Ng: Scientific breakthroughs

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Thursday, February 26, 2015


THIS week, I would like to cover some exciting technology developments that would potentially impact us. Science and technology have progressed fast. Last week, Time showed that a baby may live up to 142 years, while Businessweek was more audacious. It showed a woman who may live to be 173.

As science progresses, we are able to lead longer (and hopefully, more productive) lives. A person in the Philippines expects to reach an average of 70 (in some countries, it is nearer 80), which is 20 years more than the norm about 70 years ago.

More than a third of Japan’s population is now over 60, while in the United States, there are more people over 60 than there are people under 15.

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This does not hold true in the Philippines. We are one of few countries with a very young population, which is why many economnists are saying our economy will surely grow – it’s called the demographic advantage.

The search for the fountain of youth has spanned thousands of years, from the first Chinese emperor who was looking for the elixir, to the famed European expeditions around the world looking for it all over the Americas. It might actually be in our generation that the stuff of science fiction comes true.

A few years ago, GlaxoSmithLine reportedly paid $720 million to buy Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which believed they found a compound they called resveratrol. In 2008, sales reached more than $100 million a year. But things did not work out, and in 2013, GSK shuttered the product. In the last few years, we have also had a lot of write-ups about stem cell research, which promises longer and healthier lives.

It seems like this development is accelerating. Google is funding a venture with Calico to do anti-aging research, and Novartis, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, is touting rapamycin, which they say will reverse aging and has clinical results that are somewhat more optimistic than other claims.

The other exciting thing is news that head transplants are now possible. We have read and heard about liver, heart and other organ transplants.

Now, some doctors think that head transplants can be performed in two years’ time. This is another possibility.

After all, if you have a perfectly healthy head on an otherwise unhealthy body, maybe it can fit in another healthy body to stay alive.

This may not be as remote as it sounds. Even in the 1950s to 1970s, heads of dogs and monkeys were reportedly transplanted. A certain doctor White claims that a head transplant of a monkey back in 1970 made the monkey live for nine days before dying of transplant immunorejection.

What do you think? Would these science breakthroughs be possible in our lifetime?

(wilson@ngkhai.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 27, 2015.

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