In this first part of three covering last weekend’s Singularity Summit 2011, we’ll highlight the speakers who discussed the various aspects of health related to the singularity. This includes life extension and regenerative medicine as well as the implications of these new technologies.

After reading this article, don’t forget to read Part II Artificial Intelligence and the Brain, and Part III Singularity And The Future.  Also, you can see all three parts rolled into one story if you prefer.

Badylak is busy building new body parts for those who need it.

Stephen Badylak – Regenerative Medicine: Possibility and Potential
Hands down, one of the most exciting talks of the first day. Dr. Stephen Badylak was able to wow the crowd with his work on regenerative medicine and though his talk was at times heavy with medical jargon, he still got his point across loud and clear. He began by describing several diseases/injuries for which current treatment is nonexistent or woefully inadequate, including stroke, limb loss, and esophageal cancer. Working at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, Badylak and his team have been experimenting with what’s known as the extracellular matrix (ECM), the structural component in animal tissue outside of the cells. Research has found that besides providing support for cells, the ECM acts as a “information superhighway”, allowing cells to communicate with each other. Part of this communication involves molecular signals that recruit stem cells after injury and indeed, grafting pig ECM at sites of human injury have been shown to work better at regenerating tissue than injecting stem cells directly. In the past, we’ve covered the application of Badylak’s work in regenerating severed fingertips as well as muscle tissue. In this talk, he also highlighted the use of pig ECM for treating esophageal cancer. In a remarkable video, Badylak showed his team removing the diseased lining of the esophagus through a patient’s mouth (he described it as “sort of like removing your sock inside out”) and then “wallpapering” the esophagus with the ECM, allowing the patient to regrow a new lining and avoid removal of the esophagus altogether! Very exciting work and one that should revolutionize medical treatment in the near future. Correction: one that is ALREADY revolutionizing medical treatment!

 

Arrison expects us to live past 150!

Sonia Arrison – 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith
Sonia Arrison gave an interesting presentation based on her book of the same name (if you were lucky enough to be present, you also received a free copy of the book). We recently reviewed the book and she didn’t present anything new in her talk. It was a fairly optimistic outlook on what we can expect as life expectancy continues to go up, pushing past 100 and approaching 150 years. Sure, so far our advancements in medicine and health have been made by tackling the so-called “low-hanging fruit” such as nutrition, germ theory, etc. but we are now making considerable progress in fighting the diseases of aging like cancer. One interesting point she made was that we can expect to see new stages of life arise as we live longer. A few centuries ago, you were a child, then an adult. That was it. Then we developed adolescence as a stage between childhood and adulthood. Today, we see what Arrison calls “adultescence” where we’re not quite adults, but not adolescents anymore. What will we see when living past 100 becomes the norm? Another interesting point Arrison made deals with religion, almost like “Marketing Religion 101”. Arrison believes that the religions that will do well with a long-living population will be those that focus on instructing adherents on how to make the best of their life on Earth rather than to simply prepare for the afterlife.

 


Dmitry Itskov- Project Immortality 2045 – Russian Experience
Dmitry Itskov presented on a new movement that he has founded to tackle the issue of human immortality. Itskov gave a somewhat nationalistic presentation, touching on many aspects of why Russia is poised to become the leader in the area of longevity. He described the work of famous Russian scientists that are the intellectual grandfathers of this movement and gave an open invitation to anyone who wanted to help grow it. As was a common theme throughout the 2-day summit, Itskov doesn’t think that the breakthroughs in the technology to bring radical life extension to market will necessarily come from government. Instead, he advocates grass-roots movements like Project Immortality that assemble the necessary scientists, thinkers, and financiers to see it through. Itskov closed his presentation by giving an timeline of when certain technologies should come online to make this goal a reality and is anticipating building a state-of-the-art research center in the next few years. Stay tuned!

After reading this article, don’t forget to read Part II Artificial Intelligence and the Brain, and Part III Singularity And The Future.  Also, you can see all three parts rolled into one story if you prefer.

[Sources: Singularity Summit, Wikipedia]
[Image credits: Singularity University, David Orban, Kris Krug, Singularity Summit]

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