We have said before that for humans to get very far in space – to Mars for instance – we will need to adapt hugely to the pressures of space travel. From colds to heart attacks and the effects of zero gravity on the brain, the challenges are daunting.
Yet, when you flick through health journals and science publications, you get the sense that scientists around the world are up for that challenge. They may not be looking specifically at space travel as the goal but they are working on making humans more robust. And it seems to be going well.
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine have produced an invisible man. Well, actually, they have replicated the trick that squid and cuttlefish can pull off by making themselves camouflaged against whatever background they are lying. Although a neat and newsworthy trick (which may have been the point) they used human cells and reflectin to see how much a cell could uptake new cell behaviour. And it worked.
Meanwhile, over at MIT, engineers have developed a ‘brain on a chip’. Smaller than a piece of confetti, this chip is made up of tens of thousands of artificial brain synapses. Their goal, again, is not necessarily to get us to Mars or across the galaxy but they want to be able to embed a chip with close to human brain power into devices, which will therefore enhance our own abilities.
Travel West and at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology they have invented a bionic 3D eye that is as good and possibly better than a human one. Their aim is to bring greater capabilities to robots and hope to visually impaired humans.
Scientists are also working on new drugs, treatments and techniques to cure and manage the ills of the age. There are breakthroughs that involve building cancer drugs in goats – in their milk to be precise – which will reduce the cost of those drugs by factors of ten.
There is even hope that a real ‘cure’ for obesity is close. Experiments in mice show promise that BAM15 (why wouldn’t it be called that) can get the weight off without causing the side effects that are common in obese people.
And there is a new, emerging, understanding of how T cells work. T cells are the ones that attack bad stuff and how they do it so quickly and accurately has baffled the scientific world for years. According to the chemists at Rice “It is amazing how T cells are able to react so fast and so selectively. This is one of the most important secrets of living organisms,” The secret, it turns out, is that the T cells take a little ‘me’ time while figuring out their otherwise lightning response to invaders.
Lastly, and most obviously relevant, scientists at Harvard have figured out how to activate the hibernation response in mice, through use of a neuron, not a deep freeze. If they can induce ‘torpor’ which allows the body’s temperature to drop without killing it, then suspended animation is possible. And it seems possible.
And that will mean we can travel to Mars, while we sleep. And if any bug wants to try and hurt us our T cells will wake up from their nap and attack without mercy. Meanwhile our brains will have been awake all the while, on a chip, monitoring everything that is happening, our eyes will watch everything and if all else fails and martians themselves attack, we can turn ourselves invisible.