Longevity research has surged rapidly in recent years with scientists focusing their efforts on anti-aging and drug discovery. Understanding the biological processes behind why and how we age, with the intention of delaying or preventing age-related diseases remains at the core of this exciting research.
While there have been great advancements in the area of longevity, intense interest from the public, corporations, and the media has made it difficult to separate unfounded claims from scientific facts. The same can be said for the cryonics (aka human cryopreservation) industry, where misconceptions often cloud the great pioneering work taking place in the field.
As longevity research evolves, it remains a question of whether it will advance fast enough to avoid what’s known today as ‘death of old age.’ Doctors and scientists encourage good eating, sleeping, and exercising habits, but there isn’t anything that pauses the natural aging process. This article will explore the various aspects of aging, longevity, and immortality, and look at how human cryopreservation could provide the best opportunity to live an extended life.
Longevity is often used synonymously with ‘life expectancy’ and is defined as a person’s capability of surviving beyond the average age of death. Studies show that the biggest factors impacting longevity are genetics and lifestyle. Approximately 20-30% of an individual’s lifespan is related to their genetics, while the rest is due to an individual’s behaviour and environmental factors, which can be modified.
Studies in the field of longevity can be categorized into the areas of therapeutics, stem-cell therapies, predictive diagnostics, and personalized medicine. Developments happening now could provide a future solution for aging. So let’s take a look at one of these categories—personalized medicine. It’s widely known that not every person reacts the same way to the same drug. Instead of offering a ‘one size fits all’ prescription, doctors could prescribe medicine that’s customized to a patient’s unique profile, based on their genetic markings.
As research has significantly advanced over the years, scientists have seen that aging is controlled by genetic pathways and biochemical processes. Various studies have outlined 9 hallmarks representing the common cellular and molecular aging features in organisms. These hallmarks include genomic instability, telomere attrition, and stem cell exhaustion, and the aim of future longevity research is to understand the connections between them.
Aging is a highly complex process that leads a person to become more vulnerable to the death process. It’s one of the top risk factors for conditions like heart disease and cancer, which are the main causes of death globally.
Firstly, there are two types of aging: biological and chronological. The latter refers to the number of days since you were born; the former relates to the health and vitality of your cells. Delaying biological aging isn’t a brand new idea, in fact, scientists have been fascinated with the concept for years. The belief is that by keeping cells healthy and reducing their biological age, life-extension medicine could help reduce cell deterioration, eradicate age-related diseases, and improve a person’s quality of life.
Some Harvard and MIT researchers have studied the process of aging for about 25 years. Harvard researcher David Sinclair stated that when he started in the field, research on aging at the molecular level was at the backwater of biology. Now, 25 years later, the topic has moved to the forefront of science, with new breakthroughs occurring more regularly. Sinclair has stated that he’s confident that at some point in the future, aging will be treated at the source. He believes that this would have a much greater impact on health and longevity than drugs targeting a single disease. If you consider it this way—if you’re suffering from high blood pressure, prescribed tablets can help reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes, but do nothing for your brain. So while people may be living longer, it doesn’t always mean better, as age-related diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s still loom.
For the most part, people want to live longer and healthier, and the fear of the unknown has led researchers on an unending quest for eternal life. What are people talking about when they mention “immortality”?
In order to live forever, a person’s body would have to stop the aging process and resist diseases, scientifically known as biological immortality. As always, researchers in the field take inspiration from nature - just as cryonics organizations do with biostasis. Organisms like the bristlecone pine and the so-called “immortal jellyfish” are not hindered by the biological aging process, as their cells endlessly replicate to take the place of dying ones. Although they can be killed by harmful predators, they could otherwise live forever in this immortal biological state.
Cybernetic immortality is another possibility, where an individual’s body part is replaced with an indestructible artificial equivalent, making them a cyborg. Taking this concept further is ‘mind uploading.’ A person's mind could be copied and input into machinery so that it is more robust and longer-lasting than its biological counterpart. If the avatar or machinery becomes damaged or outdated, the mind could easily be disconnected and transferred to a newer one, therefore achieving a sort of immortality.
Lastly—virtual or digital immortality is the concept of storing a person’s personality in a computer, a robot, or cyberspace. While research is still a ways away from recreating a structure as complex as the brain, there have been developments in smaller organisms, like the worm. OpenWorm is an open-source project committed to creating the first virtual organism in a computer. Modeling a simple nervous system like a worm is the pathway to understanding the complexity of the human brain. The hope is that in years to come, a person’s brain could be uploaded to the cloud, giving them the option to live in a virtual world. This concept is no stranger to TV and film, as American shows like Black Mirror and Uploaded have made virtual immortality a more familiar term.
Cryonics is not in the business of immortality, but rather it seeks to give its members an opportunity at an extended life. However, who knows where technology will be in 200 years' time? Perhaps when you wake up you will be reanimated into a virtual world.
Cryonics is an advanced medical procedure that allows a person to be preserved and stored for an indefinite amount of time following their legal death. The intent is that someday their cause of death can be cured and they can potentially be revived. Although technology doesn’t exist right now for revival, it still remains the best possibility for people alive today to extend their lifespan. Right now, the focus at Tomorrow Bio is to improve the techniques used for the procedure and long-term storage, giving members the best opportunity to have their life restored in the future.
When considering cryopreservation, members often focus on the future, but it’s also important to make the most of the present. Implementing healthy habits by eating well, exercising, managing stress, and avoiding tobacco might all aid in receiving a high-quality cryopreservation procedure. For one thing, these behaviours can allow you to live longer, while in the meantime improvements are being made in cryopreservation technology. Moreover, the quality of the procedure depends on how well the brain and the body can be perfused. Anything impeding the process could make it more difficult for cryoprotective agents to reach different areas of the body.
Diseases of the arteries, like arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis, or thrombotic conditions, can reduce (or sometimes block) the speed that blood travels around the body. Atherosclerosis is typically caused by poor lifestyle choices. A person suffering from the disease could put themselves at risk of not having a high-quality cryopreservation procedure as opposed to someone with a healthy circulatory system. In most cases, atherosclerosis is avoidable through healthy eating and lifestyle changes.
Aside from obvious health concerns, it makes sense that the longer you live, the more time you have to see technological advancements take place around you. While we don’t know when revival might be a possibility, each year gets us a step closer to the chance of it becoming a reality.
We don’t know what might be possible in the future - Innovations that weren’t feasible 100 years ago are routine practices today. You might wake up in the future living in a virtual world, as a cyborg, or jetting on a spaceship to Mars for a weekend getaway - the possibilities are truly endless.
Although it’s exciting to envision the future, the death process is still something that can evoke fear and anxiety in people. Philosopher Ted Schick once said that society fears things that don’t make logical, technical, and physical sense. Misconceptions that pervade movies and the media make it difficult for people to separate facts from fiction, which is probably why many are still confused with the concept of cryopreservation and revival.
Whatever questions you might have about longevity, cryopreservation, or the death process, we are happy to answer them! Tomorrow Insight is filled with fun and fascinating articles that provide a more in-depth exploration of cryonics and related fields. If you’re keen to chat, then you can join us on Discord, too. Or, if you think you know enough and would love to sign up as a member, you can do so on our website.