structure of the intended organ is printed using proteins, then the spaces in between are filled with live stem cells that grow and fill out the scaffold. According to CNN:

“Bioprinting works like this: Scientists harvest human cells from biopsies or stem cells, then allow them to multiply in a petri dish.

The resulting mixture, a sort of biological ink, is fed into a 3D printer, which is programmed to arrange different cell types, along with other materials, into a precise three-dimensional shape. Doctors hope that when placed in the body, these 3D-printed cells will integrate with existing tissues.”

Impact on Human Lifespan

Simple artificial livers and kidneys have already been created through bioprinting, but they still have a long way to go before they’re good enough to replace their organic counterparts. However, progress is rapid.

So how could these organs lead to eternal life?

If you subscribe to the school of thought that says human mortality is simply the deterioration of individual organs over time, then the answer is equally simple: replace those organs as they near failure and you’ll live forever. Your brain might get senile, but your body will stay firm and healthy.

Easier said than done, of course. We’d have to be able to replicate every component of the body, including bones, skin, fat, and arteries. But logically speaking, it makes sense that this could indeed work. (If anything, this path would be an interesting example of the Theseus Paradox.)

Young Blood Proteins


What if the fabled “elixir of life” was nothing more than the literal blood of youth? According to research results from early last year, that just might be true. The blood of the young could stop — or even reverse — the aging process in those who are old.

How Does It Work?

Through blood transfusion. It’s deceptively simple, but miraculous in result. When researchers inject blood from younger mice directly into the bloodstreams of older mice, they found out something big: the older mice began to experience rejuvenating effects. According to Science Magazine,

“Last year one team identified a growth factor in the blood that they think is partly responsible for the antiaging effect on a specific tissue—the heart. Now, that team has shown this same factor can also rejuvenate muscle and the brain.

This is the first demonstration of a rejuvenation factor that is naturally produced, declines with age, and reverses aging in multiple tissues.

Independently, another team has found that simply injecting plasma from young mice into old mice can boost learning.”

The effect is due, at least in part, to the presence of growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11), a protein that regulates stem cell activity. Younger mice have it in abundance, but its presence tapers off with age. Why? No one’s quite sure.

Impact on Human Lifespan

Research in this area is still in infancy, but the results up to this point are remarkable enough that scientists are hopeful but cautious.

[Neuroscientist Sally Temple] agrees that GDF11 has therapeutic promise, but she says she will remain cautious until more is known about GDF11’s mechanism. She also notes that some of the “old” mice in the Harvard brain studies were only middle-aged, and whether the effects would hold up in elderly people is unclear.

HT: Science

While GDF11 may not itself be the answer to eternal youth, further study may unlock new discoveries regarding human aging mechanisms and how they can be paused or reversed. After all, what is immortality if not the ceasing of organic deterioration?

Gene Therapy

Here’s a question for you to ponder: Why do mice have a lifespan of 2 years, canaries have a lifespan of 15 years, but bats have a lifespan of 50 years? What’s different between them?

According to biochemist Cynthia Kenyon, the differentiating factor is somewhere in their genes — and this suggests that aging is determined by (or at least influenced by) one or more genes.

SFf we can find these “aging genes”, then maybe we can turn them off. This kind of genetic modification is called gene therapy.

How Does It Work?

Through experimentation on roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans), Kenyon found that their lifespans more than doubled when one particular gene was damaged: the DAF-2 gene.

This gene controls the integrity of DAF-2 receptors in cells, and this receptor is responsible for receiving a protein called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1). As it turns out, IGF1 is a hormone that influences childhood growth and aging, and damaging the receptor means interfering with this aging process.

There’s a subtle distinction to be made here. The mutated roundworms didn’t live twice as long. Rather, they aged half as quickly. Meaning, a 10-day-old mutated roundworm wasn’t the same as a 10-day-old normal roundworm; rather, it was more like a 5-day-old normal roundworm.

Impact on Human Lifespan

What’s really interesting about this whole concept is that there is evidence to suggest that humans aren’t exempt. In fact, according to the paper,

“We studied the biochemical, phenotypic, and genetic variations in a cohort of Ashkenazi Jewish centenarians, their offspring, and offspring-matched controls \… Thus, genetic alterations in the human IGF1R that result in altered IGF signaling pathway confer an increase in susceptibility to human longevity, suggesting a role of this pathway in modulation of human lifespan.”

Or in other words, a non-insignificant number of Ashkenazi Jews who lived to be 100 years of age or older were found to have had DAF-2 mutations that made the IGF1 hormone less “potent”.

We’re still far from immortality-by-gene-therapy, but if we can discover more critical genes involved in the aging process and manipulate said genes in the right ways, it’s entirely possible for humans to overcome the aging phenomenon 5 Amazing TED Talks That Will Change How You Think About Medicine 5 Amazing TED Talks That Will Change How You Think About Medicine These five TED talks give us hints about cutting edge scientific research, and the quality of life that we might one day experience Read More .

Telomere Repair


One major element of cellular aging is something called telomere shortening. When a cell divides, its DNA is not replicated perfectly from end to end. Because of this, strands of DNA (also called chromosomes) are shortened every time a cell undergoes division.

Fortunately, chromosomes have nonsensical “buffers” on the end that make it so that the actual DNA doesn’t get shortened when replicated. These buffers are called telomeres. Unfortunately, when telomeres are shortened too many times, cells start to lose necessary DNA, and begin “aging”.

How Does It Work?

The good news is that young cells have an enzyme called telomerase, which adds onto telomeres that have been shortened. Telomerase is finite, however, so after a cell divides enough times, it no longer has any telomerase left and eventually reaches “the end”.

But not long ago, a new procedure was pioneered by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine to artificially lengthen telomeres:

“The procedure involves the use of modified messenger RNA, which carries instructions from genes to the cell’s protein-making machines. The specific RNA the researchers used contained TERT, which is involved in telomerase.
This newfound research not only could help expand lifespans, but also assist with a variety of diseases that affect thousands.”

Impact on Human Lifespan

At the moment, it’s just a short-term solution that causes a quick boost in telomere length over 48 hours. Afterwards, when the telomerase is depleted, the telomeres begin shrinking again. Whether this can be applied indefinitely to curb aging yet unknown.

There’s one big risk when tampering with telomere shortening. If cell division isn’t kept in check and replication occurs faster than cell death, then it’s possible to get too many cells than intended, which could cause cancer.

Anti-Aging Drugs


Wouldn’t it be great if the only requirement for immortality was to pop a few pills every morning? Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies like Google’s Calico 4 Surprising Ways Google Will Soon Impact Your Life 4 Surprising Ways Google Will Soon Impact Your Life We won't be seeing interstellar spaceships and time travel machines any time soon, but here are a few Google projects that are going to change the way you live within the next few years. Read More are looking for ways to make this dream a reality.

And while we aren’t there yet, we have taken a few steps in that direction already.

How Does It Work?

One particular compound called sirolimus, sometimes called rapamycin, was originally used as an immunosuppressor (for things like organ transplants) but was later found to extend lifespans in yeasts, worms, and mice.

But sirolimus has many negative side effects, so it was never an ideal solution. It did fuel a surge in anti-aging drug research, however, eventually leading to a recent discovery regarding everolimus. According to New Scientist:

“A drug called everolimus, used to treat certain cancers, partially reversed the immune deterioration that normally occurs with age… Immune system aging is a major cause of disease and death. It is why older people are more susceptible to infections, and why they normally have a weaker response to vaccines.”

Impact on Human Lifespan

At this time, it’s too early to say whether or not these drugs can be developed and refined into something that can provide perpetual youth. Many of these studies have only shown a modest increase in lifespan, up to about 14%.

What’s exciting about this, however, is that researchers are starting to take this field seriously. If we’ve already seen a handful of drugs that have a non-negligible impact on lifespan, then who knows what yet-to-be-discovered compounds can do? More money here could lead to more drug discoveries.

Mind Transfer


This last idea is little more than a hypothesis at this point, but it’s one worth considering (not to mention really exciting). Mind transfer is the notion of uploading your consciousness and memories from your brain to a computer.

How Would It Work?

As of now, there are two proposed methods for making this whole idea possible.

The copy-and-transfer method involves scanning your entire brain and perfectly mapping every region down to the last electron, then replicating that state on a computational device. This is what most people imagine mind transfer to be.

The gradual replacement method would, as its name says, gradually replace every neuron in your brain with a non-biological but perfect replacement. Slate describes it as follows:

“We naturally undergo a gradual replacement process. Most of our cells in our body are continually being replaced. (You just replaced 100 million of them in the course of reading the last sentence.) … So you are completely replaced in a matter of months.

The gradual introduction of non-biological systems into our bodies and brains will be just another example of the continual turnover of parts that comprise us. It will not alter the continuity of our identity any more than the natural replacement of our biological cells do.

And in the coming years, we will continue on the path of the gradual replacement and augmentation scenario until ultimately most of our thinking will be in the cloud.”

Impact on Human Lifespan

In order for this to be possible, the computer would have to be powerful enough to simulate an actual human brain at the same speed. Not a far-fetched idea considering the human brain is just a series of electrical impulses, but getting to that point of parity is the hard part.

Of course, if we ever do reach that point, then everlasting life would be easy. Data is immaterial, so even as the physical drive that holds “your mind” deteriorates, you can easily move from drive to drive by copying said data. And if data is immortal Five Technologies to Make Sure Your Data Lives Forever Five Technologies to Make Sure Your Data Lives Forever They say that on the internet, nothing ever goes away. In reality, almost all of our data is slowly being lost. Can we protect our media for future generations? Read More , then so would consciousness be.

The philosophical issues would be harder to address. Would we still be human? In the case of cloning, which you would be the real you? Would we be much different from the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica?

Would You Want to Live Forever?

By now it should be obvious that we’re far from actual immortality, but every year we’re making gains that will eventually add up into something amazing. Most likely it’ll happen long after you and I are in the ground, but maybe not.

For me, the real question is whether or not you’d want to live forever if the option were available. The finite nature of life is so core to the human experience that I can’t even fathom how life would have meaning without death.

But that’s a discussion for another time.

Do you think natural death will ever be overcome? If it were, would you want to take part in immortality? Let us know how you feel in the comments below!

Image Credits: Blood Transfusion by sfam_photo via Shutterstock, Cell Mitosis by Andrej Vodolazhskyi via Shutterstock, Elderly Medicine by Hriana via Shutterstock, Circuit Brain by wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock

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