Thursday, May 01, 2014

Wearing out

Blood of world's oldest woman hints at limits of life.
Born in 1890, Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper was at one point the oldest woman in the world. She was also remarkable for her health, with crystal-clear cognition until she was close to death, and a blood circulatory system free of disease. When she died in 2005, she bequeathed her body to science, with the full support of her living relatives that any outcomes of scientific analysis – as well as her name – be made public.

One key point from the article: mutations happen all the time, and from the pattern of mutations they determined that “about two-thirds of the white blood cells remaining in her body at death originated from just two stem cells, implying that most or all of the blood stem cells she started life with had already burned out and died.”

Or, of course, that the mutations in the other blood stem cells made them less prolific. Either way that’s kind of gloomy. The pleasant prospect that we may someday develop some amazing drug to spur rejuvenation seems less and less likely.

The article suggests that you might save up stem cells in your youth, and implant them as you age. Suppose that were actually feasible, and could extend your active life out to 150 years or longer. If someone were to seize the cells, they could cut years off your life without raising a hand to you. Would that be a form of mayhem? Premise for SF, anyone?

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