Saffron's Space

This week in ‘When Science Fiction Becomes Reality‘ I’m looking at a field of research which is constantly developing and creating new miracles: bioengineering.

Specifically, the bioengineering of replacement body parts. At the current point in time it’s tragic how many people are unable to get transplants and die as a result, bioengineering could be the solution.

As described in this article.

Scientists around the world are working on building new organs for transplant patients. These organs range from bladders to noses! With the major goal being a complete heart.

Nose in a Jar

The premise of bioengineering is that a mold of the desired organ is used to create a scaffold. This scaffold must be composed of a substance which will not elicit a reaction in the body but is sturdy and will cause cell attachment. Once the scaffold is complete stem cells are added to it. These stem cells are taken from the patient and are capable of growing into any cell type. With the scaffold and the relevant growth factors they begin to form into cartilage or muscle, or whatever is required for that organ.

Because these stem cells have been taken from the patient when the new organ is implanted the patient’s immune system will not reject it. For all intents and purposes the new organ ‘belongs’ to the patient and will be accepted. This has incredible benefits in terms of no longer needing the debilitating drugs which are currently used to prevent transplant rejection.

In one of the examples discussed the researchers have created a new nose for a skin cancer patient. They had some difficulty developing skin for the nose, the solution? Implant the nose under the patient’s forearm for a time and let his body put skin on it for you! (The patient declined having the nose implanted into his forehead).

If this is the stage we’re at right now, what does the future hold??? Surely it won’t be long until any organ can be made to designer specifications; new hearts, new livers, dare I say; new brains?

Plastic surgery is obviously an area which will see boom from this industry, as too will the medical industry. Cardiac disease, kidney failure, severe burns; with technology such as this these will become problems of the past.

But how will this technology impact on science fiction? Well I see this kind of technology as being a natural stepping stone to cloning: if you can use your own stem-cells to regrow a nose or an organ, why not an entire body? (obviously this is different to the current form of cloning which involves inserting DNA into an embryo and then growing the fetus through to birth, childhood etc). What about super-humans? Athletes with hearts that can pump twice as fast or soldiers with replaceable limbs?

Whilst bioengineering does have interesting implications for Science Fiction I think its current applications to medical advancement are even more amazing.

What do you think of this incredible new technology? Would you have a nose implanted into your forehead?

 



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