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{ [0]=> string(2) "en" } ["field"]=> string(4) "slug" } } ["primary_table"]=> string(8) "hy_posts" ["primary_id_column"]=> string(2) "ID" } ["meta_query"]=> object(WP_Meta_Query)#11022 (9) { ["queries"]=> array(0) { } ["relation"]=> NULL ["meta_table"]=> NULL ["meta_id_column"]=> NULL ["primary_table"]=> NULL ["primary_id_column"]=> NULL ["table_aliases":protected]=> array(0) { } ["clauses":protected]=> array(0) { } ["has_or_relation":protected]=> bool(false) } ["date_query"]=> bool(false) ["queried_object"]=> object(WP_Term)#11046 (10) { ["term_id"]=> int(81) ["name"]=> string(30) "feel at ease|health|technology" ["slug"]=> string(28) "feel-at-easehealthtechnology" ["term_group"]=> int(0) ["term_taxonomy_id"]=> int(81) ["taxonomy"]=> string(8) "post_tag" ["description"]=> string(0) "" ["parent"]=> int(0) ["count"]=> int(4) ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } ["queried_object_id"]=> int(81) ["request"]=> string(1303) " SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS DISTINCT hy_posts.*, IF (hy_posts.post_type = 'tribe_events', hy_postmeta.meta_value, hy_posts.post_date) AS post_date FROM hy_posts LEFT JOIN hy_term_relationships ON (hy_posts.ID = hy_term_relationships.object_id) LEFT JOIN hy_term_relationships AS tt1 ON (hy_posts.ID = tt1.object_id) LEFT JOIN hy_postmeta as hy_postmeta on hy_posts.ID = hy_postmeta.post_id AND hy_postmeta.meta_key = '_EventStartDate' WHERE 1=1 AND ( hy_term_relationships.term_taxonomy_id IN (2) AND tt1.term_taxonomy_id IN (81) ) AND ((hy_posts.post_type = 'post' AND (hy_posts.post_status = 'publish' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'acf-disabled' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-success' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-failed' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-schedule' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-pending' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-draft')) OR (hy_posts.post_type = 'tribe_events' AND (hy_posts.post_status = 'publish' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'acf-disabled' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-success' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-failed' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-schedule' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-pending' OR hy_posts.post_status = 'tribe-ea-draft'))) GROUP BY hy_posts.ID ORDER BY post_date DESC LIMIT 0, 9 " ["posts"]=> &array(4) { [0]=> object(WP_Post)#11025 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(961) ["post_author"]=> string(3) "547" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2015-12-01 00:00:00" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2015-12-01 00:00:00" ["post_content"]=> string(7518) "Two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Or are they? The main causes of death are diseases, accidents, suicide or just old age. An increasing number of scientists are hell-bent on getting rid of the last cause or to die trying. Not only do they have the ambition to stop ageing, they even intend to reverse it. At the forefront of this groundbreaking research is a man with a name worth remembering: Aubrey De Grey. De Grey is a professor at Cambridge University and he is by far the most vocal scientist in this field. He is convinced we have a reasonable chance to ensure that our bodies stay around twentyfive years old until eternity. Theoretically, this means what you think it means: immortality!

How we age - do we have a built-in genetic clock?

Science has acquired a large body of knowledge on how we age already. There are two theories... The first one points at our genetic programming as it presumably contains the age we will reach before dying. Age is basically pre-programmed. In the early sixties, Leonard Hayflick , a researcher at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, discovered that after about seventy divisions, the cell division process slows down and eventually stops. He also discovered that the age of the cell impacts the number of future divisions. Basically, older people’s cells will not be able to divide as much as those of young people. Therefore, Hayflick’s research suggests that there is a built-in clock in each cell that determines how many times that cell can divide and consequently how long the owner can live. A disease called Werner’s syndrome, suggests that gene mutation does have a direct link with ageing as it causes rapid ageing.

How we age - telomere shortening?

The second theory about why we age is also related to genes, more specifically to cell division. In short, each cell has a strand of DNA.  When a cell divides, it copies its DNA and then splits into two daughter cells. Telomeres and ageingHowever, the copying process causes small ‘copy errors’. These errors are caused because the telomeres, the outer parts of the DNA strands, are not fully copied. They break off in the division process. Our bodies can only handle so much damage and we die once a certain “damage treshold” is attained. Spanish scientists at the National Centre of Biotechnology approached telomere decay and ageing with a specific experiment: they genetically altered mice - who do normally have telomerase switched on - to have this switched off, just as with humans. The results were thought-provoking: these ‘humanised’ mice showed the same traits of human ageing: the hair of the mice turned grey, the mice became frail and were not able to heal as quickly as they used to do. Therefore, the key to stopping ageing seems to be in preventing our DNA from breaking off as it splits into new cells.

Is telomerase the golden enzyme to stop ageing?

Our bodies are ingenious machines. Does it surprise you that our body has a way to counter the decay of our DNA strands caused by sub-optimal copying? The secret resides in our reproductive cells which show little or no decay at all, independent of our age. The key to this secret is called telomerase, an enzyme produced by our reproductive cells. How does it work? Telomerase stretches the imperfect DNA strands back to a state of perfection, so there is no compound decay. The good part is that this enzyme is part of our DNA. This means that all of our cells  (not only our reproductive cells) are able to be repaired to this state of perfection. With all but our reproductive cells, this mechanism is suppressed from within our DNA strand by a repressor protein. Hence, the key to unlocking age reversal seems to be to ensure telomerase is active in all our cells. This is something scientists have been working on for many years. Telomeres and its protective function for DNA had already been discovered in the late thirties by a geneticist called Hermann Müller. It took about sixty years though before science truly leapt forward to research the possibilities of telomerase with humans.  In 1998, a line of cells was created which was able to divide indefinitely without any decay. This means what you think it does in that human cells could be made immortal. In the year 2000, Geron Corporation, the same company which created the telomerase positive cells, did what cosmetic companies have been promising for decades: making skin younger. Finally, in 2008, scientists have successfully cloned mice with active telomerase genes. These mice actually lived about half a life longer than their regular counterparts, suggesting telomerase is the way forward to significant life extension! Today, many companies like Geron and Sierra Sciences experiment with gene therapy, suggesting that many diseases caused by telomere shortening along with the actual ageing process can be stopped...

What if immortality were to happen in our lifetimes?

We know: it is hard to grasp the idea, but what if we could ‘technically’ become immortal? Would you want it and if so, how long would you like to live? Above all else, would you change your life? It seems that there are several objections to significant life extension, ranging from “ageing is a natural process, tampering with age is unnatural”, to “our social security systems will fail if we live significantly longer”. Most of the arguments fall in to the categories of social conventions which can be altered if that's what we want. We need a nuanced debate to determine to what extent dramatic life extension is welcomed because a wide range of philosophical and societal questions are raised. The biggest challenge? There are no right or wrong answers, which leaves it up to all of us to determine the preferable answer.

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Want more? Don't be sad that the article is over! We got plenty of other exciting stuff to share with you. Subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter and we'll keep you up to date with our latest news!" ["post_title"]=> string(40) "On age reversal. Can we become immortal?" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(12) "age-reversal" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2019-07-16 12:19:25" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2019-07-16 12:19:25" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(49) "https://www.happonomy.org/creativity/age-reversal/" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [1]=> object(WP_Post)#11031 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(966) ["post_author"]=> string(3) "547" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2015-07-31 00:00:00" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2015-07-31 00:00:00" ["post_content"]=> string(6916) "From their modest beginnings in the Eighties, the 3D printers have evolved to a point where they start to exceed the limits of our imagination. Two decades ago, a 3D printer could only give you a plastic model, which was very limited in size, while these days they can print whole houses and make it seem like an effortless process. Still, this is not where the story ends, as it is more than obvious that the 3D technology will bring even more surprises in the future.

Printed limbs?

3D printed limbs represent another crazy idea that might not be that far away. There are already organisations such as e-NABLE that collaborate with designers and 3D architects to create cheap 3D printed prosthetic limbs. These days, you can even choose colours, textures and styles of prosthetic limbs and you can print them for about £30. The Open Hand Project is another interesting initiative that creates 3D printed robotic prosthetics for under £600. Printing a real limb sounds like the next logical step and scientists are already working on making it a reality.

3D printing something alive

As in any other 3D printing process, you need a printer and a building material. To build something organic, you need a printer that uses cells and hydrogel as ink. Naturally, the organic cells are your building material, although they do not stick together as well as printing plastic or cement.

Why hydrogel?

This is why you need to add the hydrogel in the mix. Hydrogel provides structure and its purpose is to keep the cells together in place. The printed tissue of cells and hydrogel will also have to undergo a maturing process before it becomes usable. During the maturing process, hydrogel is gradually removed and the cells form stronger bonds.

Compatibility issues

All of this may sound complicated, and we have not even mentioned the issue with compatibility. Every tissue is made from different cells and as an added complication; the cells need to be compatible with the potential recipient if the tissue is to be transplanted successfully. Just growing enough compatible cells is a hassle, as it is a Petri dish process that takes a lot of time.

Printing biological limbs

With our current technology, printing a whole live limb is far from possible. However, scientists are on the right track. So far, bioprinters such as the PrintAlive have been used to create skin, tracheas and even whole bladders. These artificial tissues have been successfully grown and transplanted into live human beings. You may ask yourself "So, where is the problem then?" The problem is that a limb is far more complex than a single tissue. 3D printing human skin  

Obvious limitations

Live limbs are created from many different tissues and current printing procedures only allow a single tissue type to be created at a time. Scientists are working on overcoming this obstacle and hopefully, we will see a more advanced printing technique in the near future.

From robotic aids to full cyborgs

Although printed limbs may not be here yet, you can easily find accessories that can either increase your limbs function or give movement to a paralysed limb. Cyberdyne has made some amazing progress in this field and they have even created a device that can help a person in a wheelchair stand and up walk again. This company has invested a great amount in 3D bioprinting research, so there may come a time when technologies combine and cyborgs become part of our reality. However, this is only something that may happen in the distant future and so far, only the bioprinting potential is being explored.

Potential

The potential of bioprinting is enormous. Printing whole organs can make the organ donor list a thing of the past. Today more than 123,000 men, women and children are waiting on the donors list. A new name is added to the list every ten minutes and each day twenty three people die due to the lack of compatible organs. With enough money invested in this technology, people in need of a transplant will only have to wait the amount of time it takes to cultivate the compatible cells as well as the length of the maturing stage.

Research

Companies such as Cyfuse and Organovo suggest that printing organs and limbs can also cause scientific research to rise steeply. Developing drugs and taking them to the human trials phase has proven to be a lengthy and costly procedure. Printed limbs and organs can help researchers reach human trial phase faster and more cheaply, without compromising safety.

It is NOT a pipe dream

It is hoped that 3D bioprinting will reach a stage where whole limbs can be produced and it's not an unrealistic idea. The technology is here and researchers are already working on it. All that is missing is the adequate funding.  Printed organs and printed limbs can give people a second chance in life. Hopefully they will arrive sooner rather than later.

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Want more? Don't be sad that the article is over! We got plenty of other exciting stuff to share with you. Subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter and we'll keep you up to date with our latest news!" ["post_title"]=> string(41) "Do you like my new arm? It is 3D printed!" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(16) "3d-printed-limbs" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-05-20 15:03:59" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-05-20 13:03:59" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(53) "https://www.happonomy.org/creativity/3d-printed-limbs/" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "1" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [2]=> object(WP_Post)#11032 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(927) ["post_author"]=> string(2) "39" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2015-02-17 00:00:00" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2015-02-17 00:00:00" ["post_content"]=> string(7977) "Gene therapy is the treatment of a disease by replacing or altering a gene that is abnormal and whose abnormality is responsible for the disease. It can also supplement genes that are completely absent. When a gene is abnormal or absent, the product for which it is supposed to be a blueprint (its 'expression') will be faulty, absent or even do the exact opposite of what it is supposed to do. This can cause cells to either malfunction, function too well or do things that they’re not supposed to do, causing diseases like blindness, auto-immune disease and cancer. By successfully introducing the corrected gene into the human cells, such diseases may be treated or even cured. Besides correcting faulty genes, gene therapy can also be used to deliver genes that speed up the destruction of cancer cells, deliver bacterial or viral genes as a form of vaccination or provide genes that stimulate healing of damaged tissue.

Delivery Methods

Delivering genes is easier said than done, of course. The human body doesn’t really like the introduction of 'foreign' material. Our immune system is made to neutralise unknown bodies, which means that simply injecting the corrected cells and hoping for the best won’t be very effective; the altered genes need to be delivered into the patient’s cells and subsequently incorporated into the genetic material of those cells. Unfortunately, penetrating a human cell without destroying it altogether is the next major hurdle to take. However, there is a type of organism that is exceptionally good at this: viruses. Viruses attach themselves to a host cell, inject their genetic material into it and then use the cell’s copy function to make copies of themselves. As a bonus, they usually also bypass the immune system until they have done this, making them an almost ideal transportation method (The word 'almost' is used because the viruses have to be made innocuous first, of course, otherwise the patient would not only receive gene therapy but be infected with the virus as well). Genes can also be delivered within tiny envelopes of fat molecules. As cell membranes contain a very high concentration of fat molecules, the envelope can carry the altered gene into the cell by pretending to be one of the cell’s own molecules.

History

The concept of gene therapy isn’t new. In 1970, Stanfield Rogers, an American doctor theorised that 'good DNA' could be used to replace defective DNA in patients with genetic disorders, and tried this idea out on two sisters who were suffering from a genetic disorder called argininemia. His attempt was unsuccessful. In 1972, Theodore Friedmann and Richard Roblin published a paper in Science called, 'Gene therapy for human genetic disease', referring to Rogers and urging himto proceed with caution. It wasn't until 1990 when the first actual gene therapy was performed on a human: a four year old girl at the NIH Clinical Centre in Bethesda, Maryland, suffering from a congenital disease called adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency was given corrected genes using her own white blood cells.

Challenges

Although gene therapy has shown promising results in clinical trials, governments are hesitant to allow commercialisation of these therapies, mainly because of poor and sometimes lethal results in the 1990s as well as ethical pressure. Gene TherapyWhen gene therapy is administered to a single individual and targeted to specific cells of that individual, the effects are confined to this one person. This is called somatic gene therapy. However, when not only an individual’s body cells are altered, but also his or her reproductive cells (gametes), the gene therapy leads to heritable alterations in the genome that is then passed on to future generations. This is called germline therapy and this has raised a whole catalogue of ethical concerns about the possible implications of altering genes. Although germline therapy could counteract hereditary diseases, many countries prohibit its use due to a lack of knowledge about its long-term effects and fear over unknown risks for future generations. Somatic gene therapy has fewer ethical issues compared with germline gene therapy, but is merely still in its early stages of design and is continuing to face unsolved technological problems, including:
  • The relative short-lived effect of the therapy, calling for repeated treatment. (Human cells divide rapidly; unfortunately, faulty cells are no exception);
  • The complexity of many diseases: lots of diseases are caused by not one defective gene but a combination of altered or dysfunctional genes, making them difficult to treat;
  • The body's immune system, which is designed to fight off any unknown DNA. Insertion of altered cells can trigger toxic, allergic or inflammatory reactions and repeated therapy increases the chances of the body’s immune system recognising foreign bodies, disrupting the effectiveness of the therapy as a whole.
Use of viral vectors such as the transport mechanism to deliver the corrected DNA even carries the risk of the virus recovering its ability to cause disease once it has penetrated the target cells. There is also a risk of inducing tumour growth, when the inserted DNA is incorrectly placed.

The 'Bionic Chip'

A relatively new method is gaining access to a cell by applying an electrical charge to create tiny openings in the cell’s membrane. This technique is called electroporation and is potentially extremely precise because it allows doctors to target specific groups of cells, rather than any set of cells. Rubinsky and Huang, two engineers at the University of California at Berkeley, discovered that cells acts like diodes, passing or blocking electricity at specific voltages. They built a single living cell into an electronic chip and when it was hit with just the right charge, the cell membrane opened, allowing the electricity to pass from the top to the bottom of the bionic chip. By recording what voltage caused this phenomenon to occur, it is now possible to determine precisely how much electricity it takes to pry open different types of cells. As new technologies such as this 'bionic chip' are developed further , and the technological problems mentioned above are solved, it is very likely that gene therapy will play an increasingly important and prominent part in medicine in the decades to come. Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_therapy http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12662&page=4 http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Gene-Therapy.aspx http://www.news-medical.net/health/Gene-Therapy-Issues.aspx http://EzineArticles.com/4480034

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Want to find out in what way health impacts our quality of life? We got you covered! Find out more about health and feeling at ease.  " ["post_title"]=> string(43) "The Triumphs and Challenges in Gene Therapy" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(44) "the-thriumphs-and-challenges-in-gene-therapy" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2019-07-15 14:55:28" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2019-07-15 14:55:28" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(81) "https://www.happonomy.org/creativity/the-thriumphs-and-challenges-in-gene-therapy/" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } [3]=> object(WP_Post)#11033 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(948) ["post_author"]=> string(2) "36" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2015-02-17 00:00:00" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2015-02-17 00:00:00" ["post_content"]=> string(4836) "The purpose of clothing in our civilisation has evolved throughout the centuries from being strictly functional, such as keeping us warm or protecting us from the sun, to being an aesthetic or social class statement which helps us to look cool or identify ourselves with a specific current trend. While all these uses of clothing are still valid and certainly accepted by everyone, we are now living in an era where they are just no longer sufficient as they seem to be too 'single-purposed'! There is clearly much more that can be done with a few metres of textile or with the jewels and accessories that are constantly attached to our bodies. All it takes is just a few drops of science! The study of this phenomenon of relationships between fashion and technology has many names ranging from e-textiles or smart fabrics to wearable technologies, intelligent clothing or high-tech fashion. We chose to encompass them all under the term 'smart clothing' in this article, although we can see that many researchers increasingly prefer to use the term “wearables”.

What You Already Know

Leaving aside the gadgets that you’ve seen in the James Bond movies (which actually seem to be quite feasible and rather common sense nowadays), maybe one of the oldest wearables with which you are certainly familiar is your electronic watch from the early nineties that also had a calculator. This is an example of how we knew more could be done with the things we wear. Similarly, the fluorescent fabric used in the reflective vests or the waterproof textiles used in winter-sports are examples of the mix between textile industry and science.

What’s Coming Next?

The evolution of digital technologies and especially the individualisation and accessibility given to them through smart devices allowed many great ideas to flourish in the past decade , such as Bluetooth headsets mounted on fine earrings, helmets or headbands, USB heated gloves and socks or even the so-called 'Spy TIE' which has a tiny colour camera sewed in. If I had to categorise the work that is currently being done in this field and the multitude of invented products, I would split them into five main areas, based on their purpose. I have listed some examples for each of them below.

Problems Arising

Like everything that’s new, smart clothing also attracts a series of concerns for many people. Although most of these concerns have not yet been scientifically or statistically analysed, they do generate many discussions in the media. The most common discussions refer to:
  • The effect of being constantly surrounded by technology and the radiations that may be emitted through wearables;
  • The fear of losing privacy since most wearables can be tracked and associated with an individual;
  • The possible misinterpretation of data by inexperienced users.
There are also further sociological and anthropological considerations, more linked to the evolution towards a cyborg-like human. While all these will continue to be subjects of debate, I personally know that I will be very happy to hear my mirror telling me when I leave home “Oh, that's a great choice of sweater, it'll keep you warm! However, you've forgotten your matching glucose-monitoring earrings!” Those of you interested can join one of the many conferences happening in various locations this year, such as the Wearable Technology Show in London during March or the WATCH Conference, specialising in the interaction between wearables and health in Amsterdam during May. I have to go now. My activity monitoring bracelet says that I’ve been sitting down for too long...

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Want more? Don't be sad that the article is over! We got plenty of other exciting stuff to share with you. Subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter and we'll keep you up to date with our latest news!  " ["post_title"]=> string(36) "Dress to Impress with Smart Clothing" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(14) "smart-clothing" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2020-05-20 14:41:52" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2020-05-20 12:41:52" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(51) "https://www.happonomy.org/creativity/smart-clothing/" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } } ["post_count"]=> int(4) ["current_post"]=> int(-1) ["in_the_loop"]=> bool(false) ["post"]=> object(WP_Post)#11025 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(961) ["post_author"]=> string(3) "547" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2015-12-01 00:00:00" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2015-12-01 00:00:00" ["post_content"]=> string(7518) "Two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Or are they? The main causes of death are diseases, accidents, suicide or just old age. An increasing number of scientists are hell-bent on getting rid of the last cause or to die trying. Not only do they have the ambition to stop ageing, they even intend to reverse it. At the forefront of this groundbreaking research is a man with a name worth remembering: Aubrey De Grey. De Grey is a professor at Cambridge University and he is by far the most vocal scientist in this field. He is convinced we have a reasonable chance to ensure that our bodies stay around twentyfive years old until eternity. Theoretically, this means what you think it means: immortality!

How we age - do we have a built-in genetic clock?

Science has acquired a large body of knowledge on how we age already. There are two theories... The first one points at our genetic programming as it presumably contains the age we will reach before dying. Age is basically pre-programmed. In the early sixties, Leonard Hayflick , a researcher at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, discovered that after about seventy divisions, the cell division process slows down and eventually stops. He also discovered that the age of the cell impacts the number of future divisions. Basically, older people’s cells will not be able to divide as much as those of young people. Therefore, Hayflick’s research suggests that there is a built-in clock in each cell that determines how many times that cell can divide and consequently how long the owner can live. A disease called Werner’s syndrome, suggests that gene mutation does have a direct link with ageing as it causes rapid ageing.

How we age - telomere shortening?

The second theory about why we age is also related to genes, more specifically to cell division. In short, each cell has a strand of DNA.  When a cell divides, it copies its DNA and then splits into two daughter cells. Telomeres and ageingHowever, the copying process causes small ‘copy errors’. These errors are caused because the telomeres, the outer parts of the DNA strands, are not fully copied. They break off in the division process. Our bodies can only handle so much damage and we die once a certain “damage treshold” is attained. Spanish scientists at the National Centre of Biotechnology approached telomere decay and ageing with a specific experiment: they genetically altered mice - who do normally have telomerase switched on - to have this switched off, just as with humans. The results were thought-provoking: these ‘humanised’ mice showed the same traits of human ageing: the hair of the mice turned grey, the mice became frail and were not able to heal as quickly as they used to do. Therefore, the key to stopping ageing seems to be in preventing our DNA from breaking off as it splits into new cells.

Is telomerase the golden enzyme to stop ageing?

Our bodies are ingenious machines. Does it surprise you that our body has a way to counter the decay of our DNA strands caused by sub-optimal copying? The secret resides in our reproductive cells which show little or no decay at all, independent of our age. The key to this secret is called telomerase, an enzyme produced by our reproductive cells. How does it work? Telomerase stretches the imperfect DNA strands back to a state of perfection, so there is no compound decay. The good part is that this enzyme is part of our DNA. This means that all of our cells  (not only our reproductive cells) are able to be repaired to this state of perfection. With all but our reproductive cells, this mechanism is suppressed from within our DNA strand by a repressor protein. Hence, the key to unlocking age reversal seems to be to ensure telomerase is active in all our cells. This is something scientists have been working on for many years. Telomeres and its protective function for DNA had already been discovered in the late thirties by a geneticist called Hermann Müller. It took about sixty years though before science truly leapt forward to research the possibilities of telomerase with humans.  In 1998, a line of cells was created which was able to divide indefinitely without any decay. This means what you think it does in that human cells could be made immortal. In the year 2000, Geron Corporation, the same company which created the telomerase positive cells, did what cosmetic companies have been promising for decades: making skin younger. Finally, in 2008, scientists have successfully cloned mice with active telomerase genes. These mice actually lived about half a life longer than their regular counterparts, suggesting telomerase is the way forward to significant life extension! Today, many companies like Geron and Sierra Sciences experiment with gene therapy, suggesting that many diseases caused by telomere shortening along with the actual ageing process can be stopped...

What if immortality were to happen in our lifetimes?

We know: it is hard to grasp the idea, but what if we could ‘technically’ become immortal? Would you want it and if so, how long would you like to live? Above all else, would you change your life? It seems that there are several objections to significant life extension, ranging from “ageing is a natural process, tampering with age is unnatural”, to “our social security systems will fail if we live significantly longer”. Most of the arguments fall in to the categories of social conventions which can be altered if that's what we want. We need a nuanced debate to determine to what extent dramatic life extension is welcomed because a wide range of philosophical and societal questions are raised. The biggest challenge? There are no right or wrong answers, which leaves it up to all of us to determine the preferable answer.

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