Treating diseases and extending lives are feats as old as humanity itself, yet modern medicine is just over two centuries old. In that short time, scientists have made incredible progress; smallpox was eradicated, and diseases such as measles, and influenza are now preventative through vaccines. The discovery of antibiotics allowed for dealing with infections, insulin manages diabetes, and chemotherapies help treat cancer. Life expectancy has increased, and it’s only on the way up.
Changes in the medical technology landscape impact the work happening in cryonics organizations. New procedures, personalized drugs, and preventative medicines all have significant effects on the research taking place in the field of longevity and human cryopreservation today. With these advancements occurring, will it ever be possible that technology can cure all diseases and conditions, including the ever-complex aging process? Let’s find out.
While acceleration in the field of medical technology has been outstanding, it’s still not perfect. Today, there are many incurable diseases, like most advanced-stage cancers, Alzheimer’s, and neurological diseases such as Motor Neuron Disease and multiple sclerosis. That said, the introduction of AI and other tools has propelled the healthcare sector into a position that society and cryonics organizations could only have dreamed of 100 years ago.
Current technologies that are becoming more prominent in the medical sector today are largely backed by artificial intelligence. These include:
As of 2022, the main causes of death in Europe are cardiovascular diseases (ischemic heart disease), cancer, and respiratory illnesses. The recent introduction of therapeutics, stem cell therapies, predictive diagnostics, and personalized medicine have all been key in unlocking new opportunities in curing diseases. While the knowledge and tools that scientists have today are better able to manage certain ailments, there is still a long way to go in finding cures.
Many believe that aging is inevitable. However, what if we told you that aging—just like any other disease—has a cause that could be identified, and possibly cured (or at least mitigated)? Aging is a cellular and molecular process that varies from person to person. It is the sum of the bodily changes that occur throughout your life, and a combination of your genes interacting with external factors, such as your diet and your environment.
There is no cure for aging, but there are things like healthy lifestyle choices that can slow the progress of bodily changes. Thanks to better disease treatments, life expectancy has increased around the world. However, the goal of longevity research is usually to have a longer healthspan, rather than only a lifespan. A healthspan means a longer, healthier, and more active life. A long lifespan (which is what anti-aging solutions target) could still mean a person is ill or in pain but just lives to a higher chronological age.
Right now, it’s difficult to predict how long it might take to find a solution to aging. For this reason, cryopreservation remains the best option for an extended life.
Cryonics, or human cryopreservation, is a highly advanced medical procedure that occurs after a person’s legal death. The process involves the preservation and storage of a patient for an indefinite period of time until future technology allows for them to be revived. Although technology doesn’t exist today for a revival, there is no fundamental biological reason why it can’t one day be possible. Presently, cryonics organizations focus on perfecting the cryopreservation process, ensuring the best possible techniques and long-term storage methods are used. This allows members to have an optimal chance to wake up in the future.
As science continues to advance, it’s possible that some technologies today could reach their full potential in several years' time. Furthermore, utilizing high-tech medical care could get future society close to reaching some sort of immortality. Below are some examples of exciting innovations being researched in both the healthcare and cryonics industries.
Nanomedicine is a subset of medicine that uses nanotechnology in the prevention and treatment of diseases. Nanotech is defined as a branch of science that designs, produces, and uses structures and systems by manipulating molecules and atoms at a nanoscale. Although highly valuable in medicine, the tech is used in multiple other fields, too, and is often considered a possible key to making revival after cryopreservation possible.
Applications for nanotechnology in healthcare include imaging, diagnosis, and the delivery of drugs to help treat diseases. An example of nanotechnology is applying nanoparticles to deliver drugs, heat, light, and other substances to specific cells i.e. cancer cells. The particles are engineered so that they are drawn to the diseased cells, allowing for direct treatment to take place. Although nanotechnology is still in its infancy, it has tremendous potential.
Once believed to be just a science-fiction utopia, 3D printing is a technology that’s here to stay. Its uses span far and wide, from food and mechanical printing to bioprinting organs. This technology hopes to produce medical supplies for hospitals, personalized prosthetics for patients, and tissue-like structures for individuals, which could eradicate the challenges surrounding organ transplantation. With bio-printers producing personalized organs, there may no longer be a necessity for donors or for cryopreserving organs for transplants, which could save countless lives.
While there are things you can do to slightly slow down the aging process, ie exercising and eating well, nothing exists today for age reversal. This concept means restoring cells to a more youthful state, which scientists around the world are attempting to do. They could also learn a lot from nature, as organisms exist today that have already achieved biological immortality. The immortal jellyfish is one of these organisms. This jellyfish goes through a process known as transdifferentiation, where a cell can convert into any other specialized cell, therefore recycling and replacing the cells that are damaged.
The aging process occurs deep down in your cells. Each cell has a copy of your DNA, which is the genetic code that tells cells how to behave. The goal of age reversal is to use technology that could reprogram cells to an embryonic-like state, known as stem cells. This is because stem cells can differentiate into a wide range of adult cells, but are free of the byproducts that characterize aging cells. Let’s take a closer look at what technologies could reverse aging at some point in the future.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, more commonly known as CRISPR, is considered one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 21st century. The technique involves cutting or ‘editing’ DNA sequences to either delete them or input a new one. As a significant part of aging is controlled by genes, controlling the activity through CRISPR could reverse the aging process entirely. This precise editing technique could be revolutionary not only for aging, but for individuals suffering from complex diseases like cancer, diabetes, HIV, and more.
Partial cellular programming is a new area of research looking to rejuvenate cells. Before partial, there was full cellular programming, a concept discovered by doctors Takahashi and Yamanaka. The scientists found that they could use four specific genes, known as “Yamanaka Factors” that could reprogram cells back to pluripotent, stem cells. The idea was that once they became pluripotent cells, they could differentiate into any type of adult cell, and cell identity and aging could be reset. However, challenges arose as cells forgot their identity and function in the process, which wouldn’t be beneficial for situations like a revival from biostasis.
Partial cellular programming is a milder version of this. It rejuvenates cells while maintaining their identity. Halfway to pluripotency, the Yamanaka Factors are stopped so that cell rejuvenation has taken place, but the cells don’t lose their function. However, there are several challenges with this method and cells don’t reach the same level of rejuvenation as full programming offers.
Cryonics focuses its efforts on saving lives that would otherwise be doomed, as well as giving people a chance at an extended life. With this said, advancements like CRISPR and partial cellular reprogramming could be massively beneficial for cryonics, particularly upon revival. The tech could repair cell damage, and potentially treat the cause of death. Age-reversal technology could also play a part in turning back the patient’s biological clock so that they don’t wake up from cryopreservation in an old body.
New and improved medical technologies could also give scientists more time to find cures for diseases and causes of death. While society waits for solutions, human cryopreservation remains the best chance right now to see a futuristic world.
There are many reasons to be excited about the future. The technologies that exist today have come about in such a short space of time, so who knows what the future might bring? We could be on the brink of combating aging, curing diseases, and discovering the technology that makes revival from biostasis a possibility.
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