A scientific revolution in antiaging and life extension is underway, and the focus is not only on retarding the aging process, but also on curing or reversing disabilities— regenerative medicine. Through cell therapy, tissue engineering and even bionics, real possibilities exist to extend life. For those currently dying of illness or disease, cryonics—or the preservation of the dead through freezing—offers the hope of reanimation and a cure in a future where the Fountain of Youth is made possible through medical breakthroughs. Want to live forever? Read on…
On a cold spring day in 2015, 22-month-old Gardell Martin was playing on the banks of a flooding stream outside of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, with his elder brothers. The young boy fell in and was quickly swept away by the turbulent 34-degree currents. The brothers ran for help.
A quarter of a mile downstream, rescuers found Gardell. He had been submerged in the freezing water for half an hour. They detected no respiration and no pulse; by clinical and legal standards, the boy was dead. But knowing the history of similar cases with “miraculous” endings, the paramedics and doctors administered CPR continuously for two hours, even though his body temperature was a low 77 degrees. In the hospital he was warmed with a special blanket and injected with fluids as faint cardiac activity was detected. Five days later he was released in perfect health, having suffered no permanent physiological damage.
One hundred years ago Gardell Martin would have been abandoned to an early grave. But thanks to modern medical knowledge and technology, he was effectively resurrected from the dead. And he is far from alone: In the last 35 years numerous similar cases have been reported, including one child submerged for 66 minutes.
Such cases form the core theory behind cryonics, namely that the dead can be frozen and vital organs preserved from decay in hopes that future advances in medical technology will enable resurrection. The concept dates to 1962, when American physics teacher Robert Ettinger wrote in The Prospect of Immortality: “If civilization endures, medical science should eventually be able to repair almost any damage to the human body…”
Only 350 or so bodies are cryonically preserved now (including Ettinger himself, who died in 2011 at age 92), with thousands more signed up for the deep freeze. It’s expensive—$28,000 at Ettinger’s Cryonics Institute (www.cryonics.org)—and most people, including the well-heeled, consider cryonics a real long-shot gamble. Even if you could be reanimated, you might still suffer from the ailments that terminated the first phase of your life. Or you might wake up in a world so far gone that you wish you had opted for a traditional grave and simply fed the worms. As Ettinger said, “If civilization endures.”
But if the modern world does survive climate challenges and belligerent idiots with nuclear weapons, Ettinger might very well be vindicated: A scientific revolution in antiaging and life extension is well underway in Silicon Valley. Spearheading this research is Facebook investor and co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel. Back in 2006 he gave $3.5 million to Cambridge antiaging researcher Aubrey de Grey through the non-profit Methuselah Foundation. Since then he and his partners at Founders Fund have invested in 14 health and biotech companies, all tasked with extending not only life span, but also health span, the years of living in good health.
JUST AS YOU KEEP AN OLD CAR RUNNING BY REPLACING CRITICAL PARTS, IN THE NEAR FUTURE YOU WILL BE ABLE TO EXTEND THE MILEAGE ON YOUR AGING BODY BY REPLACING ORGANS—EITHER THROUGH BIOLOGICAL TRANSPLANTS DERIVED FROM STEM CELLS, MECHANICAL/MICROCHIP DEVICES OR A SYNTHESIS OF BOTH.
Biologist Craig Venter has founded Human Longevity, Inc., with plans to amass a database of 1 million human genome sequences by 2020. And hedge fund manager Joon Yun has funded the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, to be awarded to the first team extending life span in mice by 50%. But what would a high-tech revolution be without the big gorilla of Silicon Valley?
In 2013 Google gave birth to Calico (California Life Company), dedicated to harnessing “advanced technologies to increase our understanding of the biology that controls life span.” One scientist on staff is famed molecular biologist Cynthia Kenyon, who genetically engineered roundworms to live six times longer than normal. Another discovery is that people who live to be 100 are more likely to have mutations in the daf-2 gene and more frequent variants in the FoxO gene. Kenyon recalls how, early in her career, aging research was ridiculed and deemed to be a career dead end. Now it’s all the rage.