By Dick Pelletier
Eliminating the top three major causes of death may sound like science fiction, but revolutionary new medical techniques are being developed that could protect most Americans from these killers by as early as 2020.
In two recent PBS programs, “Innovations” and “Charlie Rose,” experts declared we are at war with the three leading causes of death in America – heart disease, cancer, and obesity. The problems are enormous, researchers said, but all were confident we could win this war. As early as the third decade, they claimed, death from all three of these horrible diseases could be completely eliminated.
Stem cells are rapidly becoming the “magic bullet” of choice in this war. Scientists are identifying the genetic signals that instruct stem cells to grow new tissues in spinal cords, hearts, bones, brains, teeth; even aging skin. U.S. clinical trials are a ways off, but experimentations are already underway in Portugal and China.
Dr. Carlos Lima, at Egas Moniz Hospital in Lisbon and Dr. Hongyun Huang at Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing are treating quadriplegic and heart attack patients today. They harvest stem cells from patients’ noses and transplant them into damaged spinal cord and heart muscle sites. Healing is slow, but as more stem cell “secrets” are unraveled, recovery time will speed up.
False teeth will soon become a thing of the past also, thanks to stem cell research conducted by Professor Paul Sharpe at Kings College in London. Successful tests on mice suggest that people will soon be able to grow new tooth buds. Human trials could begin in two years, and the cost per tooth is expected to be about the same as synthetic implants.
Death could be a thing of the past if certain advances are made.
By Dick Pelletier
The most hyped science of all time – nanotechnology – promises a utopian future with no food shortages or disease, and a world of leisure and unlimited lifespan.
Nanotech’s basic concept is to build things atom by atom using machines called assemblers. Assemblers can make food, or other products, by reassembling atoms from air, dirt, or seawater.
As early as 2025, a nanotech assembler could be sitting on kitchen counters providing food, appliances, or clothing; at little or no cost. In addition, by 2030 or before, nanobots could be roaming through our bodies protecting us from the ravages of disease and aging.
Cryogenic enthusiasts who have their body, head, or cell culture frozen when they die believe that nanotechnology will someday be able to re-create information from their brains, repair their damaged body, or clone a new one, and let them resume their life. Whether this will ever be possible is open to debate, but certainly billions of nano-probes connecting to every cell in our body offers some hope for this way out concept.
Could nanotechnology eliminate death? Today, we consider death as one of the great certainties of life, along with taxes. Taxes have not always existed though, and in the future, they may again be unnecessary. Death statistics are interesting. Over six billion people are alive today, but less than 6 billion have died since our species began. Why, if less than half the people ever born have died, do people say death is certain?
By Dick Pelletier
For all those who have wondered if they could enjoy the benefits of exercise without the pain of exertion, the answer may soon be yes. Scientists are developing a pill that tricks your muscles into thinking they have just gone through an aggressive workout even though you haven’t left the couch.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have identified two drugs that mimic many of the physiological effects of exercise. The drugs increase the ability of cells to burn fat and are the first compounds that have been shown to enhance exercise endurance.
Both drugs can be given orally and work by genetically reprogramming muscles to maximize energy use. In lab experiments, mice ran faster and longer on treadmill tests. Those that were given AICAR, one of the two drugs, ran an astounding 44 percent longer. The second compound, GW1516, dramatically improved endurance when combined with exercise.
Ronald Evans, the HHMI investigator who led the study, said drugs that mimic exercise could offer potent protection against obesity and related metabolic disorders. They could also help counter the effects of devastating muscle-wasting diseases like muscular dystrophy. Evans and his colleagues at the Salk Institute published their findings July 31, 2008, in the online journal Cell.
While this breakthrough may be especially appealing to couch potatoes, doctors are most excited about the potential benefits to people who aren’t able to exercise due to joint pain, long hospital stays, and other circumstances that keep them from being active.
By Dick Pelletier
By as early as 2010, Microsoft, IBM and others will introduce software enabling students to communicate with computers similar to how we communicate with each other – using words, body language, and gestures.
These sophisticated new computers will understand ordinary everyday spoken words in English, Spanish, Chinese, or any major language, and will use avatars – on-screen images that could appear as Einstein, Columbus, or even a local classroom teacher – to communicate on a personal level with each student.
These future teaching machines will bring education to life. Utilizing virtual reality, they will take students on virtual trips to interesting places and events in the world, fly into space, or wander inside a human cell.
Interactive computers will gather and process video, graphics, and information from anywhere on Earth via the Internet, and reformat this data into words and images that will be clearly understood by each student, regardless of their comprehension level.
These education machines will also become the home of future artificial intelligence that will complement the teacher’s ability, guiding students through course work, supplementing the teacher’s knowledge and answering simple queries to liberate teachers to concentrate on individuals without the rest of the class sitting idle.
By Dick Pelletier
Imagine living in an ageless, disease-free body with youthful looks, superhuman strength and a brain that can out-think computers. Now further imagine an affluent, happy, crime-free population residing in a world terraformed for comfort without dangerous storms, tsunamis, or unbearable weather.
This is the vision many forward-thinkers believe humanity can achieve during this century. Although life seems to rush by at rocket speeds today, the future will advance even faster. Author James John Bell, in his Exploring the Singularity article in The Futurist says, “We won’t just experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years.”
Scientists describe the Singularity as a point in time when technological progress becomes so rapid that it radically transforms humankind at a faster rate than anyone alive today can comprehend. Biotech, nanotech, infotech, and cognitive science will all interplay causing us to speed towards this Singularity.
Acclaimed futurist and author Ray Kurzweil argues in his book, The Singularity is Near, that we could experience this Singularity by as early as 2045.
Kurzweil predicts over the next 10 to 20 years, biotech scientists will learn to greatly slow aging and eliminate most diseases. In the 2030s, he says, nanotech will “finish the job” allowing for the redesign of the human body into an almost immortal form.
By mid-2020s, techno-enthusiasts claim pollution-free nano-replicators will be available to provide most food, clothing and household gadgets at little or no cost; and fully immersive virtual reality will create make-believe environments indiscernible from reality to satisfy even the most extreme entertainment desires.
By Dick Pelletier
By 2015, experts believe, tiny microchips placed under our skin will enable us to control consumer electronic devices and browse the Internet with just our thoughts. BT Futurologist Ian Pearson says we could place these chips into the upper layers of the skin and arrange them into useful circuits to power and control our electronic world.
Researchers propose a five layered architecture, referred to as active skin. A master chip, installed deep in the skin, would connect with blood capillaries and nerve endings; and would eventually, as technology develops, exchange data directly with the brain. The master chip would communicate with temporary chips placed higher in the skin that would wash or wear away after a few days.
These non-permanent chips would be created in thin polymer membranes that adhere to the skin like invisible stick-on patches. The combination of layers would allow gadgets to be built linking us to our entire electronic world and the Internet.
Computers, cell phones, music players, and other devices could be implanted on our wrists and hands, with full keyboards. These would remain invisible until our touch made them light up. The circuitry itself would be made of dispersed groups of invisible devices.
Medical sensors could be implanted to stave off heart attacks and strokes, monitor blood chemistry 24/7, and alert hospital computers to any emergency. They could also remotely administer drugs to precise body locations.
By Dick Pelletier
Movies like Time Machine,
Back to the
Future, Terminator, and
“One Moment in Time”: bring out the little child inside us. We love
to fantasize about going back in time to see what might have been,
or to alter some predicament in our life. Scientists get excited
over this fantasy too – some even believe we can turn this
fictional genre into reality.
Einstein stated that people traveling at near light speeds would
age more slowly than those remaining stationary. Inhabitants of a
fast-moving spaceship would experience forward time travel. And if
traveling faster than light, they would go backwards in time.
Atomic clocks flown in space proved Einstein correct, and many
top physicists now express views that time travel could someday
Cal-Tech’s Kip Thorne was the
first to publish a scientific paper with the words “time machine”
in the title. Thorne worried that reporters might ballyhoo the
article causing colleagues to ignore it – but instead, his work
brought other scientists out in the open.
World famous physicist Stephen Hawking, Cosmologist Igor
Novikov, and others began publicly debating the pros and cons of
Thorne focused on the actual time machine. He suggests that if
we create a wormhole, accelerate one end to nearly the speed of
light and bring it back, we would have a time machine. We could
enter the machine and travel to both past and future.
But a recent Better Humans article suggests
our frail bodies could not stand up to wormhole pressures.
Solution: upload our mind and travel as information; then
reassemble on arrival using nanotechnology.
By Dick Pelletier
We’ve seen the future … and we may not be doomed. The just
published 2008 United Nations report, with input from 2,500 experts
from around the world finds life is improving for people worldwide
– but governments are failing to grasp the opportunities offered.
“This is a unique time in history. Mobile phones, the Internet,
international trade, language translation and jet planes are giving
birth to an interdependent humanity that can create and implement
global strategies to improve its prospects,” the report states. “It
is increasingly clear that the world has the resources to address
our common challenges. Ours is the first generation with the means
for many to know the world as a whole, identify global improvement
systems, and seek to improve them.”
The world is about to enjoy a prosperous future with an
unprecedented ability to extend lifespan and increase the power of
ordinary people. The life extension movement is growing
exponentially and could be the next significant field targeted by
venture capitalists as alternative energy and clean tech wane.
Made possible by soaring healthcare costs, unfunded
Medicare-type liabilities in every industrialized nation, and the
demographic aging of populations, the rapidly expanding life
extension industry encompasses the commercialization of scientific
findings from stem cell, genetic engineering, regenerative
medicine, human enhancements, and other areas of health
“Advances in science, technology, education, economics, and
management,” the report continues, “seems capable of making the
world work far better than it does today.” Medical breakthroughs
are offering the hope of defeating inherited diseases, tailoring
cures to individual patients – and even creating replacement body
By Dick Pelletier
“DNA scientists are moving ever closer to the day when
genetically engineering people will become commonplace and easily
affordable,” begins narrator Jeff Goldblum in a recent DNA series on PBS.
But some say this is no big deal. DNA
has been making changes in every life form on earth throughout
history. Plants and animals survived the ice age because nature
changed their DNA to make them stronger.
And prior to ancient Egyptian times, man began to influence
DNA changes in plants, livestock, and
pets with selective seeds and breeding.
In 1865 Gregor Mendel published the basic principles of
genetics. By the early 1900’s, farmers from around the world began
using Mendel’s techniques to improve crops by splicing genes from
one strain into another.
Theodore Friedmann of UC San Diego says that although current
gene transferring technology cannot do much, methods will almost
certainly be developed in the near future that can modify most
human genetic traits.
DNA’s power is nothing short of
amazing. It enables life to begin as a tiny clump of atoms and grow
into a human, animal, or plant. But sometimes, this mighty chemical
makes mistakes – and cancer, heart disease, or other terrible
The Human Genome Project has given scientists a better
understanding of how mutated or damaged genes do their dirty work.
Doctors can now correct genetic injustices like Down Syndrome,
cystic fibrosis, mental illnesses, and other diseases, and
scientists are finding more cures every day.
Massachusetts General Hospital researchers recently engineered
mice to produce the beneficial fat found in salmon, and they claim
this can someday be duplicated in humans. Instead of buying fish at
the market to acquire this valuable nutrient, we will simply
produce it in our body.
By Dick Pelletier
Squirting a little nasal spray up the nose before
mealtime is helping obese people shed an average of 50 lbs in a
year. Nastech Pharmaceutical Company of Bothell, WA said its
compound, known as PYY, addresses obesity
and other ailments suffered by overweight patients – diabetes, high
blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.
Statistics show that 65% of Americans are overweight and nearly
half of them are considered obese. In an Associated Press
interview, Nastech CEO Steven Quay stated
that in tests, PYY reduced patients’
daily calorie intake by 30 percent.
PYY is a naturally occurring hormone
that our body sends to the brain 45 minutes after eating to tell us
we’re full. This mechanism kept our ancestors from eating too much,
but it doesn’t kick in fast enough for people eating today’s
high-calorie, high-fat foods. Obesity, researchers say, is a direct
result of our inherited genes.
Diet expert S. Boyd Eaton in his book,
The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet and Exercise and a
Design for Living claims you are what you eat; and more
importantly you also are what your ancestors ate. Millions of years
of evolution shaped our need for specific nutrients.
Genes control every function of our body, and are essentially
the same as those of our early ancestors. Feed those genes well,
and they do their job – keeping us healthy. Give those genes
nutrients that are unfamiliar or in the wrong ratios, and they
speed up aging and lead to disease.