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April 24, 2014, 4:55 PM
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“We’re at the cusp of a longevity revolution,” says Sonia Arrison, author of 100 Plus and founder of the Singularity University. “Biology has become an engineering project. Just like computer programs have ones and zeroes, the human body has a code too. It’s made up of the A, C, T & G of DNA. And scientists are learning how to reverse engineer that--things like tissue engineering, gene therapy, and other types of personalized medicine that are going to allow people to live longer and healthier lives.”

In the latest installment of Big Think’s Edge, Arrison discusses the latest advancements in medicine that can help us live longer.

Reverse Engineering Biology:

As an example of how researchers are using reverse engineering in biology, Arrison points to the case of Timothy Brown, the only person in the world who has ever been cured of AIDS. Brown was cured when he received a bone marrow transplant that had a genetic mutation that stopped the AIDS virus from spreading through the body. “Researchers are now working on how they can create that genetic tweak in other people who have AIDS so that they can cure AIDS,” says Arrison.

Breakthroughs of Gene Therapy

Scientists have made a great deal of progress towards safer and easier gene therapy. Dr. Carl June, at the University of Pennsylvania, who is researching potential cures for AIDS, recently announced using gene therapy to cure leukemia. “That’s one example of how scientists might be able to recode our systems to fight off diseases,” she says.

Leaps in Science Face Hurdles 

Unfortunately, it can take a while before breakthroughs in the lab reach society. “For instance, tissue engineering is already here,” says Arrison. “Scientists have the ability to grow brand new human organs like tracheas and bladders and blood vessels in the lab. It can be done with your own adult stem cells. It’s not in widespread use right now. And how long will that take?”

Regulators must catch-up with the science, and doctors must be trained to learn how to apply the latest techniques. As Arrison cautions, this can take “a long time.”

For more on Arrison’s discussion about the longevity revolution, watch a clip from her interview for Big Think’s Edge:

 

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