Haseltine: regenerative medicine may lead to immortality

from the The-long-view dept.
An excellent article in the New York Times ("Apostle of Regenerative Medicine Foresees Longer Health and Life", by Nicholas Wade, December 18, 2001) profiles Dr. William A. Haseltine, chief executive of Human Genome Sciences, a biotechnology company in Rockville, Md., and his views on the potential for regenerative medicine, the concept of repairing the body by developing new tissues and organs as the old ones wear out. The article describes how Haseltine sees the field advancing in four stages. Some excerpts:

The first, making use of the body's own signaling factors to stimulate healing processes, is already being implemented. According to the article, the second phase of regenerative medicine, in his view, "kicks in when the body is injured beyond the point of repair, at which point you want to put in a new organ," he said. Tissue engineers have already learned to grow sheets of skin and are starting to learn how to grow replacement organs such as blood vessels and more complex tissues.

"Further in the future, he believes, biologists may learn how to fashion new organs outside the body from adult stem cells, the body's guardians and regenerator of adult tissues. These would be taken from the patient's body so as to avoid problems of immune rejection. . . . This, he says, is the point at which regenerative medicine merges into rejuvenative medicine. . . . ëSince we are a self-replacing entity, and do so reasonably well for many decades, there is no reason we can't go on forever,í Dr. Haseltine said."

"In the fourth phase of regenerative medicine, according to Dr. Haseltine's timetable, nanotechnology ó microscopic-scale mechanical devices ó will merge with biological systems. Humans are already becoming partly inorganic when they receive organ- mimicking machines like the AbioCor artificial heart. Artificial devices are likely to improve to the point that they will eventually interface with evolution's form of engineering. . . . Some people find immortality disturbing, seeing it as transgressing the line that separates people from gods. Dr. Haseltine sees it as an inherent property of life. . . . ëWhat distinguishes life from other forms of matter is that it is immortal — we are a 3.5-billion-year-old molecule,í he said, referring to the time when life on earth began. ëIf it were ever mortal, we would not be here. The fundamental property of DNA is its immortality. The problem is to connect that immortality with human immortality and, for the first time, we see how that may be possible.í "

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