It's difficult to preface the development indicated in the link above without getting emotional. For those who have been closely following the steady and rapid set of advances in the areas of cell biology and genetics over the last 10 years or so, the pacing has been exhilarating and remarkable. From the invention of iPSC by Shinya Yamanaka in 2006 to the demonstration of clear ability to restore a youthful state to senescent cells in only 5 years is amazing. In that time dozens of teams across the world have contributed additions to the race that have enabled the culmination of the success indicated above. These cofactors will go down in history as the beginning of the new therapy of revigoration. The restoration of life states to youthful points of operation using periodic treatments.
I prognosticated about this ability over several posts in the last few years, but in my wildest optimistic projection did I think we'd achieve so much so quickly.
An excerpt from the post shows how conservative my hypothesis may turn out to be:
"The genetic revigorations that he received were standard for astronauts of the ESA at the time. Today, the program is a historical footnote of the ESA's nearly 300 year history because since the invention of full genome vigorations development back in 2032, the entire human population has been undergoing continuous vigoration and adaptation."
2032 indeed. In 2008, to be fair when I wrote the post iPSC had many major issues preventing it from working as it currently works. For one the cofactors and methods used (by Yamanaka) were very different from the 6 used in this research, they had a bad side effect of triggering cancer formation. It was later in 2009 that efficient methods were found that used cofactors and lacked the oncogenic threat. Developments continued apace in 2009 and 2010 and now here we are on the brink of enabling super mortality as a treatment for aging itself.
I sit here stunned that in less than 6 years from their invention by Shinya Yamanaka, reprogrammed somatic cells via the technique of iPSC are now on the verge of unlocking the mystery of aging.
I wrote the hypothetical blog post on the life of Afusa O'Reilly 3 years ago in 2008 at the time, iPSC research was plagued with many issues (accidental cancer formation being one of them) but later discoveries of the use of enzymatic cofactors to enable pluripotency got rid of many of those concerns while significantly improving the percentage of cells that would become pluripotent.
Now, we know that rejuvenation is also a part of the gift of this technology. Though still in a developmental mode (the cells are not used therapeutically ....yet) we can expect the following to quickly occur.
1) Labs working on similar research will replicate the findings of the LeMaitre team (which is funny to me since it roughly means "the owner" in French) and test the stability of the rejuvenation.
2) Parallel work earlier this year (another Nobel Prize winning effort in my view) that enabled for the first time in vivo modification of genetic information without cancer formation will combine to allow living individuals to have their key stem cells (of any tissue type) rejuvenated.
3) Prior to 2) Occurring though...it is likely that cosmetics companies will look very closely into paying for some of this research to find ways to provide these cofactors to existing senescent cells in hopes of spurring rejuvenation. (Which may work but in a weak way)
4) The world needs to seriously sit down and wake up to what all this will mean. In my original prognostication I thought 2032 would be about when full revigoration (as I called it) would be possible as a treatment to anyone who could pay for it. We don't have that yet (as these successes are only in the lab) but they are an inevitable result of this work that will likely happen within the next 2 years as no significant blockages present. The issues that a super senescent or super mortal population of individuals that can continue to reproduce must be taken seriously. All the projections on food supply and resource use assume that the death rate will pretty much stay as it has been but with a revolution like this that rate will shift dramatically (especially if these treatments are widely available as a commercial service) we will have to seriously think, one society after another about how to deal with over population. The time for such think is NOW.
5) Other serious issues also present, the fact that individuals living today carry the dominant cultural memes of the generation (baby boomers) in charge means that mores and ideas associated with such individuals will persist longer into the future. In some cases this may be a great thing as progressive ideas first pioneered by boomers continue to evolve...however in other cases it I believe is not a good thing. Strong supporters of philosophies of ignorance may be given quite literally much longer leases on life that will allow them to continue to pollute the human discourse that must happen increasingly more efficiently as we move forward in a growing populating of slowly dying individuals. I quote from the post I wrote on the idea when it dawned on me earlier this year:
"Still as this generation has a standing memory of these people what is likely to happen is an exaggerated remembrance in all human history to come of this time, as those who are alive now...and likely will be for centuries to come continue to push forward what they found important. If people who are the last active conveyor of knowledge live longer and longer than the time before obscure areas of knowledge are forgotten will also spread out into the future in an ever living memory concentrated around the last 50 years and moving forward into times yet to come. "
It must be clearly stated where we are:
Death by aging is about to be an option and not a requirement of living human beings.
The ripples through human cultural interaction and how those effect the one planet we inhabit must be dealt with if amazing levels of discord are to be avoided. I am excited about the development and look forward to see it develop but I am terrified at our level of immaturity. Let's hope we can draw on the inner will of humanity that got us here from the Savanah and make it through.