/ Experts


“Blue Blood” for Robots

There are artificial analogs to almost any human organ nowadays: a liver, a kidney, and even a heart. A substitute for blood, which is one of the most mysterious organs of the body, is widely used in modern medicine today. Elena Vladimirovna Terioshina, a Ph.D in Biology and head of the Lipid Metabolism Laboratory at the Russian Institute of Gerontological Research and Development, tells us about synthetic blood, an artificial body and the immortal mind.

2045: Elena Vladimirovna, you have been researching so called “blue blood” - a completely synthetic blood substitute. Could you please tell us about its function?

Elena Vladimirovna Terioshina: “Blue blood” doesn't substitute neither plasma, nor blood itself. It is used in urgent care, and in case of acute hemorrhage. Acute blood loss leads to a decrease in blood pressure and cardiac arrest. We urgently need to fill the vessels with anything (water or saline). But the problem is that with saline, the tissues may not live long enough to produce their own blood. The fluid should contain oxygen to nourish the tissues.

2045: Is “Blue blood” able to perform the gas transport function?

E. V. T.: The base of the “blue blood” consists of perfluoro-organic compounds, i.e. liquids, in which hydrogen atoms are replaced by fluorine atoms. These liquids can dissolve large quantities of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

2045: The evolution of scientific thought from simple chemical compounds to the artificial blood is quite interesting.

E. V. T.: The major thing is to set a goal, simply roughly set a goal. When perfluoro-organic compounds were discovered, a variety of experiments were carried out. Rats blood was replaced with these fluids. The rats survived while new blood was produced. The clinical trials on humans began. It was found out that blood is not only water with oxygen, that it might have another fundamental properties. The emulsifiers were searched for, and it was detected that the emulsion should be thin. Furthermore, huge doses shouldn't be infused, but small ones, because gas transport in the blood is more efficient when small doses are used. In case of acute hemorrhage only 200 ml. is needed, this is sufficient for oxygen transport during hypoxia. The most important thing in this case is to provide the micro circulation, ie, capillary blood flow. All vital things happen in capillaries, and “blue blood” enters them easily, and perform the gas transport.

So you see, the beginners came to the understanding of important mechanisms, without having a clear task. You never know how it will work out and what “side effects” it will lead to.

2045: What secret of the blood seems to you the most important one?

E. V. T.: It has a lot, and many of them are yet to be found. Blood is like a web or a net: when you touch it from one side, it responds on the other. For example,  take Glycine. It is a significant amino acid needed for vital functions in the brain. It gets into the blood. And it stays there! It doesn't overcome blood–brain barrier, it doesn't reach the brain. But it has effects on the brain.

2045: How do you feel about the opinion that a brain doesn't get old, but it has to die because the body dies?

E. V. T.: I totally agree. I am a gerontologist, and I can say with confidence that all the neurodegenerative processes occur because of the changes in the neurons' environment. The changes in blood structure and the body's internal environment cause changes in astrocytes and neurons, which can no longer function properly in these surroundings. To get an ageless brain we need to create an ageless body.

2045: Is it possible to create an artificial ageless body? What do you think? If so, how do you imagine it?

E. V. T.: If you want to get spare parts for the human body – it already exists and let the guys like Ray Kurzweil make their predictions. These artificial organs help people to return to active life, but they don't extend life. From the thematic point of view, this path leads to a dead end. It doesn't provide fundamentally new knowledge about the human body either.
There is a way to create an artificial body as a completely mechanistic model, a bio-robot, the main function of which is to move around and perform some operations. The artificial body of this type will still require replacement of worn out parts from time to time. This problem is technically solvable in the near future, and it is the very problem Kurzweil was talking about.

2045: What kind of blood will this artificial body need?

E. V. T.: The body created for providing long-term function of a brain should be based on completely different principles. The brain itself doesn't need a lot of energy – a body does, the muscles do. Even glucose for neurons is an energy bomb. If you would like to place a brain in a motionless body, it will be enough to put in a growth medium. Since you don't need any powerful energy for a brain, you don't need blood with all its complexity. Neither you need muscle mass, nor immune system. What parasites are you going to defend against? Biological ones? You may create a sterilisation and protection system at the inlet.

The delivery, processing and maintenance of a constant level of the compounds needed is important. But which compounds are needed and how much?  It remains unclear. Nobody knows, because nobody worked on it. The problem was not formulated. And all the researchers work only on the projects which are being funded.

The project we are talking about will stimulate further work on artificial intelligence creation. Thus, mankind will make progress creating artificial intelligence. The functions of the body needed for either autonomous, or operated functioning of this highly specialised object, will be defined. Or, perhaps, it will become a new subject?

2045: Do you think transferring a living brain into an artificial body would be possible in the near future?

E. V. T.: Nature created the human brain, with all its complexity. Why can't we create an artificial body for the brain?

I don't think the idea is crazy. We all are products of nature and cannot create anything beyond nature. All we create is within the nature. It hasn't created it yet, and we are already able to.

2045: If an Artificial Body Center, uniting researchers from various fields of science, is established, how should it look?

E. V. T.: A board of unbiased members is needed. They have to understand each other and develop a common action plan.

How would a physiologist act? He would put an organ in growth medium, and find conditions for its existence. What will a cell biologist do? He will work with a single neuron or astrocyte, and learn the influence of different inhibitors. There also should be a theorist for accumulating the information and drawing function schemes. A technologist would stand beside and answer questions, if it is possible to embody the suggested ideas.

Then an experiment begins, a living object and a technological analog are involved. The creation of a support system for a brain as a living object is of the highest priority. The support system will not be similar to those in our body, because most of the energy our body spends it spends for muscles. We need to outrun evolution. And here we need the Board. One mentioned something, the other one began to think about it, the third one created it. One man is unable to make the whole process! Collective intelligence is strongly needed!

2045: Integration of this kind provides ideal conditions for remarkable discoveries. Unfortunately, such conditions are incredibly rare.

E. V. T.: We need to build collectives of a fundamentally new type. They should be united by a common idea, which may be crazy. The more crazy the task is, the more interesting is to find ways to perform it!

2045: And the higher is the probability to stumble across new things.

E. V. T.: There is nothing to be afraid of. The project of creating a carrier of an immortal brain is of extreme importance. Nature definitely creates talented, brilliant, genius people – but they are mortal. Mankind creates books and impart knowledge to descendants. Imagine a genius working eternally!

2045: What do you think, where should we start?

E. V. T.: A Center for collection and analysis of laboratory data should be established, while the labs, run by this Center, may be located anywhere. Each lab is specialised to solve a particular problem, with funding depending on success in solving the problem. But the united Center is required. It should keep its intellectual independence and be not burdened with any dominant paradigm. It should be free of statements like, “This is possible, while that is not; this is crazy, and that is common sense. Who's common sense it it – craftsmans' and ploughers'? A man of science doesn't have common sense – he doesn't belong to the planet Earth, he belongs to the whole Universe.

Elena V.
Ph.D. in Biology, Head of the Lipid Metabolism Laboratory at the Russian Institute of Gerontological Research and Development

‘There is nothing to be afraid of. The project of creating a carrier of an immortal brain is of extreme importance. Nature definitely creates talented, brilliant, genius people – but they are mortal. Mankind creates books and imparts knowledge to descendants. But imagine a genius working eternally!’

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