Next Step, Transhumanism

Last year, Rachel Dolezal was elected president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP. However, last week she resigned that prestigious position because she was caught in a lie.

She lied about her racial heritage. There is absolutely no African-American ancestry in her family tree, yet she has been parading as an African-American for years. She claims to identify closer to that ethnicity more than her actual Czech-German blood line.

But, race in itself is not the bigger story. I’m looking at this in a totally different way than most people.

Consider another recent story that has been making headlines and magazine covers. I’m referring to the former Bruce Jenner. According to him, throughout his life, he felt there was a woman inside that desperately wanted out. As he grew older, medical advances and social attitudes had progressed to a point where he felt it was time to release the woman trapped inside. Bruce is no more. Caitlyn lives.

And then there are those who desparately desire to change, but will never be able to. Society is not ready for them, but neither is science. No, I am not talking about race or gender. No this goes even deeper. I’m talking about species.

Gary Matthews, of Pittsburgh lives much of his life as a dog. He first got this idea when he was a kid of seven years old and saw the Disney Movie, the Shaggy DA. At that age, his parents just assumed it was a child’s wild imagination when he barked and dug holes in the backyard with his bare hands. But when he continued these behaviors as a teen and then as an adult, his parents would scold him and forbid his dog bahaviors.

So he stopped—in front of them. But it went underground until his parents died.

Now as a 50-year old man, he lives much of his life as a dog named Boomer. He wears a shaggy dog costume, eats dog food from a bowl on the floor, chews on dog treats, and even sleeps in a doghouse he built himself. Not surprisingly, he is a member of a Pittsburgh Furry group.

In case you are unaware, Furries are people who dress up in animal costumes and socialize together. To many in the furry community it is an obsession as it is for Gary Matthews. Furry role playing was introduced to the public at large in a 2013 music video entitled “What Does The Fox Say

Vastly different as these three stories are, there is a common thread. Some people are willing to give up the person they are to become something totally different, taking the chance of being shunned by society.

Being born one thing (be it race, gender, or even species) is now becoming optional and changeable. With enough cash, creativity, and/or courage, we can transform ourselves into whatever we desire.

But should we? Are their limits? Where will this lead us next?

I believe that the next thing down the line is transhumanism. This involves augmenting humans with technology to enhance our mental and physical abilities.

People who are old enough, might remember the popular TV show “The 6 Million Dollar Man” starring Lee Majors in the title role. In this series, his sight, strength, and running speed was way beyond normal human ability. We didn’t have a name for it then, but that is the definition of transhumanism.

Many people who suffer now, could benefit greatly. Those who have lost limbs could have some of their normal abilities restored.

But, I predict that people with normal abilities will also be taking advantage of these technologies, to become super humans. And these super humans may become the soldiers of our future. Because, as we know, every time a new technology is developed, it eventually ends up on the battlefield.

Superman Would Have Approved

Many of us remember the heartbreaking news of the tragic horse riding accident, in 1995, that left actor Christopher Reeve paralyzed from the neck down.

He was at the peak of his career, having starred as Superman in four hit movies. His work in Hollywood didn’t end completely, but it was drastically curtailed due to his injury.

He was optimistic that researchers would someday discover a treatment for spinal injuries. He believed that embryonic stem cells were the answer to a cure and lobbied the U.S. Congress to make legal their use in research. He died in 2004, unable to achieve that goal.

FAST FORWARD TO 2015
Two separate research teams in two different parts of the world are simultaneously working on treatments for spinal injuries. These two teams are not connected. They are not collaborating. And yet the two teams may have each discovered different halves of the future treatment for spinal injuries.

A NEW DRUG THERAPY
A group of U.S. scientists have developed a drug that can encourage nerves in the spinal cord to grow.
This drug concentrates on interfering with a natural reaction that occurs when the nerve cells are injured. Normally, when the spinal cord is damaged sugary proteins are released at the site of the injury, creating a sticky goo. The long spindly part of the nerve – the axon – gets trapped in this goo when it tries to cross the site of the injury.

The researchers used rats with spinal cord injuries in their study. These rats were injected with a chemical under the skin at the site of their injury. The drug works by disrupting the formation of the “sticky goo” which prevents nerve cells from growing after the injury. Lab tests resulted in 21 out of 26 rats showing some degree of recovery either in their ability to move or in bladder function.

“It was amazing – the axons kept growing and growing,” said lead researcher Professor Jerry Silver. “What we could see was really remarkable. Some recovered to a fantastic extent and so well you could hardly tell there was an injury. But, further testing in larger animals is needed before human trials can take place.”

Professor Silver expects that future therapy, resulting from this research, would most likely be used in conjunction with other treatments that are now being pioneered, such as nerve transplants and electrical stimulation.

Dr. Lyn Jakeman, from the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said: “There are currently no drug therapies available that improve the very limited natural recovery from spinal cord injuries that patients experience. This is a great step towards identifying a novel agent for helping people to recover.”

This study was published in the journal, Nature.

A NEW CELL THERAPY
Darek Fidyka, 40, from Poland, was paralyzed from the chest down after being stabbed repeatedly in the back in a 2010 attack. He’s been confined to a wheel chair since that time. Recently a research team from the Institute of Neurology at the University College of London, tried an experimental treatment on Mr. Fidyka that shows real promise.

The treatment uses olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs). Olfactory glands are the only nerves in the human body that regrow and its the OECs that act as pathway cells, enabling nerve fibres in the olfactory system to be continually renewed.

Their experimental treatment involved two main procedures. In the first procedure, surgeons removed one of the patient’s olfactory bulbs and grew the cells in a culture for two weeks.

The second procedure, two weeks later, was more involved. In this step, they transplanted the cultured OECs into the spinal cord. They only had a drop-size (about 500,000 cells) of material to work with, and yet, they were able to make about 100 micro injections of these OECs just above and below the injury.

In addition to the injections, four thin strips of nerve tissue, were taken from the patient’s own ankle and placed across the 8mm (0.3in) gap on the left side of the cord (a narrow strip of nerve tissue on the right side had survived the knife attack and was still connected).

The scientists believed the OECs would provide a pathway to enable fibres above and below the injury to reconnect, using the nerve grafts to bridge the gap in the cord.

Today, Mr. Fidyka is walking again. He has to use a support frame, but he is thrilled with the outcome. He says, “It’s an incredible feeling. When you can’t feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it’s like you were born again.”

Professor Raisman, Chair of Neural Regeneration, led the team in the U.K. He said this is “more impressive than man walking on the moon.” Professor Wagih El Masri, Consultant and Spinal Injuries Surgeon remarked, “I have waited about 40 years for a moment like this and I am hopeful that this moment will be repeated and confirmed independently” Their research was published in the journal “Cell Transplantation”.

Unfortunately, Christopher Reeve died in 2004. The preliminary results of both of these studies would have been great news to him, maybe even hope for his condition. Ironically, his much touted embryonic stem cells were not part of either of these treatments. But somehow I think Superman would have approved.

One Man’s Candy Crush Saga

Candy Crush Saga can be bad for your health, especially if you play it all day for two months straight. A 29-year old man, who went to his doctor complaining of “chronic left thumb pain and loss of motion”, admitted to playing Candy Crush “all day for 6 to 8 weeks.”

The patient, who is right-handed, played mostly with his left hand while using his right hand for other activities. “Playing was a kind of secondary thing, but it was constantly on,” he said.

The patient was diagnosed with a rupture of the tendon between the wrist and the first thumb knuckle. The injury required surgery.

Considering the seriousness of the injury, the doctor was surprised that the patient had not experienced pain earlier. Yet, the pain manifested only after the tendon ruptured.

A report on this case, authored by a group of doctors led by Dr. Andrew Doan of the Naval Medical Center San Diego theorized that the visual distraction and pleasurable nature of playing Candy Crush provided a plausible explanation for why the patient did not feel pain until the injury escalated to a rupture. The doctors’ report cited previous research that found video games could suppress the perception of pain in pediatric patients and burn victims.

In other words, playing a video game, such as Candy Crush, for an extended time may prevent a player from experiencing pain that he or she should could be experiencing. As a result, some players may play beyond the point when they should in order to avoid serious injury.

Previous research has suggested that playing certain video games can:

  • reduce stress
  • make players more morally sensitive
  • cause lingering effects in behavior and visual perception
  • cause injury
  • and increase brain size

The authors of the medical paper wrote, “Research might consider whether video games could have a role in clinical pain management and as nonpharmacologic alternatives during uncomfortable or painful medical procedures. They may also have a role in reducing stress. It may be interesting to ascertain whether various games differ in their ability to reduce the perception of pain.”

However the report also noted, “The potential for video games to reduce pain perception raises clinical and social considerations about excessive use, abuse, and addiction.”