The one thing people have in common, the world over, is that we’re going to die. It’s among the most common fears. For millennia we have obsessed with finding out what awaits us after we die and trying to prevent it. People have spent their entire lives and fortunes searching for mythical ways to extend our time here, searching for the Holy Grail or the Fountain of Youth. It’s been the topic of numerous movies, Highlander where you extend your life by relieving others of their heads or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the search for the Holy Grail was driven by the antagonist’s desire to live forever. The problem with the mythical solution is that, as with the Genie’s wishes, the supernatural immortality always has a down side. If you’re a vampire, you can’t see the sun and have an unquenchable thirst for blood. As mentioned with Highlander, you must always be on guard or someone will try to take your head. Immortality by supernatural means may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but immortality provided by science? That may be closer than we think.
The human body is a puzzle. It’s an intricate tapestry of networks and systems that work together seamlessly. If one of those pieces fails, though, the entire puzzle could fall apart. When our organs fail, we have two choices: Do without or replace it. We can lose one kidney or one lung and be ok. But what if it’s our heart that’s failing? The only option is to replace it. While we have made incredible strides in artificial organs, there’s something to be said about an actual organic heart. At this point, you are beholden to the infamous organ donor registry. Now, as horrible as it sounds, you find yourself waiting, even hoping, that someone will die so you can have his or her heart. Even then you still run the risk that your body will reject this new organ because it’s not yours. But what if you could grow a new heart. One that is actually yours made of your biological material. 3D printing companies have advanced the technology to the point of being able to print living tissue. We’re already using 3D printing to print new limbs, so organs is only a matter of time.
Medicine is constantly advancing. We’re coming up with new combinations of drugs every day to combat ailments more effectively. We’ve come a long way from the more holistic and alternative medicines that we used to practice. Even the way the medicine is delivered is being advanced. Drug and pharmaceutical research firms are constantly advancing these sciences, developing new protein based medicines and coating the medicines in lipospheres (nano-spheres of a fatty substance) to delay the administration of the medicine.
Diagnosing medical ailments has often been a bottleneck in the treatment process. When diagnosing cancer, we must analyze the tissues we remove to determine if they are malignant or benign. This process has previous taken days where we must wait for a lab to break down the tissues. Now we have smart surgical tools that can analyze the tissues as they’re being cut, determining if they are malignant in real time. We’re also expanding on the concept of FitBit with wearables that analyze multiple aspects of our state from temperature to biological markers in the blood to even neurological symptoms. This means that, as patients begin, for example, having a stroke, the data is transmitted to doctors who can prepare and emergency medical staff are dispatched to the patient far faster that is normal at this point.
While Hollywood has been portraying robots as both helpers and villains in movies, the real world has been far more interested in developing the helpful bots. Robots have been used in as surgical assistants for years and are now being developed to actually perform the procedures themselves. While a human doctor would still be present in the case of emergency, the robots are far more efficient than their human counterparts. It is call “human error” for a reason. Even the day-to-day and sometimes palliative tasks are being handed off to the automatons. Japan has developed a robot to assist in general tasks such as moving equipment and even patients. The “Robear” has even been designed to look like a bear in order to be more comforting to patients.
While science fiction and fantasy often caution the morality of immortality, be it overpopulation or just the general boredom of those give the gift of everlasting life, we can all agree that most people would jump at the chance to hold off death a bit longer. While science will probably never be able to achieve immortality without transferring our consciousness to a new vessel, we are finding ways to extend the viability of our current vessel. And, anything that can extend our turn on the mortal coil, is an exciting prospect.