"How would you like to invest in immortality?" -- Fortune Magazine

"How would you like to invest in immortality?" is just out in Fortune's on-line tech blog  (and likely in the paper edition when it arrives).

Briefly, this coming June, 32 year -old Russian tech entrepreneur/billionaire Dmitry Itskov will be announcing his launch of a venture to "allow investors to bankroll research into neuroscience and human consciousness..."

The aim is to set up a "push to understand human consciousness and ultimately how to transfer it from human bodies into robotic avatars." (Yes, that does align with Ray Kurzweil's program.)

But, Dmitry, sorry to tell you this, but this has already been done! (Albeit fictionally) in my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with body, soul and bio-tech.

Only REMEDY does it better (I modestly propose). I mean, who'd want to come back to find their mind transferred into a robot? A robot, good grief!  Wouldn't rich elite folks want to come back into, as one of rich guys in REMEDY puts it, into  "healthy, horny 21-year-old bodies complete with all of our  accumulated savvy from this first lifetime?"

No, seems to me that moving a "brain," a "mind," a "conscious essence" (the jargon  I use in  REMEDY) into a robot or a robotic avatar is not the way to go . . . not with all that's opening up in the fields of bioartificial organs, organ fabrication, regenerative medicine, growing body parts, and even transgenic and transhuman possibilities.

In short, wouldn't those rich elite folks really prefer to come back into a complete new body (as their present  one was in its prime), with all their present learning and experience?

Another thing:  the Fortune article suggests that  Itskov's  methodology will, "by 2025 . . .place a human brain into a working robot and have that person's consciousness (memories, personality, and everything else that makes up the 'self') transfer along with it."

But . . . um . . . how're you going to manage that? Plunking a brain into a robot (or into some kind of tank) is easy enough, but how do you get that -- dare I say the word "person" -- to turn on and come alive?  And how does that brain in the machine get to smell the flowers and do all the other little things that make life worth living?

How?  again, modestly,  I suggest you check out my technothriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with body, soul and bio-tech.  Probably won't get all the questions answered, but I hope it will give food for thought.


Still more on brain cells implanted in mice.

My technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with body, soul and bio-tech begins with a neuroscientist implanting human fetal brain cells in a chimp, Chimp Donnie.  (This is not really much of a plot spoiler, as it's only a springboard into the real --ethically scary! -- stuff in A Remedy for Death.)

Back then, when I first drafted it, the idea of implanting human fetal cells in an animal seemed very far out -- both technically and ethically. And I was advised by early readers -- including some in the New York publishing establishment -- that that idea was "impossible," "out-of-the range of believable, at least for decades."  And so on.

Well, it's happening here and now, as I posted last week in "Scientists enhance intelligence of mice with human brain cells" -- follow-up  and the week before in another post: "Mice given human brain cells become smarter"  (I was commenting on pieces in, respectively, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and Discover Magazine.)

Now Slate has come out with its own take:  Researchers put human brain cells in mice. Why aren't conservatives freaking out?   The Slate article, by Jonathan Moreno, adds a couple of intriguing twists:

(1)  "Lost in the kerfuffle was the fact that many lab mice are already “chimerized” with a small number of brain cells from human sources, generally far less than 1 percent. These animals could provide important clues to the treatment of serious human diseases and to answer the basic question why human cognitive capacity is so much greater than that of other animals."

A "chimera" (like my fictional Chimp Donnie) is formed by implanting human cells in animals. (For a more detailed definition, and how chimeras are different from hybrids, you may want to check the short piece, "About hybrids and chimeras" ) (Blog of the  Center for Genetics and Society)

That piece also touches on some of the ethical concerns:  "Would a human-animal chimera have human rights? Could it be patented and owned? What if it were 99.9% human and 0.1% chimpanzee? What of the reverse situation?"

 (2)   Again from the Slate article:  "The purpose of the study was not to make  [the] mouse perform better in IQ tests but to learn something about the evolution of human cognition."  In other words, the aim wasn't to help mice outwit felines, but rather to help science understand how we 2-legged folk think, and learn to think.  


"Scientists enhance intelligence of mice with human brain cells" -- follow-up

 A post here last week --"Mice given human brain cells become smarter"  linked to a piece in Discover Magazine.

Here's a more extended account of what seems to be the same research.  (I say probably, as it is not clear from the Discover item where the work took place.)

In the work reported in the IEET (Institute for Ethtics and Emerging Technologies), written by George Dworsky    Dworsky IEET report, he writes,

"To conduct the experiment, the scientists created human chimeric mice — mice that were endowed with human glial cells.

("Chimera" --there's that word again, one we're going to be hearing much more of as science moves on.   A chimera, in this context, is a blend of  human with animals of some kind or another, to date mostly chimps and mice.)

"We did this by using a narrow glass micropipette to inject 100,000 human glial progenitor cells into each hemisphere of the developing mouse forebrain," said Goldman. This resulted in the widespread integration of human glia into their brain. Once the mice reached adulthood, a large proportion of their forebrain glia were essentially human.

May I intervene here to (modestly) point out that much the same was done by the fictional neurosurgeon/researcher in my technothriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH in his work with Chimp Donnie?

Back to IEET:

"To mitigate any ethical concerns, Goldman told io9 that the grafts were delivered into postnatal animals, they were of cells that could not be transmitted to offspring, and they did not involve neuronal replacement."

In other words, they made sure that (a) these "ensmartened" mice weren't going to pass on to their babies, and (b) the implanted human cells were not from an aborted fetus, but rather "from human skin cells reprogrammed into induced pluripotential cells." 

Which implies that human skin cells can be reprogrammed into brain cells.  Hmm, does that mean that when you, as the saying goes, "put your foot in your mouth" you are ultimately adding foot cells to augment the brain-power you just failed to demonstrate by what you said? I wonder.


"Red wine in a pill"-- will it slow aging?

According to London's DAILY MAIL, the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline is testing synthetic versions of resveratrol, which is found in red wine, and seems to have the effect of reversing the aging process, even serving as an anti-aging method.

Why, you  might ask, bother with developing a "quasi- red wine" pill?  Why not just drink the red wine itself?  Because you would have to drink something on the order of 15,000 glasses per day.  (This not from the Mail, rather via my memory from another article I can't put my finger on at the moment.)

Back to the Mail: "The work proves that a single anti-ageing enzyme in the body can be targeted, with the potential to prevent age-related diseases and extend lifespans."

Sounds great.  But then some of the reader follow-ups raise another side: (a) what if a miracle drug--this or another--extends human life, but doesn't really help the ills of aging: creaky joints, wrinkled skin, memory and eye problems?

And (b) where will the 150-year olds live, given the continuing influx of "young-uns."

And a point I didn't see in those viewer comments but is raised in my technothriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with Body, Soul, and Bio-tech-- what if this breakthrough is reserved only for the elite?  That is, the super-rich, powerful political types, and those who are willing to play along, follow the elites' orders, do whatever?


Researchers grow teeth from gum cells

Suppose you could regrow that tooth you lost to (a) a fall, (b) cavities, (c) a bar-room fight?  Well, someday you may be able to do just that.

The BBC  this week reported on work being done at King's college, London . BBC article: Researchers grow teeth from gum cells

Here they took "epithelial" cells from humans --from their gums.  Grew those cells, then mixed them with "mesenchyme" cells from mice.  The result was transplanted into mice, who then grew hybrid human/mouse teeth, with roots. 

"The mesenchyme cells" were cultured to be 'inducing' --they instruct the epithelial cells to start growing into a tooth," says the BBC article.

Alas, this is still early experimental. The process is expensive, and not likely to produce working results in the near future.

You'll see a photo of one of the resulting teeth taken from that chimerical mouse (a chimera is a blend of human and animal elements).

FYI: the researchers do a lot more than this in my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH" Playing God with Body, Soul, and Bio-tech

And it was just last week that we posted here about human brain cells being implanted into mice. Mice implanted with human brain cells become smarter--Discover Magazine!

I know there's a lot of worry going around about what if computers got smarter than us humans and took over.  But now I'm REALLY worried about mice that are too smart for our good!

(By the way, for a cracking-good, very intelligent technothriller about computers, try THE FEAR INDEX, Robert Harris.)

 


"Reversing the aging process by using pig hearts"

"Reversing the aging process by using pig hearts" is a post I put up yesterday on my main blog, MichaelMcGaulley.com.  For some reason, I am unable to easily link it across, so I'll do it the hard way, because it's very relevant to  this blog, and the related technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH.

Among the related topics are reversing the aging process, bio-tech, bio-artificial organs, chimeras-- human-animal hybrids, the use of human stem cells, medical ethics, organ harvesting, and organ regeneration-- among others.

To go to that other post, and the related article



Regenerative medicine: Nose stem cell transplant enables paralyzed dogs to walk

More on regenerative medicine and stem cells, though in this case a somewhat different source of cells.

The BBC reports on research at Cambridge University in England that appears to have enabled paralyzed dogs to overcome spinal injuries via work implanting "olfactory ensheathing cells" or "OEC" frm the dog's nose into its spinal cord. Result: 23 of the 34 dogs which had the transplanted cells were able to walk again, though admittedly not perfectly. Of the control group of other dogs, implanted with a placebo, none showed that ability.

The article raises the hope that in the future, similar work may enable paralyzed humans to show significant improvement, but cautions that may be quite some way off in the future.

What I found particularly intriguing is the use of olfactory ensheathing cells.  Seems we all-- humans and dogs-- have them growing within us. In fact, those are the only part of the human body where nerve fibers continue to grow in adults. That suggests that --perhaps-- OECs may offer an alternative to embryonic stem cells, or even to other stem cells.

If you go back to the BBC post, you will find a video showing one dog's progress over the six months after injection of these nerve cells. "Nerve cell transplant enables paralysed dogs to walk"


More on "when is death": now "organ donors who are 'pretty dead."

In the previous post, we looked at a couple of intriguing--maybe disturbing-- articles on the issue of harvesting organs from "recently dead" humans. (That post was "A REMEDY FOR DEATH. Ah, but what IS death? Two interesting articles.")

But that got into the emerging hot-button related issues of "what is death--how should it be gauged?" and "how dead does one really need to be an organ donor?"

In another take on the question, Dick Teresi in Discover Magazine, May 2012, wrote an article,   "The Beating Heart Donors"   Donors," --- that is, in some cases, those are "pretty dead." But how dead do you have to be to be an organ donor?  A couple of intriguing excerpts from that article:

  • "The only people who do not get a share of the transplant wealth are the most essential: the donors and their families. By law, they are the only ones who cannot be compensated. Joseph Murray, the surgeon who performed the first solid-organ transplant, maintains that donors must not be paid, in order to maintain the integrity of the field.
  • "The organ trade claims transplants are the neat extraction of body parts from totally dead, unfeeling corpses. But it's more complicated and messier than that."
  • "Organ transplants would be peripheral to the story of death if they were what the organ trade claimed them to be: the neat extraction of body parts from totally dead, unfeeling corpses. But it is more complicated and messier than that. The grisly facts compiled in this article are not an attempt to derail organ transplantation—an impossible task, given how entrenched the industry is—but knowledge that has been gained from the medical establishment’s obsession with recycling the bodies of people who are, in the words of Dr. Michael DeVita of the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center, only “pretty dead.”"

Just to be clear, these are Dick Teresi's words and thoughts.

In another of those little strokes of synchronicity that make my life so interesting, literally as I was writing this entry, I got a call from a friend, a retired Army Colonel, who told me he'd had a transplanted eye for 25 years now, still working well.

Transplants, good.  But still up in the air is the issue of donation.

Best yet, still to come, is the whole field of bio-artificial organs, organ fabrication, organ regeneration and the like .  It's happening, bio-artificial organs are being --what's the word? Created? Generated? Grown?  (On this, I recently did several posts noting current research in these fields. You'll find these mostly in the September 2012 archives of this blog.)

A couple of words more about Dick Teresi.  That Discover article is based on his newest book, THE UNDEAD: ORGAN HARVESTING, THE ICE-WATER TEST, BEATING HEART CADAVERS--HOW MEDICINE IS BLURRING THE LINE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH (available in both e-book and p-book version via Amazon  and other booksellers.)

And this: way back, when I was first beginning the research for my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with Body, Soul & Bio-tech, one of my earlist and most helpful resources with the book  THE THREE-POUND UNIVERSE  by Judith Harper and --you guessed!--Dick Teresi.  (Without giving away the plot of Remedy, suffice it to say that the three-pound universe is that thingee up inside your head, also known as "the brain."  And that one of the lead characters in Remedy just happens to be a experimental neurosurgeon with some ideas that are definitely outside the experimental mainstream.)


Hyperbaric oxygen chambers-- another use, this by Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps

We recently examined here the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers as a tool to aid recuperation from  slow-to-heal wounds and other health conditions.  Link to that blog post:  "Hyperbaric oxygen chambers--- nowadays not just science fiction."

That was in the context of the role hyperbaric oxygen chambers play in my  medical techno-thriller,  A REMEDY FOR DEATH.

Today I came on another use of hyperbaric chambers, this in both USA Today and in more detail in Toronto's Globe and Mail.

American Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps 16 medals), has been "sleeping at 8,000 feet every night," in a hyperbaric chamber.

According to the Globe and Mail article, these chambers "are used by many athletes to replicate high-altitude conditions and boost levels of oxygen-rich blood cells."  Link to the article by Rachel Cohen in the Globe and Mail

What's particularly interesting to me is that for healing purposes, patients enter the hyperbaric chambers and go as if underwater, where air pressure is heavier.  Phelps and other athletes do the opposite: instead, they use the tanks set to simulate going up where the air is thinner.  That simulated altitude changes the body make-up, stimulating the growth of red blood cells.

And bear in mind the rumor that singer Michael Jackson slept in a hyperbaric chamber to slow the aging process.  Dr. Timothy Adkins (mentioned in my previous post, above) pointed out that he could not have slept all night in a chamber set to simulate underwater pressure: that would have resulted in damage and possible convulsions.

But --- and it is still a rumor, bear in mind --- perhaps Mr. Jackson, like Mr. Phelps, slept in a hyperbaric chamber set to a thinner atmosphere, as if on a mountain. Who knows?


Hyperbaric oxygen chambers--- nowadays not just science fiction.

Science fiction that's not fictional, technology that probably seemed far-out a couple or so decades back but is everyday use now.  I'm referring to hyperbaric oxygen chambers.

As hyperbaric chambers and hyperbaric oxygen therapy play key parts in my medical techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, I took advantage of an opportunity recently to visit (as an observer, not a patient) the Center for Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine, a part of the Sebastian River Medical Center in Sebastian, Florida. 

I came away with some photos and info I hadn't previously known, and thought this would be a good place to share as background to readers of A REMEDY FOR DEATH.

  P2010938

 Before there was hyperbaric oxygen therapy to stimulate healing, there were decompression tanks for divers. Initially, decompression tanks were used with divers suffering from the bends, though more recently have been used to reduce the amount of underwater decompression needed from deep dives. (It's a lot more comfortable to sit or lie in a decompression chamber than to hang on a rope in cold water.)

The primary objective in using  hyperbaric oxygen therapy for a patient is to increase the concentration of oxygen in the blood, as a way of promoting healing. For that reason, a lot of the patients attending the Sebastian Center for Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine suffer from diabetic wounds or other injuries that have bneen slow to heal.

Put them in a chamber, pump up the concentration to maybe two atmospheres or so (around what you'd be experiencing as a scuba diver 30-50 feet underwater), then increase the oxygen to 100% from its normal range when mixed with outside air, and healing significantly speeds up. Though, to qualify that, it may take 10, 30 or more sessions in the tank for the desired breakthrough.

Each "dive" lasts from one to about two and a  half hours. (The term "dive" comes from the old use for divers. Besides, if I were a patient, I think I'd rather brag to the gang down at the bowling alley that "I'm going to take a dive tomorrow", than say the ho-hum "off to therapy.")

While in that "dive," the patient lies on a comfortable bed, and can read or watch TV. (But definitely not smoke! Remember how bad things happen when pure oxygen and flames, or even sparks, get together.)  For that same reason-- to avoid any chance of a spark -- the maintenance staff uses special mops and solvents.

Here's another shot of a hyperbaric chamber, this time with the hatch sealed.  The tanks used here are open and bright, so patients don't risk the claustrophobic sense in other "tubes" such as MRI.

P2010939

I said the primary objective in using hyperbaric therapy is to speed healing, that is, helping tissues knit together more rapidly.

But there are other uses, including to help the recovery of victims of stroke or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).  It seems that most of the more visionary experimental work has to be done outside the United States, because of our slow-to-change regulatory mode.

There was a rumor that singer Michael Jackson slept in a hyperbaric chamber in the hopes of staying young. Rumor or true, who knows.  But there is research being done on that now--- can hyperbaric oxygen therapy slow aging?

My thanks to Timothy G. Adkins, M.D., Medical Director at the Center for Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine, part of the Sebastian River Medical Center, Sebastian, FL.  Oh, as to the question, What does it feel like to be in a hyperbaric chamber breathing oxygen?  According to Dr. Adkins, it doesn't feel any different than breathing normal air at normal pressure.