Your Future Self: 11 Medical Advances That Can Change Your Body
Muscle at Any Age
All of us lose muscle mass as we grow older, usually about 1 percent a year after age 40. But scientists have slowed or reversed this process in animals by retuning the network of genes that regulate the activity of myostatin, a protein affecting muscle growth. With less myostatin, lab animals pack on muscle—becoming, in the words of the scientists, "Schwarzenegger mice," and remaining buff even into their dotage. In people, the idea is not to produce Mr. Universe clones but to help us hold on to the muscle we already have.
How Soon: Tests in patients with muscle diseases are under way now.
Fat to Keep You Sharp
Finally, we may have an excellent use for fat: raw material for new gray matter. Brazilian scientists recently drew stem cells from body fat and immersed them in a soup of growth factors and other biological agents that reprogrammed the cells so they developed into neurons. After about four days, the cells were transmitting human-neuron-like signals. Scientists think the cells might be useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, but for now, they laud fat as a source of stem cells for the very reason we complain about it: There's just so much to go around.
How Soon: Clinical trials in humans are at least three to five years away.
In 2009 researchers created a fully functional ovary in a specialized petri dish. Earlier attempts had foundered on the difficulties of growing the many types of cells that make up an ovary, but, using a petri dish that allows cells to develop in 3-D, scientists at Brown University managed to produce all the necessary elements. And when egg cells were implanted in the ovary, they matured. It's hoped that artificial ovaries could preserve fertility in some women. That doesn't mean pregnancies for 70-year-olds, but maybe a baby for a 30-year-old whose ovary was damaged by cysts.
How Soon: New ovaries might be available within five years.