Regenerative Biology: Have We Discovered the Fountain of Youth?
Doug Melton, of Harvard's Stem Cell Institute, speaks of a new era of medicine in his Floating University lecture. Medicine will no longer aim to simply fix you if you have a disease or injury, but replenish you in order to maintain your young and vibrant state.
From 2011-2014, Daniel Honan was the Managing Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, Daniel was Vice President of Production for Plum TV, a niche cable network he helped launch in 2002. The production team he oversaw won over two dozen Emmy awards. Daniel has created numerous shows and documentaries for television, and his film credits include Stealing the Fire, a documentary on the black market for nuclear weapons technology.
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What's the Big Idea?
Less than one hundred years ago a routine bacterial infection could be a death sentence. The discovery of penicillin changed all of that. We're now on the verge of a similar revolution in medicine says Doug Melton, a biologist and co-director of Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute, in his Floating University lecture, What's Up, Doc? Is Biomedical Research Really Close to Curing Anything? According to Melton, developmental biology and regenerative medicine promises to unlock the powerful potential hidden within our own cells.
For instance, in a previous post, Melton details an experiment in which he turns embyronic stem cells into beating heart cells. Yet in order to understand the basis for regenerative medicine, we first need to understand the human body’s ability to divide, grow and specialize cells.
Melton points to an example from Greek mythology, in which the Titan Prometheus steals fire from Zeus and gives it to the mortals. Zeus punishes Prometheus by having him chained to a rock and then sends an Eagle to peck away at his liver every day. As Melton points out, "Prometheus was quite lucky," as the liver is the only organ that our bodies are good at regenerating. If the Eagle had pecked out other organs, like his heart, "he’d have been a goner."
Today, however, thanks to embyronic stem cell research, man has acquired God-like powers that would make the Almighty Zeus envious. Melton describes how “man-made” stem cells could soon be used to reverse incurable degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Watch the video here:
What's the Significance?
Regenerative biology can be used to replace tissue and body parts and can also be used to understand the root causes of disease. Melton says these advances will lead to a condition of "healthy aging," in which doctors are not merely aiming to "fix you because you’ve had some disease or injury, but rather just replenish your body to maintain its young and vibrant state."
One of the goals of Floating University's Great Big Ideas course is to explain to students the rewards of studying a given field, whether it is Physics, Investing, or in this case, Medicine. If you choose Melton's field, you will be participating in a discipline that will "inevitably lead to the possibility of changing our bodies in a way that was previously unimaginable."
For the rest of us, advances in regenerative medicine will still be hugely significant, as we will be given the regenerative powers that Prometheus lacked, and the conditions for "healthy aging" that eluded, as legend has it, Juan Ponce de León in his quest for the Fountain of Youth.
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?
- During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
- The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
- Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
The 116th Congress is set to break records in term of diversity among its lawmakers, though those changes are coming almost entirely from Democrats.
- Women and nonwhite candidates made record gains in the 2018 midterms.
- In total, almost half of the newly elected Congressional representatives are not white men.
- Those changes come almost entirely from Democrats; Republican members-elect are all white men except for one woman.
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