Profs Peer Into Crystal Balls

In 50 years, pigs still won't fly, but they may produce human kidneys

Human kidneys growing in pigs? Doctors’ prescriptions for psychedelic drugs? Anything goes in 2056, according to Harvard professors and alums quoted in a survey released this month by New Scientist, a London-based magazine.

Scientists who participated in the survey predicted the biggest breakthroughs in their fields over the next half-century. And the future looks, well, different.

According to Richard A. Miller, who conducted his postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School, the development of a pill to slow down the aging process is not a far-fetched idea.

In the New Scientist, Miller, who is currently a professor of pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School, predicted by 2056 “the first class of centenarians who are as vigorous and productive as today’s run-of-the-mill sexagenarians.”

Mice and rats who have undergone genetic manipulation and calorically restrictive diets have a 40 percent longer lifespan than their unmanipulated counterparts, he said in an interview Monday.

“It’s not a ridiculous guess that extending the human lifespan by 40 percent will be possible too,” he said.

Bruce T. Lahn ’90, a professor of human genetics at the University of Chichago, forecasted the growth of human organs in animals, resulting in an unlimited supply of organs for transplant.

“When a patient needs a new organ—a kidney, say—the surgeon will contact a commercial organ producer and supply them with the patient’s immunological profile,” he said in the survey.

An assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, John H. Halpern, said in the survey that he’s already planning to test a combination of psychotherapy and MDMA—that is, “ecstasy”—on dying cancer patients. Experiments involving LSD, psilocybin, and peyote are also on his research agenda.

“Within 10 years, enough positive results could establish that there are special benefits from ‘psychedelics,’” he told the New Scientist.

In the field of paleontology, Harvard’s Fisher professor of natural history, Andrew H. Knoll, foresaw the discovery of a majority of the fossil record in the next 50 years.

But one professor resisted the opportunity to be an oracle.

When asked by the British magazine, Steven Pinker, Harvard’s Johnstone professor of psychology, refused to predict the biggest breakthrough of the next half century.

“This is an invitation to look foolish, as with the predictions of doomed cities and nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners that were made 50 years ago,” he said in the survey.

Pinker was travelling and could not be reached for comment this week.