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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Artificial human body organs

 Hello readers!

Here is another list of innovations designed to improve human health. It is interesting that my alma mater, Hokkaido University, has invested in this field. I think that those who do not favor cloning may find these inventions agreeable. And for those who only favor natural remedies, sorry to say that Nature is not always kind. Sometimes, we have to resort to artificial means to better serve the human race.

One of the major subjects that have caught everyone’s attention in medical science is the development of artificial organs. An artificial organ is a man-made organ that is implanted in human body to replace its natural counterpart. The pace, at which, scientists are doing experiments with the artificial body parts, somehow it seems like we would be able to create a real human being very soon in the near future. 

Here is a list of top 10 technologies that are vying to make this possible.

Artificial Wombs
Research: Dr. Hung-Ching Liu, Cornell University’s Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility 
Status: Feasible, Prototypes developed successfully 
You might have seen a number of children decanted in huge factories in Brave New World, a novel by Aldous Huxley in the year 1932. You must have also seen the artificial gestation of humans in the 1999 movie, The Matrix. Well, I am talking about the artificial wombs. Would it be possible some day to grow babies outside the mothers’ body?

Scientists are already working on artificial wombs in which embryos can grow outside a woman’s body. Scientists have even developed prototypes made out of cells extracted from women’s bodies. Dr. Hung-Ching Liu of Cornell University’s Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility hopes that they would be able to develop complete artificial wombs in the very near future. 

The impending medical benefits of this technology include aiding women, who have undergone many miscarriages due to problems with embryo implantation, the women having hysterectomies due to uterine cancer, and the women who are not able to carry their own child. Even the gay couples can have their babies.
On the other hand, some feminists say that the artificial wombs might weaken the mother-child bond. The possibility of such technology will also raise concerns with respect to cloning. Some ethicists say that this would make it all right to ban abortion, since the fetus would be able to survive outside the uterus. 
Although we will have to wait for some more years to see the development of a full-fledged artificial womb, it would be definitely a breakthrough in treating the childless couples. 
Artificial gut

Research: Dr Martin Wickham, Institute of Food Research, UK.
Status: Developed successfully
Last year, in the month of November, UK scientists were reported to have built an artificial stomach capable of simulating human digestion. This artificial gut mimics both the physical and chemical reactions taking place during digestion. 

The innovative device is made of sophisticated plastics and metals and has the potential to survive the corrosive gut acids and enzymes. Moreover, it can be fed on real foods. The researches are on the way to aid development of new super-nutrients by revealing how they are broken down in the gut.

Amazingly, it’s so realistic that it can even vomit. How mimicking! 
Artificial Heart

Research: Syncardia CardioWest, Abiomed Inc.
Status: First fully implantable artificial heart AbioCor developed
Artificial hearts date back to the mid 1960s when Dr. Paul Winchell first patented an artificial heart. Many researches were done with the artificial hearts after that. Well, the Syncardia CardioWest’s temporary ‘Total Artificial Heart‘ (TAH t) was the very first implantable artificial heart that received green signal from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The TAH-t is meant for the patients with end stage biventricular failure so as to perk up life expectancy while they are looking for a heart transplant. A 46-year-old ex-fitness instructor, who was suffering from biventricular end-stage heart failure and was in irreversible cardiogenic shock, received the first TAH-t in the beginning of 2007. 

The TAH-t is a modern version of the Jarvik-7 Artificial Heart that was implanted in patient Barney Clark in 1982.

However, the latest fully implantable artificial heart to receive clearance from Food and Drug Administration is ‘AbioCor.’ Developed by Abiomed Inc, the two-pound AbioCor comprises an internal thoracic unit, an internal rechargeable battery, an internal miniaturized electronics package and an external battery pack. It has the capability to move the blood through the lungs and to the rest of the body continuously. It no doubt brings hope to patients who are near death from heart failure but the downsides of the AbioCor are its large size and shorter lifespan. 
Scientists are busy with their experiments and we could possible see a fully reliable implantable artificial heart sometime in the future. 

Artificial blood

Research: Many companies
Status: Oxygen therapeutics under development
The meaning of the word ‘artificial blood‘ is a bit confusing as biological blood performs many tasks while the artificial blood is said to fulfill some of the tasks, particularly in human beings. The increasing demand for the blood all across the globe for various reasons account for the ever-growing need for the blood substitutes. If this is done, it will be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the world of medical science. 

Primarily, artificial blood is estranged into two main groups, the volume expanders, which only increase blood volume, and oxygen therapeutics that replace for the blood’s natural aptitude to carry oxygen. While volume expanders are already in use in hospitals, the oxygen therapeutics is still under clinical trials. 
The current oxygen therapeutics under development are perfluorocarbon based Oygent, hemoglobin based Hemopure, Oxyglobin, Hemolink, Polyheme, Hemospan, and Dextran-Hemoglobin. 

Lately, researchers have started sniffing the possibility of using stem cells as a means to produce another source of transfusable blood. However, this is the one of its kind of methods of producing red blood cells but the costs associated with the process are stocky. 

Another latest research in blood substitute’s technology is being conducted by the Dendritech. With a $750,000 grant from the US Army, researchers are thinking of using the highly fluorinated water-soluble nano-polymer dubbed dendrimers as an alternative oxygen carriers.

Oxycyte is another synthetic pure white compound that has the ability to carry oxygen 50 times more efficiently than our own blood. The white compound is under clinical trials. 

There are numerous controversies with respect to the use of artificial blood, but it is hoped that within the next few years, artificial blood may be widely used. It would be by no means less than landing on Mars. Check out ‘How artificial blood works.’

Artificial blood vessels

Research: Hokkaido University
Status: Under trials for use in human beings
Well, we talked about the artificial blood but we do need artificial vessels too to carry it. It has just been made possible by researchers from Hokkaido University. They have developed artificial blood vessels using collagen taken from the skin of salmon. While scientists have already developed artificial tissues from bovine (found in cow) and porcine (found in pig) collagen but there questions were raised with respect to the likely transmission of infectious diseases such as BSE (mad cow disease). Luckily, the usage of salmon collagen is considered safe owing to the fact that there are no viruses known to the date that are transmitted from salmon to humans. While the researchers will use this in larger animals such as dogs at first, but they do hope to use the same biomaterial to replace the damaged blood vessels in human beings. 

Earlier, Chris Mason, a Medical Research Council Clinical Fellow at University College London won a major award for devising a way of creating blood vessels for heart bypass surgery. Eventually, the artificial blood vessels will be a reality.

Artificial bones 

Research: McGill University, Montreal
Status: Under clinical trials
Scientists have been busy with experiments from a long time to develop artificial bones. Recently, it was found that citric acid, with 1,8-octanediol (a non-toxic chemical) results in a stretchy and strong yellow rubber that can be molded into a wide variety of shapes and used to replace damaged body parts. The polymer when mixed with hydroxyapatite powder gives out a very hard material that can be used to repair broken bones. Hydroxyapatite powder is the very same stuff that makes up natural bone thereby making for the acceptance of artificial bone without any unfavorable effects.

Now, scientists have found a new technique of growing artificial bones from a modified version of an inkjet printer. It will be a major breakthrough in the field of bone graft surgery, which was earlier done by using parts of bone taken from other parts of the body or ceramic-like substitutes. The new method creates perfect facsimiles of bones that can be used to replace the damaged bones. Professor Jake Barralet of McGill University in Montreal, Canada said:

The “paper” in our printer is a thin bed of cement-like powder. The inkjets spray the cement with an acid which reacts with it and goes hard. It takes only ten minutes for the printer, which is the size of about three filing cabinets, to print a typical bone graft. The printed graft acts as a bridge to allow the body to replace the damaged section with new bone.

The technology is no doubt promising but its will have to go under a number of clinical trials before being used commercially. 

Artificial Skin

Research: MIT, Cambridge-based biotechnology firm Intercytex, CincinnatiStatus: Researches on the way for generating a real skin

Back in 19996, an artificial skin developed at MIT was given FDA approval to be used on patients with severe burns who have lost their dermis. The method involved chemically bonding collagen derived from animal tendons with glycosaminoglycan (GAG) molecules from animal cartilage to develop a model of the extracellular matrix that offers the basis for a new dermis. In the year 2001, a self-repairing plastic “skin” was developed and tested by US scientists. Very much like the real skin, it was able to bleed and heal itself, thereby making breakthrough in vital materials used in surgical implants. 

Another breakthrough achievement in artificial skin is the re-generation of the skin. Scientists at Cambridge-based biotechnology firm Intercytex have discovered a new miraculous technique to fight ageing. They have succeeded in finding a way to grow these cells dubbed fibroblasts in the lab only. These fibroblasts, which generate a protein called collagen, add to the strength and elasticity of the skin but as we age, the count of these cells keeps on declining. Therefore, when these cells will be injected into the wrinkles, it will lead to the regeneration of the collagen, encouraging the skin to regenerate again. Re-generating the human skin in itself is a great achievement.

Recently, scientists in Cincinnati have developed bacteria-resistant skin cells in the lab and are now trying them on animals. They anticipate creating a type of artificial skin that can sweat, tan, and fight off infection, ultimately generating a real skin.

Artificial Retina

Research: Mark Humayun, University of Southern California.
Status: Developed successfully, waiting for commercialization
U.S. Researchers have urbanized a bionic eye that could restore sight to the blind. The researchers say that the new device dubbed Argus has also been given green signal by the American regulators to test the device on 50-75 patients.

The Argus II artificial retina is expected to cure people suffering from two most common forms of blindness caused by diseases such as Macular Degeneration or Retinitis Pigmentosa. Macular Degeneration is a condition in which the light sensing cells in the macula malfunction and, over time, complete stop functioning. The second condition is Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is an advanced form of night blindness or tunnel vision. Many patients suffering from this disease do not become completely blind until their 40s or 50s. Well, the final aim of the researchers is to make people recognize faces and also tune electrodes to respond to light of different wavelengths and also allow the patients to see genuine color.

If everything goes as per plans, then the implant will be commercially available in Q1 of 2009 for about £15,000

Artificial limbs

Research: U.S. scientists
Status: In the trials
If salamanders or tadpoles can re-generate their limbs, why can’t human beings regenerate a lost limb too? In fact, they can. A new research led by scientists has put forth a ray of hope for the amputees since they are anticipating a new technology that could help full limb generation. They have fruitfully grown extra arms on salamanders with the help of an extract of pig bladder. Well, the research is related with re-growing a whole finger but growing enough of a finger that could be less than an inch. But, if the results are optimistic, it could prove to be a stepping stone for further research to re-grow the whole fingers.

This is really a shot in the dark but if we look deeper into the future, the findings might open the doors for replacement of damaged heart parts and spinal cord. 

Artificial body parts from Stem cells

Research: Sir Magdi Yacoub, Harefield hospital, UK
Status: Prototypes developed, further research on the way

When a team of British scientists devised a way to grow a heart valve from a patient’s own stem cells lately, it raised the hopes of growing a whole heart within ten years from the stem cells. Moreover, these are also considered better than the artificial organs as the artificial ones are more prone to rejection and replacement. 

If it really becomes possible to grow a heart, we could even grow lungs or a brain. You might replace your normal heart with a stronger one in the future hopefully. Anyway, this is very preliminary work and the direct translation to human is still far away in the future. 

Another limitation with stem cell research is the ever-present question of embryo ethics but we can envisage that what medical breakthroughs we could achieve if scientists were not so constrained by federal regulations.

I believe, and rather it’s true, that if scientists are able to regenerate the largest organ of our body i.e. skin, the day is not too far when we will be witnessing regeneration of each and every human organ and hence meet our true artificial counterparts.

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