Sunday, November 13, 2005

Further Stem Cell Development has this story that is chock full of future potential. Imagine a world where stem cells could be bio-engineered and programmed to repair damaged organs. People talk about the need to clone things like internal organs, but let me use a dear friend of mine as an example of why this is not the best way to go.

My dear friend was born with a defective heart and through her life has experienced numerous surgeries to keep a failing organ afloat. Were doctors able to clone it, they would essentially be replacing one failed organ for another. If, on the other hand, we had about 50 years of tech gains from the story linked above, then something else entirely might be possible.

Stem cells are essentially blank documents that your body programs as needed. As listed in the story above, scientists have injected a person's own stem cells into their heart to help repair the muscle after an attack. What if scientists were able to bio-engineer stem cells so that they could not only repair damage, but also entirely rebuild an organ? Then scientists could take a person's stem cells, do some funky sci-fi magic to it, grow a brand new, healthy organ that wouldn't be rejected by a person's immune system, then replace the failed organ with the new one.

Presto, we're one stem closer to immortality. At the very least, this would save literally millions of lives from the simple fact that humans are, as a species, susceptible to any number of illnesses and defects that shorten our life spans. I hope that what we're seeing now are the first steps towards gains in health care technology.

My Fair Lady just pointed out that grocery stores are starting to use lasers to burn onto fruit information like which country it was picked in, what time it was picked in, blood type, favorite color, and most romantic date. Isn't technology grand?


At 11:50 PM , Anonymous Nathan said...

"Were doctors able to clone it, they would essentially be replacing one failed organ for another."

Not necessarily true. We don't know how much of Niki's defects are genetic and how much is due to teratogenic factors on fetal development.

Her greatest defect, and the one that is most detrimental to her health, isn't a "heart" problem per se, but a "plumbing" problem, where the great vessels aren't plugged in to the correct chambers of the heart. If they could grow her a new heart without the internal holes (atrial septal defect and ventricular septal defect) that she was born with, then all they'd have to do is correct the plumbing during installation, and she could be right as rain.

Even without growing her a new heart, this blurb:

"The reduction in heart enlargement seen in the bone marrow cell patients appeared to lead to reduced incidence of new heart attacks, hospitalization due to heart failure and deaths, researchers said."

is promising. Niki is in systemic heart failure, exhibited by left ventricular hypertrophy. It's my understanding that the muscle grows to compensate for extra workload, but this enlargement ultimately increases the workload as well, creaing a sort of feedback loop. If this understanding is correct, this therapy could reduce Niki's hypertrophy and buy her a few more years before transplant.

Not that I expect any current medical "advances" to be ready for prime time before Niki needs a transplant, but we can hope.


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