The Rise of Longevity
It’s no secret that humans are living longer. In historical terms, nearly fifty million Americans alive today shouldn’t be. The CDC has reported that the average life expectancy for Americans in 2014 was 78.8 years, compared with 65 years in 1946. A major contributor to this rise in longevity is the advancement of medical science. More sophisticated medicine, computers, and better understanding of the human body have propelled us forward. The idea of prolonging life may lead us to wonder if we can actually live forever. Moral debates aside, there have been many fascinating breakthroughs over the last few decades that may or may not make immortality possible in the future. Admittedly, immortality is a bit of a stretch, but there are many innovations in medicine which look to improve the quality of life for the aged.
There are many emerging technological developments that are improving the quality of our lives and longevity. As we age, we are are at greater risk for diseases of the aged. It is encouraging to know there are good people hard at work to treat and cure these diseases, and who work tirelessly to improve quality of life. Let’s take a look at a few of the medical advancements on the horizon that could change how we view longevity, or even alter how we perceive chronological age.
A Game of Telomeres
What causes aging? One of the most promising emerging sciences we have is the research being done on telomeres, small end caps found at the ends of our chromosomes. To help our readers understand what we mean, bear with us through this quick and dirty science lesson. Chromosomes are located in each of our cells as tiny threads of information. A chromosome carries the instructions that tell our cells what to do. At the ends of each chromosome is a kind of end cap, known as a telomere. When these telomeres are worn out, which they do over time, the cell is unable to replicate itself, which either causes the cell to die or causes a mutation. As time passes, our cells are thought to begin to wear down and change as a result of telomere degradation, causing us to age. Scientists are looking at how to preserve telomeres in hopes of finding ways to slow or prevent aging and perhaps further extend our longevity. A major concern in telomere science, however, is that malignant cancer cells have fully formed telomeres with none of the degradation that normal cells have. Although complete speculation at this point, there is a fear that modifying our cells’ telomeres may cause cancer.
Small, but Mighty.
Another promising emerging science is nanotechnology. The prefix “nano” meaning one billionth, is applied to nanobots, microscopic robots. These tiny machines can be injected into our bloodstream just like a vaccine where they then do their work. Nanobots can go places that current surgical techniques cannot. These little machines may soon be able to swim in our blood as if they were a part of our biology, promoting health and longevity.
Control + P = Organs?
Printable body parts may soon be available. As far-fetched as it seems, there are teams of scientists at work developing methods that would allow the creation of real working body parts from a machine. 3D printing has been proven successful in making non-living objects, as well as biological components, such as a functional rabbit heart. Imagine having an artificial heart or hand that behaves and looks very much like a real one, but produced by 3D printing from cultures of your own cells. Specialists would take a CT scan of your body and with the information gathered, build a custom body part just for you. The practical applications to repairing the human body are astounding.
Mapping Our Inner Workings
Tapping into the secrets of our own bodies can give us clues on what medical conditions we may expect in our lifetimes, prevent them, or even cure them. Personal genomics, the mapping and modifying of human DNA, may allow us to do this. Doctors in the future may be able to prescribe preventative medications to prevent or slow the progression of chronic diseases, as well as mitigate unwanted side-effects. Patients would be screened for specific hereditary cancers or diseases in order to prepare and overcome them before they manifest.
My Clothes Are Smart. Are Yours?
The types of technology mentioned above may become available in the near future, but what do we have that will benefit us right now? How about a belt that protects you in the event of a fall, shoes that keep you upright, or a shirt that will alert you if you are having a heart attack? These things exist, and they are called Smart Clothes.
Smart Clothes are a fast-growing industry, and for good cause. For diabetics, there are socks that can warn of foot problems. Dubbed SmartSox, they may look like an average pair of socks, but woven within them are a number of pressure-sensitive sensors. These sensors can be connected to a computer, allowing medical professionals to detect foot problems related to diabetes. Another foot product soon to be available are insoles made with vibrating motors designed to help those who have insensitivity in their feet and legs. Studies have shown that individuals who wore the insoles were better able to keep a solid footing, reducing the risk of a fall.
Stirred, but Not Shaken.
Fractures, bruises, and a long recovery time means that falling is a big concern to seniors; hence the new Smart Clothing invention, the Airbag Belt. Using technology similar to airbag systems we find in our cars, a comfortable belt can be worn around the waist that senses when the wearer has lost their balance and deploys a protective curtain that absorbs what could have been a nasty injury. Not only practical and comfortable, wearing an airbag belt may make you feel like you are a spy in a James Bond film. Grandpa will not only be kept safe, he’ll also be the talk of the family.
Only Time Will Tell.
Advances in technology will continue to improve and extend our longevity. We may not live in the world as imagined by the Jetsons, but it seems we may soon live in one where science has become stranger than fiction. Sensors in our clothing are an emerging trend, especially for the medically self-aware. Medical professionals may use high-tech clothing as tools to help monitor and diagnose their patients. In a way, putting on a coat may soon be like putting on a doctor. Other advancements in genomics, telomeres, nano-technology, and 3D printing organs all stand to greatly increase longevity as well as quality of life. Invariably, only time will tell.