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Home > Fantastic Voyage The Science Behind Radical Life Extension
Avoiding pollutants and removing toxins with supplements and diet can go only so far. Extreme toxicity from infections, chemotherapy, pollution, and other causes can overload the natural ability of the liver, kidneys, and other detoxification systems in the body. When that happens, inflammation from toxins affects the entire cardiovascular system, causing blood pressure to crash. This state, technically known as "shock," starves the body of oxygen, so the liver, lungs, heart, and other organs begin to fail. Death soon follows, often the result of kidney failure.
Nanotechnology and kidney failure
For kidney failure, the traditional solution has been hemodialysis machines. These washing machine-size devices can take over the important role of cleaning the blood usually done by healthy kidneys. However, they can only filter out certain toxins, the treatment takes up to seven hours, and patients must be hooked up to large, expensive machines several times a week. "Hemodialysis works great for kidney failure but is useless for most other kinds of detoxification," says Axel Rosengart, assistant professor of neurology and surgery at the University of Chicago. While useful for chronic renal failure, more than half of patients with acute kidney failure (such as in cases of "shock") still die despite hemodialysis. Nanotechnology researchers are working on a solution.
Rosengart and codeveloper Michael Kaminski, an engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, have developed a fast and simple solution using magnetized nanoparticles attached to receptors designed to identify and grab target toxin molecules. The nanoparticles are injected into the bloodstream, where they circulate through the body, picking up the target toxins. To remove the particles from the body after treatment, a small shunt inserted into an arm or leg artery quickly routes the blood through a handheld unit with a magnet. Since the nanoparticles are made of polylactic acid, which is biodegradable, any remaining particles will eventually be eliminated from the blood. So far, tests have been limited to rats, but the results have been promising. "Our initial tests have been very successful -- I am very confident that we will be able to remove 99 point something of the particles," says Kaminski. Once perfected, this type of approach need not be limited to patients with renal failure but can be used to augment everyone's detoxification capacities.
An even more advanced machine being developed for cleaning the blood is the bioartificial kidney, which uses a plastic cartridge containing a billion human kidney cells inside of 4,000 hollow plastic fibers. It is being developed at Nephros Therapeutics, based on research by University of Michigan internist David Humes. It will deliver the full range of kidney functions, including its immune-system-regulating activities. In a partial clinical trial, 6 out of 10 critically ill patients survived; all but one had been judged to have no more than a 10 percent to 20 percent chance of living. This combination biological/artificial kidney could be available for widespread use by 2006.
For the hundreds of thousands of patients with chronic renal failure, however, it would be better to replace such an external machine with long-term implants that incorporate living kidney cells that can receive nourishment from the body itself. The challenge to this technology is to implant cells that are able to filter some 100 liters of fluid daily while avoiding immune-system rejection. William Fissell, a researcher at Humes's University of Michigan lab, is testing a solution nanopores stretched into elongated nanoslits.
Nanotechnology and liver failure
For the body's other major detoxification organ, the liver, several labs are developing similar devices, using liver cells to remove the toxins that accumulate in the blood when the liver fails. These bioartificial livers could help patients with chronic liver failure -- their only hope today is a rare organ transplant.
A more radical approach to coping with liver failure is to design a "liver chip," a realistic model of a human liver on a mass-produced silicon chip. Currently being developed by MIT tissue engineer Linda Griffith, it would not replace the liver but instead allow scientists to test for drugs that combat liver cancer and hepatitis and find out in advance how liver cells would react to various toxic substances.
Nanotechnology and age reversal
The end result of these kinds of nanomedical advances will be a major advance in anti-aging medicine, what nanomedicine expert Robert A. Freitas Jr. calls dechronification, or "rolling back the clock." Dechronification will first stop biological aging, then reduce it by performing three kinds of procedures on each one of the trillions of tissue cells in your body.
Freitas describes three steps toward dechronification. The first step would be to inject nanobots that would enter each cell in the body and clean out accumulated metabolic debris and toxic buildups. Because these toxins would build up again, this would be done by the nanobots either on a continuous basis or, say, once a year, as part of an annual tune-up. The nanobots would also carefully correct any damage that occurred to your genetic DNA. The final aspect of nanobiotic detoxification would be repair of other cellular structures that the cells are unable to fix on their own, such as malfunctioning or disabled mitochondria.
*endnotes have been omitted
Reprinted from Fantastic Voyage: The Science Behind Radical Life Extension by Ray Kurzweil, Ph.D., and Terry Grossman, M.D.© 2004 by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, M.D. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at www.rodalestore.com.
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