I have been quite skeptical of futuristic claims about how nanotechnology will enable immortality. Specifically, the idea of intelligent nanorobots swimming around freely in my bloodstream diagnosing diseases and repairing cells seems too far off in the future for me to be concerned about it. I have focused more on the growing stream of here-and-now longevity-related discoveries based on genetics and molecular biology.
Nontheless, an item came to my attention today that leads me to question the severity of my skepticism about the potential contribution of nanotechnology to life extension. A research study reported in December 2008 indicates that nano-scale substrate surface topography (micro characteristics of the surface on which a cell culture is grown) can significantly affect stem cell differentiation. The study looked at human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) that can differentiate into a variety of cell types including chondrocytes, osteoblasts, myocytes, and adipocytes. It was discovered that when the surface consisted of relatively small nanotubes, hMSC adhered to the tubes without noticeable differentiation. Somewhat larger diameter nanotubes (â‰ˆ70- to 100-nm diameter) “elicited a dramatic stem cell elongation (â‰ˆ10-fold increased), which induced cytoskeletal stress and selective differentiation into osteoblast-like cells.” The result is relevant to the 14th theory of aging treated in my Anti-Aging Firewalls treatise which is Decline in adult stem cell differentiation. The challenge with age is how to assure a continuing high rate of differentiation of adult stem cells to replace depleted body cells without incurring risk of cancer. The new research result suggests that surface geometry can be an important consideration related to stem cell differentiation, and that control of nanosurface characteristics may prove to be helpful to elicit differentiation. Another small piece of research in the 2,500,000 piece puzzle that will define aging.