There are those among humanity’s number who would like it very much for people to die natural deaths. When it is there time to go, they should go. All the time, no exceptions. Then there are people on the opposite side of the coin who want products of medical science such as morphine to be used to kill them any time they choose, whenever they just so happen to get tired of the whole ‘living’ thing.

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These are personal choices and perfectly fine on a personal level. It is when such advocates try to muscle in laws forcing the government one way or the other, that there comes to be problems. Especially now that the notion illness and mortality itself have been thoroughly challenged by one, single, brilliant innovation. Lab grown, active brain cells.

Somewhat exaggerated

While having been somewhat overstated in the media, particularly of the Pop. Scientific variety (you know who you are), what we are talking about is not, in fact, adult sized human brains that can be just taken out and re-installed like batteries.

So far, the best examples of lab grown brains are still fairly small, and have yet to be created with an intact circulatory system. So it would be more accurate to refer to them as “brain matter” or “brain cells” than simply “brains”.

Actual potential: Lab grown brain cells

Aside from practical semantics and proverbial hair splitting, this is still a massive achievement years in the making. It used to be the only to way develop brain cells was in the human body, and while the initial steps in the current process of growing brain matter in a lab did start with samples from inside human skulls, all willing participants of course, this will not always be the case.

The latest batch of lab grown brain matter has 99% of the genes found in the human fetal brain, and before long should be able to be self-replicating. Not that they will do this automatically or independently like Tribbles, that really would be a mess, but that samples from lab grown brain matter could serve as the basis for the next generation.

While it is not quite to the point of full brain transplants, lab grown brain cells is still quite good news for those with brain based conditions such as alzheimer’s, parkinson’s and some forms of brain cancer and potentially for multiple sclerosis.

Who wants to live forever?

No seriously, it is an honest question, not just the title of an over-wrought 80s rock single or something cool for an army commander to shout, in paraphrase form, while rushing off to battle giant bugs on a far away planet.

The implications of a potentially endless supply of viable human, or at least human-ish, brain matter on human mortality is simply staggering. In every case when a person dies it is because, for whatever reason, their brain has shut down. The reason people die of old age is because as we age, brain cells die and do not grow back.

What would happen if, regular as clock work, one could go into a hospital and have their dead brain cells replaced with new ones? The neurological equivalent of a tune-up. It could very well spell the end of “natural” death as we know it.

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Trevor McNeil spent much of his childhood playing video-games on early-form personal computers back when the disks were literally floppy. He attended the University of Victoria, completing a degree in Social Science with a concentration in Technology In Society, while also writing for the campus newspaper. He has written articles for such diverse publications as Humanity Death Watch, PopMatters and Perfect Sound Forever. He is a veteran of numerous “watershed moments” in the history of technological development and firmly believes that Han shot first.