How Long Do You Want to Live?

If you could choose, how long do you want to live? To 100, 200, 500 years of age? Perhaps your answer is, it depends—will I be healthy?

Photo of a wrinkled old woman smiling at the question how long would you want to live.

By the end of this decade, nearly 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. Three out of 4 will have two or more serious health conditions. At least 1 in 4 can expect memory lapses and fuzzy thinking, while 1 in 10 will develop dementia.

You’re not part of the generation known as the Boomers? Don’t worry. You’ll age, too. 

Aging-Factors that Cause Disease

The research is extensive. And unfortunately, there isn’t just one thing that leads to age-related diseases. There are many: inflammation; a metabolism system that doesn’t work right; inactive stem cells; stress-related damage, environmental toxins, and more. These problems of aging cells lead to diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and cancer.

Fortunately, there’s been a “perfect storm” in anti-aging research. All kinds of treatments for age-related illnesses are moving into or already in clinical trials. They aim to make us grow old in better health. If you could grow old in good health, how long do you want to live?

Anti-Aging Research

A new class of anti-aging drugs called senolytics may give future you the opportunity to choose.

Senolytics remove certain cells that accumulate as we age. The cells create a low level of inflammation that blocks normal mechanisms of cellular repair. These cells, called senescent cells, create a toxic neighborhood for your cells. 

Halting Osteoarthritis

Image of the bones of the knee with inflammation at the knee joint

The goal of Unity Biotechnology, a biotechnology company in California, is to “halt, slow or reverse age-associated diseases, while restoring human health.” Their lead product is a treatment for osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. It passed the Phase I clinical trial in patients with moderate-to-severe OA of the knee in June 2019. The patients in the clinical trial tolerated the single injection well and showed improvement in pain and in function of the knee. They will publish the results of the Phase II clinical trial within the next six months.

Age-Related Respiratory Illnesses

Winter colds, flu, pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections that send over 1 million older adults to the hospital every year and kill more than 75,000. And that was before Covid.

In studies of more than 900 people by a Boston-based biotech company, their drug reduced the risk for age-related cases of respiratory diseases. Statistically clinical trial patients had 31 percent fewer respiratory infections — (colds, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia). Those with asthma had 68 percent fewer infections. People 85 and older had 67 percent fewer infections. There were fewer severe infections, too.

This drug works differently. It inhibiting an enzyme that regulates growth and metabolism in cells but goes into hyper-drive during the aging process.

A Phase 3 study of this drug started in 2019. If its results are as positive, the FDA could approve the drug for use as early as in 2021.

Other Age-Related Research

would you take these capsules every day if you could then decide how long you would

There are tons of research being done in age-related illnesses. Dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease, is one of them with some promising results.

A drug commonly used in other countries to control diabetes in human patients also has shown promising anti-aging effects.

And there are many more drugs with the promise of having anti-aging effect.

They need more research and testing to be certain, but treatments for things we thought inevitable may be just around the corner. 

How Long Do You Want to Live?

If age-related diseases weren’t an issue, how long do you want to live? Even if these drugs don’t extend your life for another hundred years, you could live to be a healthy 85 or 100. How would that change society? Would we still retire at 65? What would happen to Social Security? How much retirement money would we need to live another 35 or 40 healthy years? So many questions that need answers. Health at 85 sounds pretty good. How long do you want to live? Would you take a pill or two if it guaranteed you’d be healthy at 85?

Organ Farms In Space

Space. The Final Frontier. Not a human friendly environment. Star Trek voyagers didn’t have to worry about injuries in space. They had a miraculous medical lab. We may not have that medical lab yet, but we’re getting there. The experiments may be small today, but someday we may have organ farms in space.

International Space Station is growing human organ tissue in space, someday we may have organ farms in space

Yes, we’ve learned a lot about humans living in space during the past fifty-nine years. Unfortunately, one thing we’ve learned is that space changes a person physiologically. Some of those changes are reversible. Some are not. But imagine if we could replace space-damaged organs. Organ farms in space may make human spaceflight a la Star Trek and Star Wars possible. But more than that, organs grown in space may help relieve multiple complications about organ transplants here on earth.

The Downside to Organ Transplants

Today, when a person needs a new kidney or liver or lung, they must get on a waiting list. The list of people needing organs (no matter which organ they need) is much longer than the list of donors. Years longer.

But being on the list doesn’t mean you’ll get an organ. Organs must be a good match to the recipient’s blood type, height, weight, and other medical factors. Distance between donor and recipient and size of the organ are also factors. (If you’re interested in more details on how the process for matching organ donor to recipient, visit the United Network for Organ Sharing.)

After healing from the surgery, the recipient’s body often sees the transplanted organ as a foreign tissue and tries to reject it. To prevent that, most organ recipients must be on anti-rejection drugs. These drugs have many unpleasant side effects. Some people are on those drugs for years.

Lab-generated Organs

Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine makes replacement parts out of the patient’s own tissues. Most of what they do is experimental, but they have successfully implanted lab-grown urinary bladders.

The first lab-grown organ was a human bladder more than ten years ago.

To create a bladder, they take a small piece of a patient’s bladder and separate muscle and urothelial cells. They put those two types of cells in lab dishes in a fluid that stimulates their growth. In about six weeks, they have enough cells for a bladder. Then they pour the muscle cells onto a collagen scaffold. Two days later, they coat the inside of the scaffold with the urothelial cells. After some time in an incubator, you have a new bladder.

It’s not an easy or quick process. And a bladder is a very simple organ. There are many organs we simply cannot grow in a lab. A heart or a kidney or a lung are much more complex.

3D Printed Organs

I mentioned 3D printed organs in my blog post about future medical treatments. Only we may not have to wait so long.

NASA is 3D Printing Human Organs Aboard the International Space Station. Rather, they’re printing organ tissue. Watch the video.

Someday they hope to grow the more complex organs such as hearts and lungs.

Advantages of 3D Printed Organs

There are many advantages to using 3D printed organs rather than donor organs. You can create an organ exactly the right size, you don’t have to be on a years-long waiting list (once it’s a viable process), and most of all, they can use your own stem cells. Your body will recognize any tissue made with your stem cells. No more fear of rejection!

black man at laptop printing something on a 3D printer--will we 3d print organs--will organ farms in space make us immortal?

But the reason we want to grow organs in space isn’t so we can create the science fiction trope, an organ farm in space. It’s because in microgravity, the cells can grow in 3 dimensions. Someday, we may print the more complex organs. Think of it no more donor organ rejection.

And if astronauts on a long-duration space voyage were to get sick and need an organ transplant, they could get replacement printed up in no time.

What the Future Holds

What if some day there is an organ farm in space? Would they make those organs available to all who need them? Or would those organs be so expensive only the very rich could afford them? Will replacement organs extend human life longer than the “average” lifespan? If it does, will those organ recipients be immortal? How many organ replacements should one person be allowed? What the future holds is unknowable, but perhaps we should give some thought to the consequences of an organ farm in space.

A New Skin. Will You Wear It?

The army deployed Susan thousands of miles from home. Her three-year-old son misses her. On their once-a-week video call, he cries when he hears her voice. She rubs his back and calms him. How did she do that? Biotechnology. A new skin. Will you wear it?

Image of two smart phones with hands coming out of them, pointer fingers about to touch. Haptic skin is a new skin that may make that image virtually real.

The First Attempts

For years, scientists, technology experts, and DIYers have tried to create wearable haptic devices. Haptic means relating to or based on the sense of touch.

Early devices required huge batteries for power sources. That made them too heavy to wear or limited by wires to and from the batteries. Many were so bulky so they hung loose and so failed to convey the touch.

You are probably familiar with one device that uses haptics. Your cell phone. It vibrates or doesn’t vibrate. But that vibration tells you by touch that you have a call or a message. 

Haptic Skin

The new skin is a flexible artificial skin developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) . Their very thin haptic skin, made of silicone and electrodes, will stretch and shape to any limb or body part. It transmits vibrations or pressure to the user. In other words, it creates a sense of touch.

EPFL aren’t the only ones developing haptic skin.  John A. Rogers, a physical chemist and material scientist at Northwestern University and his colleagues developed a tiny vibrating disk. Its need for energy is so small its power comes from a wireless source. A little thinner than a mouse pad, this device has thin layers of electronics between layers of silicone. The inner layer of silicone has a tacky surface that sticks to your skin. 


a man wearing cyber or VR glasses with a hazy field of bubbles around him.

Potential uses are seemingly endless. One commercial use is to make Virtual Reality (VR) games more immersive. Imagine being able to feel the blow your avatar receives.

Other uses are close to situations like the imaginary Susan in the opening paragraphs of this post. Someday astronauts on the moon or Mars may reach out and touch a loved one on Earth.

Finally, there are many possible medical applications. It may make the lives of patients who’ve lost their sense. Amputees may be able to feel their artificial limbs. And people who’ve lost their sense of proprioception could live safer lives. (Proprioception is the awareness of the position of your body in space. It involves balance, coordination, and movement.)

What’s Next?

Researchers at EPFL and Northern University both want to develop a full body suit of haptic skin. 

The Teslasuit, marketed as a training device, is a two-piece body haptic suit. They say it provides haptic feedback and captures both motion and biometrics for the athlete.

What Could Go Wrong?

A lot could go right. Patients would enjoy devices that would restore their sense of touch. But a lot could go wrong.

What if someone who wore a full body haptic skin suit committed a crime? No DNA evidence. No fingerprints. Maybe even someone else’s face.

We know that babies and children need maternal (and paternal) touch to grow into emotionally healthy individuals. What if that touch were only simulated touch?

What other potential problems do you see?

In the Future

Once again, we need lots more research. But haptic skin will happen. In time. Someday you may be offered a new skin—will you wear it?

A Cool Blend of Science and Technology

Almost 9,000 years ago, ancient Chinese fermented rice, honey, and fruit. Ancient Egyptians dared to use yeast for leavened bread in 1000 BC. On the other side of the world, Aztecs made cakes with Spirulina algae. What do these foods and beverages have in common? It’s doubtful that any of these ancient peoples understood the science. Yet, they each performed an early bit of biotechnology. Biotechnology has grown from its humble origins into a cool blend of science and technology.

image of a strand of blue DNA against a dark blue background--one of the things we can now manipulate for biotechnology

What is Biotechnology?

Hungarian engineer, Karl Ereky, coined the term in 1919. He invented the term to describe the creation of products from raw materials with the aid of living organisms. While the term is relatively new, humans have always manipulated raw materials hoping to make our life better. 

Don’t quite understand what biotech is yet? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary biotechnology is the manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful products. The dictionary includes that these are usually commercial products (such as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or pharmaceuticals).

The History of Biotechnology

You may recognize many names in the history of Biotechnology. Names like Darwin, Mendel, Miescher, Boveri, Morgan, Levene, Chargraff, Avery, and many more. These are the folks whose discoveries built one on the other to allow many the cool blend of science and technology.

Here’s a six-minute video that traces the discoveries of DNA, genes, and chromosomes “as fast as possible.” Some information may be a review, but I’ll bet you’ll learn a new name or two.

Types of Biotechnology

Medical Biotechnology uses this science to understand the human body. They search for cures, treatments, or preventatives for diseases. Examples: vaccines, antibiotics, etc.

Agricultural Biotechnology focuses on developing high-yield crops and earth-friendly pest control. Examples: pest-resistant crops, plant and animal breeding, etc.

Industrial Biotechnology strives to develop materials with biological elements. Examples: Construction, manufacturing wine and beer, washing detergents, etc.

Within each of these broad categories are too many subcategories to mention here. But you’ll learn more in future blog posts.

Why Talk About Biotechnology?

As a former nurse and a science fiction author, I am always interested in how science and technology come together to enhance our lives. I’ve blogged about nanobots and pharmacogenomics. And you can bet I’ll write new posts about biotech in development—what they hope to gain and the implications and ethics involved. Will these biotech items appear in a story someday? Hmmm. If you really want the answer to that, join my newsletter and get updates about my writing projects. Next week, I’ll share a cool new biotech that has applications for VR games and real life!

It Isn’t Just Science Fiction Anymore

Remember when you first read a science fiction story with nanobots teaming inside a person? Were you afraid? I thought it was cool. But that was fiction. And nanobots aren’t real–yet. However, tiny robots inside your body isn’t just science fiction anymore. A team of researchers at the University of Vermont have created a new life-form.


Digital computer designs look like blue and red lego blocks making various shapes
digital designs on top, cells below

Lead author and doctoral student, Sam Kriegman, used an evolutionary algorithm. He fed it into the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM. The computer ran thousands of simulated designs over the next few months. The basic biophysics of what single frog skin and cardiac cells can do drove its decisions. It discarded designs that failed and refined the more successful ones. After a hundred independent runs of the algorithm, the research team chose the most promising designs.


A book is made of wood. But it is not a tree. The dead cells have been repurposed to serve another need.

UVM News

From there the research went to biologists at Tufts University. Michael Levin, who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, and his team brought the computer designs to life. With vital help from microsurgeon Douglas Blackiston, they harvested stem cells from the embryos of African frogs. Then they separated them into single cells. After an incubation period, they put the cells under a microscope. Using tiny instruments, they cut and rejoined the cells to resemble the computer design.

Tests showed that a group of the new life-forms would push pellets into a central location. The scientist redesigned it to reduce drag and to give it a means to carry tiny payloads. 

Living Programmable Organism

image of xenobot--a tiny organism with green of the frog skin and red cardiac muscle. Tiny robots inside your body isn't just science fiction anymore.

They called the organism a xenobot after Xenopus laevis, the species of frog used to create it. Slightly smaller than the head of a pin, it has four appendages. It has large hind limbs and smaller forelimbs layered with red heart muscle. The heart muscle contracts which allows it to move It can move independently or in coordination with other xenobots. It can carry tiny things. And if cut, it can heal itself.

It lives off its own embryonic energy stores. A xenobot’s life span ranges from seven days to several weeks.

There are no external controls. 

“These xenobots are fully biodegradable,” say Bongard, “when they’re done with their job after seven days, they’re just dead skin cells.”

UMV News

A Brief Summary

The Future of Xenobots

Scientists believe that xenobots can carry medicine to specific cells within a patient’s body. Someday xenobots might remove microplastics from the ocean. They might be useful in toxic spills or radioactive contamination. They might even clean plaque from human arteries. (The plaque that causes strokes and heart attacks.)

You can learn more about xenobots and what the scientist hope they’ll learn on their website.

What Could Go Wrong?

The UMV news stated, “Many people worry about the implications of rapid technological change and complex biological manipulations. ‘That fear is not unreasonable,’ Levin says. ‘When we start to mess around with complex systems that we don’t understand, we’re going to get unintended consequences.’”

Obviously they will do lots more testing and research. But as a science fiction author, I can’t help but imagine what sorts of unintended consequences there might be. Any past science fiction movies bring some ideas to mind?

They say that xenobots can’t reproduce or evolve. Where have we heard that one before? Hmm?

It’s not just science fiction anymore, is it?  Xenobots aren’t nanobots, but they are tiny. And they aren’t going to be injected in humans soon. But they have the potential to affect the future of the health and longevity of humans. Do you view this new life-form with hope or fear?