Celebrating TopTenz.net’s 1,000th list coming up on August 3, 2012, here is our 2nd list this week about the number 1,000.
In 1974, Gene Wilder, playing Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, screamed in an annoyed tone at a young medical student, “Hearts and kidneys are tinker toys! I’m talking about the central nervous system!” As long as there has been science fiction, there has been speculation about longer-lasting life. Here are technologies and medical advances actually being discussed or worked on, that could one day allow people to live to be a thousand years old.
Neuroprosthetics are implants placed on a nerve, or onto the central nervous system, in order to replace mobility lost by accident or disease. Motor functionality in the body reacts to outside stimuli, whether it is natural or un-natural. Neuroprosthetics could not only one day allow people with lost limbs to replace those limbs, but also may serve as a replacement parts directory for most functions of the human body.
Neuroprosthetics hold the ultimate key to replacing damaged body parts and allowing them to sync up with your normal brain functions. As long as Steve Martin’s The Man With Two Brains equation that “your brain dies last” hold true, then you can one day have a body of replacement parts rivaling Steve Austin’s, controlled by neuroprosthetics.
In short, neuroprosthetics may, one day, give us Luke Skywalker’s hand, Robocop’s body, or Cyborg’s cybernetic parts.
9. Brain-Computer Interface
Remember in The Matrix, when Neo had the super needle put into the back of his neck that taught him kung-fu? Welcome to the exciting world of brain-computer interfaces. This is a real thing and will really make you say “whoa.” A brain-computer interface is a direct link between an outside machine, and a neurological process within the brain or nerve ending itself.
In short, a brain computer interface can interact with an existing neural function to restore cognitive abilities and functions. If the synapses within the brain are not working properly, the Brain Computer Interface can jack into the brain and restore motor functions. Ergo and therefore, there would be no reason for the brain damage to be permanent.
Science is getting closer to being able to restore functions. However, why on earth would you stop at restoring, when the next logical step would be enhancing what is already there? Brain-computer interfaces not only hold the key to repairing damaged functions, but to also enhancing already existing ones. “Whoa,” indeed.
Welcome to eternal life… and a red belt.
8. DNA Repair
People may think that DNA is like a dusty set of blueprints. The DNA is there when you are born, and there when you die. However, DNA is much more than that. DNA can act a computer within the cell directing development, as well as repairing damage to the cell itself.
In short, the key to long-lasting life, and getting into Biblical and Lord of the Rings territory, rests greatly on the ability of the DNA to adapt and, yes, mutate to deal with damages. For instance, cancer is a breakdown of DNA’s ability to repair itself, as well as a mutation. The key actually lies in knowing enough about the DNA to figure out how to jumpstart our natural process at optimum levels. For instance, working with mice, the deletion of a single protein restores the DNA, and repairs natural function.
In essence, DNA is like a car engine. With regular tune-ups and changes, there is no reason not to believe that the body is capable of restoring itself into infinity. Of course, once we figure out how to restore the DNA repair ability, then Wolverine will be just another guy with a really bad haircut. Logan’s “healing factor” is merely DNA repair on a Jose Canseco-level of horse steroids.
Of course, getting through a Southwest terminal with an adamantium skeleton is going to be a bitch.
7. Anti-Aging Enzymes
The more aging is studied, the more it seems like it should be treated as a disease. To this point, aging does not appear to be as natural a process as we might think. Rather, aging is an attack on our existing processes. The effects of aging are starting to be traced to specific enzymes. If those enzymes can be repaired, then the restoration of their natural functionality would seem to eliminate the need for aging altogether.
Thus, anti-aging enzymes hold the key. A study, concluded in 2007, discovered that two enzymes (SIRT3 and SIRT4), play a key role in the mitochondrial division of cells. The loss of the cells’ ability to divide, and reproduce, lead to many of the effects that we refer to as “aging”. These two enzymes function as “cell batteries.” As these batteries, and production of these enzymes wane, then we get many of the effects of aging. If science is able to restore the ability to produce, or the functionality of the enzymes in the human body, then again there is no reason why the natural effects of aging cannot be stopped or, ultimately, reversed.
These two genes are now being worked on as drug targets, to slow down and possibly stop the effects of aging altogether. They have showed that when cells are put under stress, such as when calories are restricted, the two genes go into action and protect cells from the diseases of aging.
The ability to elongate life by studying SIRT3 and SIRT4 are obvious. The only hope is that the drugs will come in the form of a pool which you bathe in to restore your cell batteries once every few years. SIRT3 and SIRT4 may than hold the key to the fluid found in Ponce DeLeon’s Fountain of Youth, or Ra’s Al Ghul’s Lazarus Pit.
6. Partial Brain Transplants
Many of the ins and outs of how the brain actually works are still a great mystery. However, it has been proven, with mice, that putting the correct tissue in the correct part of the brain may be enough to allow the brain’s neuro-net to restore itself. 1n 1982, Dr. Dorothy T. Krieger bred two different types of mice. One set of mice was perfectly normal. The altered strain of mice lacked L.H.R.H (luteinizing hormone releasing hormone). Knowing exactly where the hormone was located in the brain, Dr. Kreiger removed the production center, which was smaller than the head of a match, and successfully implanted the center into the brains of the deficient mice.
The implanted section of brain started to connect and grow naturally. Not only did the piece of the brain connect, but the brain also started to produce L.H.R.H. The real challenge may lie in successfully mapping the brain, and knowing where to input healthy sections.
In recent years, the technology has moved to avian areas. Cells from the brain of a finch have been successfully transplanted into a chicken, complete with altered auditory and vocal responses.
When science knows exactly which cells to put into the correct part of the brain, you could then potentially “seed” a brain. With proper nourishment, the brain seeds can grow naturally, and the brain itself will direct the recovery and implementation. As long as the brain can “seed”, then the brain can grow…for a possibly infinite time frame.
5. Organ Printing
Organ donation may one day give way to organ printing. Taking generated cells, the theoretical organ printers would build a working organ one layer at a time. This would be in much the same way that an old dot matrix printer would “build” a line of text. Since the cells would come from the patient themselves or a matched type, there would be little fear of the body rejecting the organs.
As a matter of fact, a sample of every type of cell being taken from a body could become common place. Scientists are currently working on simple replacements, such as a blood vessel. As successes mount, the complexity of the organs printed would become more complex. Even if the organ is damaged beyond repair, new ones could be grown to maturity, and then transplanted.
People, we are officially entering into the realm of the Star Trek replicator, and possibly the medical tri-corder. Think it is just science fiction? The University of Missouri is actively working on the blood vessel as we speak. If successful, the technology can only become more advanced from there. Imagine a world in which deceased donors are not even needed. All that is needed is some cells and a machine to print a working organ ready for insertion, without fear of the body rejecting it. They will have to put a “thousand-year-and-up” category in the Olympics.
4. Artificial Organs
Of course, not everything has to be as “home grown” as it might sound. In the movie Robocop, there was not much of a body to salvage. There is also always the hope that one day that there will be fully realized cybernetic sex toys with human skin. Or Terminators…or hot chicks with tails, like in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. We are not picky, as long as there is a catalog.
The advances in artificial organs, over the years, have been particularly striking. In 1982, Barney Clark received the first artificial heart. Clark was deemed to be too much of a risk for a heart transplant, leaving an artificial device pioneered by Dr. Robert Jarvik. Clark survived over a hundred days on the artificial heart. Advances in the artificial heart technology have led to what is known as the Total Artificial Heart. The Total Artificial Heart completely replaces the bottom two ventricles of the heart. Patients can now live several years on Total Artificial Hearts. Total Artificial Hearts are now also being developed for, and have been successfully implemented in, adolescents.
Of course, for the moment, artificial organs are only a stop-gap measure, until donor organs can be found. However, as advances grow, there is no reason why, one day, you could be potentially telling someone “I’ll be back,” and NOT get punched in the face by Roger Ebert for mindlessly quoting that damn film yet AGAIN.
3. Downloading Your Consciousness
You will one day (according to some scientists) be able to become your own “ghost in the machine.” Basically, a computer with all of your information on it, as well as artificial intelligence, would allow you to “live” in the computer for a thousand years or more. The claim is made by scientist Ian Pearson, and he is developing computer models as we speak. So by 2050, if you make it till then, you can have your own “silicone soul”. Hopefully it’ll work out better than the Bruce Wayne/Batman model shown above.
2. Suspended Animation
One of the primary problems with even-theoretical immortality is that invulnerability is not part of the deal. Bullets, knives, hand grenades, and bombs all still have an effect. There are also some parts of the world where those things are considered to be part of everyday life. Statistically, battlefield deaths occur most often when a medical team cannot get to the patient within the first hour. This is referred to as the “golden hour.” The question becomes then, “what if you could press the pause button?”
That is exactly the question that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Texas A & M Institute For Preclinical Studies, are working on now. Though the initial study is focused on squirrels, the attempt is now to put pigs to hibernated sleep. Yes, a “zombie pig” may one day hold the key to getting soldiers treatment during the “golden hour”, hyper-sleep in transport to another planet, and Rip Van Winkling your way to romancing Cyclopian mutants while working for Planet Express.
1. Whole Head And Whole Body Transplants
The brain itself is what is known as autoimmune. This means that a host body would not actually reject a brain the same way it would reject, say, a liver or kidneys. The challenge comes not in transplanting the brain but, rather, in removing and re-attaching the head. This makes the problem with head or “whole body” transplants the successful removal and attachment. A successful operation would also have to attach to the nervous system in such a way that the resulting patient is not a quadriplegic.
However, the procedure has been successfully done with smaller animals. In 2001, Dr. Robert White transplanted the head of a monkey onto another body. For a time afterwards, the animal actually lived. Given all of the advanced, a scientist may one day scream at you, “It’s ALIVE!!!”, and Mr. Ebert would be kept at bay once again.
If the body is going to continue to fail, then the last resort would be to keep getting a steady supply of new bodies. We guess you’d need one about every sixty years or so. Just try not end up in an overly embarrassing situation like poor Fry up there.
Written By Jim Ciscell