Regenerative medicine is a fascinating topic, because it requires you to ask yourself: Would you want to live to be 200 years old? A scientist from Stanford University thinks that it’s possible – so much so that he has placed a bet that there is someone alive today who will live to be 200 years old.
Over recent decades, modern scientific developments have led to a dramatic increase in human lifespan. But how much further can we go? Does regenerative medicine have the power to enable us all to live for many more years?
Let’s dive into this fascinating topic and find out more about regenerative medicine. How could it extend human life into the future?
Are We Really Living Longer Than Our Ancestors?
It’s not easy for experts in prehistory to reliably estimate the demographics of a whole population, in terms of life expectancy. This is due to a lack of fossilized human remains and challenges in dating these artifacts accurately.
There are some estimates that the average lifespan in ancient Greek and Roman times was as little as 20-35 years. These figures are skewed though by the incredibly high rates of infant mortality. Historians believe that from around 1500-1800, life expectancy in Europe was roughly 30-40 years of age.
Life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. This is due to the elimination of diseases such as typhoid, smallpox, and scarlet fever. There have also been massive improvements in hygiene and sanitation.
There is some variability among comparable countries, though. There are significant inequalities in life expectancy across the globe. These inequalities also exist within countries according to income level.
Most industrialized countries now have a life expectancy at birth of 75 years or higher. Some calculations predict that this will have increased to around 87 years by 2070. Will regenerative medicine play a part in this increase? Let’s explore this cutting edge technology and how it could impact on the human lifespan.
What Is Regenerative Medicine?
Throughout human history, one of the primary goals of scientists has been to discover methods to extend the human lifespan. This has primarily been achieved by discovering cures and treatments for diseases, but scientists now are looking at other ways to slow down the aging process.
Regenerative medicine uses stem cells to repair damaged tissue in the body. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can transform into other specialized cells. Doctors can harvest stem cells from the human body and then use them to reconstruct damaged tissue.
As we age, our supply of stem cells diminishes in quality and quantity. Therefore alternative sources of stem cells are increasingly being explored. This includes the placenta and umbilical cord. These stem cells can help to reduce inflammation and repair joints. They can also fight autoimmune disease and restore organ functionality.
Stem Cell Therapy for Organ Regeneration
Demand for donated organs exceeds supply by a huge amount. It’s estimated that more than 30% of deaths in the US could be prevented or delayed by access to donated organ replacements.
Regenerative medicine presents an amazing opportunity to create replacement organs. Some scientists are using 3D printing technology to try to create replacement lungs. Stem cells are used in a process called recellularization, whereby the lung scaffold which has been printed is infused with human cells.
Slowing Down Aging with Regenerative Medicine
Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York conducted some experiments injecting stem cells into the brains of animals. They discovered that this process extended their lives by 10-15% and slowed the aging process in older mice.
Stem cells in the hypothalamus region of the human brain are abundant in youth. But they are almost completely absent by middle age. It’s hoped that this discovery in mice could lead to the development of anti-aging therapies in humans.
However, clinical trials in humans are a complex and long process. It may be several years before we know whether these regenerative medicine discoveries will have any benefit on human longevity.
Health Screening to Promote Longevity
Health screening in another profound way to promote longevity and leverage regenerative medicine advances. Some research organizations now offer health screening programs to collect unique health data for individuals. They use this data to assess the individual’s current health and try to anticipate and treat any future health programs.
Whole Genome Sequencing can form part of this process. It provides clinicians with a huge amount of information on a patient’s possible susceptibility to various genetic diseases. These include various types of cancer and heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and hypercholesterolemia.
By using complex diagnostic tests, it’s possible to identify potential risks many years before any symptoms of a disease arise. This allows people to take preventative measures. This reduces the risk of succumbing to the disease in the future.
Human Longevity, Inc., runs a project called The Health Nucleus Program. They found that 14.4% of people coming to them for screening for the first time had significant actionable findings. Identifying risks and acting on them sooner rather than later is a critical element of increasing life expectancy.
Gene Editing and CRISPR
Alongside genome sequencing and advanced diagnostics, radical leaps are being made in the field of gene editing. CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a method of editing genes by identifying specific pieces of DNA within a cell.
This technology has the potential to treat and prevent many diseases by replacing faulty genes. It could also have an impact on how we produce food. These technologies have the potential to change the world and radically alter the human lifespan, but they must be used responsibly and ethically.
Immunotherapies for Cancer
Immunotherapies are another incredible exciting area of regenerative medicine. With this approach, scientists are leveraging components of the human immune system to to treat cancer using chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-T).
CART-T cell therapy involves taking the patient’s own white blood cells and modifying them, then reintroducing them back into the body to fight the cancer.
T cells are the white blood cells in the body which are primarily responsible for destroying cancerous cells found in tumors. However, they are not always able to recognize the cancer cells. By removing and altering these cells in a lab, they can start to identify the cells better. This makes them more effective in destroying cancerous cells.
The Future of Regenerative Medicine as We Know It
More research is needed in all fields of regenerative medicine, to explore how these technologies can help to prevent diseases and treat injuries. The stem cell industry is full of scientists and researchers working hard to find the true potential of human longevity.
Given recent innovations in this field, technologies to streamline clinical and financial workflows are also becoming more readily available.
It may well be that another dramatic increase in the human lifespan is just around the corner.