Organ harvesting from aborted human fetuses, medical ethics, and the medical techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH

The  method used in my medical techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, depends on human stem cells from adult donors (Induced Pluripotent Cells—IPS cells) rather than tissue from aborted fetuses--a topic very much in the news recently because of a series of videos.

(Want to know more  about Induced Pluripotent Cells? Here’s a link to a basic Wikipedia overview.) 

In case the link doesn't work, here it is in open form:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_pluripotent_stem_cell

 That said, an alternate research strand is very much in the news these days—fetal tissue research using organs from aborted fetuses.

Reasonable people can—and most definitely do, strongly—disagree on the medical ethics not only of abortion but also of “organ harvesting” from the resulting fetus. The fields of bio-engineering, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine are moving very fast, and  medical ethicists are struggling to keep apace.

I expect you’ve heard about—and perhaps watched—the series of videos made by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group recording interviews with Planned Parenthood staffers, as well as shots of the product of abortions induced in Planned Parenthood  facilities. 

In A REMEDY FOR DEATH,   I  raised different but related issues involving bio-engineering, organ harvesting and other issues--different because the plot-line does not involve aborted fetuses. But it does  touch upon some of the same issues of medical ethics and biological research ethics as are raised by these videos and resulting discussions.

For  an informative, balanced article on this issue of using aborted human fetal tissue in research, I suggest Sarah Kliff’s piece in VOX: "The Planned Parenthood controversy over aborted fetus body parts, explained"

That link repeated, in case it didn't come through:  http://www.vox.com/2015/7/14/8964513/planned-parenthood-aborted-fetuses


"Quest to grow human organs inside pigs in Japan" -- multiple sources

Quest to grow human organs inside pigs-- the headline says it all. Google those words ,and you'll come on many links to the same research, including Youtube and photos. 

By the way, "chimera" is the term used for human-primate hybrids -- that is chimps and the like, which are around 98% or more genetically similar to humans. I suspect the term chimera is being extended to cover other types of combinations . . . and if you Google onwards you'll see  much more. I'll add some more here another time. Another related term is "transgenic"-- also something for another time. Still another related term is "Radical life extension."

I suspect these human organs "carried" in pigs and other animals are going to become a very big deal for the regenerative medicine industry. I think they are also going to be a much-discussed topic in the area of medical and research ethics.

It's relevant here as my technothriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH begins with the attempted creation of a human-chimp hybrid.  'Nuff said.


Spraying human stem cells to regenerate severely burned areas--in four days!

Imagine collecting a burn patient's own stem cells from an unburned part of the body, placing them in a growth solution for an hour or so, then spraying that solution of human stem cells onto the raw, burned area . . .  and in four days having the patient's skin looking fully back to normal.

Well, you don't have to imagine it, it's not future science fiction, it's here and now, as reported by National Geographic

Mind you, growing human flesh to put over burned areas is not new--among others, Organogenesis has been producing that kind of regenerated skin since the 1980s. Trouble is, that method takes weeks, and to protect the patient against infections, an "immediate" new skin is better. And it's here, though still experiemental.

Here's the link to the   National Geographic video  (via the site Big Geek Dad, which is a great source for all sorts of interesting, sometimes off-beat stuff).

 


We need new blood! 'Vampire therapy' could reverse aging, scientists find

"It may seem the stuff of gothic horror novels, but transfusions of young blood could reverse the ageing process and even cure Alzheimer's Disease, scientists believe." -- This the lead item in an article by Sarah Knapton in London's Daily Telegraph. (I used the spelling 'ageing' there, as such is the British way.)  

By the way, I misspelled Sarah Knapton's name in a previous version of this post. Sorry.

Now, before going on, let me say that the experiments so far have only been done on mice, not humans.  

Also, these experiments havebeen done, not in a spooky castle in Transylvania, but rather at Harvard and Stanford. (Does that make the idea less spooky?)

The research, primarily reported in the journal Science, involved eight blood transfusions over a three-week period.

Here's the link to that Daily Telegraph article

Now what they are doing with this finding in the (fictional) Hauenfelder Clinic in the remote mounntains of a certain Eastern European dictatorship I have no idea. (FYI: that Hauenfelder Clinic is the setting for my science technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH.  Not to worry, this is not a plot spoiler: I can tell you they don't use Vampire Therapy there . . . at least not yet!  But they do lots of other thing that push the limits of medical ethics  under the guise of  questing for eternal youth and human immortality for the chosen few!  The Hauenfelder Clinic is, one might say, a Jurassic Park for rich old guys who want to stick around . . . forever.)


Printing human tissue: moving toward 3-D printing of replacement human organs

It seems that few days  pass that I don't come upon some article or TV/web news report on topics relating to  my techno-thriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH (Playing God with Body, Soul and Bio-tech). Here are a few examples of what's turned up recently:

Example: about a week ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a  short piece  by Daniel Akst, "Tissue that's fit to print" on some  new work at Harvard (and a book describing that work) on the subject of using 3-D printing to create layers of tissue based on human cells.  The difficulty, until this work, has been in printing a vascular system to nourish the new tissue.

Another example: yesterday I was reading through Bloomberg Business Week (March 24-31, 2014) and came on Caroline Winter's article "Printing Medicine" on Andrew Hessel and his work at Autodesk, where theyare designing software that may help bring about cures for cancer . . . and who knows what beyond. Part of the work is done in conjunctioin with a startup named Organovo, which "uses bioprinting technology to manufacture human tissues" (see paragraph above).  

Sorry, at this point I am unable to find the online link to the article (I read it in my old-fashioned print copy!)  but I expect it will be up on Google or Bing before long.

BUT as I looked for it via Google and "printing medicine + bloomberg," I came upon not only pages upon pages of relevant articles, but particularly this one from a month or so ago, further making my opening point.  This, from Bloomberg  (that's only Bloomberg, not Bloomberg Business Week), I came on this article:  "3-D technology may someday print up new livers: health.)  

I'm running short of time at the moment, but plan in another post here to make the  link between my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH,  and how it integrates much of this new medical technology. (If I may modestly say so, the early drafts of REMEDY had concepts that pre-figured what we're reading now!  And there is still stuff in REMEDY that is way ahead of the curves of bio-tech, human stem-cell technology, the mystery of consciousness, neuroscience, tissue engineering , synthetic biology, regeneratiove medicine, the quest for immortality-- and the ethical and legal implications of putting all those pieces together.


Medical ethics-- "Tampering with embryos is tampering with human souls" suggests article in London Daily Telegraph

If you're on this page, you likely know that my technothriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH deals with, among other issues, questions of medical ethics, including organ and tissue regeneration, cross-species "trading" of tissues and stem cells, and the ultimate question of, When does death in fact occur?

In this blog, I've included a lot of my earlier research used in working out A REMEDY FOR DEATH, and I'm still adding new articles and studies that I find with some or a lot of relevance to the book.

Hence you may be interested in the opinion piece in London's Daily Telegraph "Tampering with embryos is tampering with souls"  by Jacob Rees-Mogg, a member of the British parliament.  The piece picks up from a debate in the House of Parliament on the issue of  "three parent embryos – or rather mitochondrial transfer".  

Mr. Rees-Mogg points out three as-yet unsettled issues with the idea of blending "parenthood" from three people:

  1. Technical: do we yet know enough about how to do this?); 
  2. Ethical (involving both medical ethics and morality: "There may be unknown consequences of tampering with the genes of an embryo, and for the unreligious there will be mental issues to be faced by those who have three parents. The gravity of the change is such that it should not be made without the most careful thought and properly tested research.)
  3. Legal:  "This is a self-evidently dangerous road to start down as although the technique cannot at this stage affect eye colour, eventually there will be therapies that will. Once this line has been crossed the argument against going further is merely a matter of degree rather than absolute. Its current aim is small, that ten children each year that might have been born should be replaced by ten different babies. This is not a major problem yet the solution is a fundamental change in our understanding of our own humanity."

I'm  not going to go further, except to add that in his bio, Mr. Rees-Mogg demonstrates exceptional wisdom and prudence by stating clearly " He is not on Twitter."  Amen to that! I say.

By the way, if you object to the word "soul" in his article, you're welcome to adopt the terms "conscious essence" within the "Vehicle" -- terms that some of the characters use  as alternatives to "soul" and "body" in A REMEDY FOR DEATH.


A Remedy for Death and "Billionaires as patrons of science"-- New York Times

"Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science" -- the headline of an article in the New York Times

Well, billionaires with VERY big ideas along with  a sense of elitist entitlement, and a drive for life extension (for themselves and themselves only) ,are subsidizing the fictional Hauenfelder Clinic in my technothriller,   A REMEDY FOR DEATH

Not to spoil the plot, just to say that it's about a bunch of rich old guys (yeah, just guys) who're funding a kind of Jurassic Park for  "select" humans--themselves and other elitists.  It gets into bio-tech, bio-artificial organs, organ harvesting and regeneration, regenerative medicine, and, ultimatelym,into the quest for eternal youth and immortality.

Here are some sample chapters. Hope you're intrigued!


"Scientists get closer to rejuvenating aging muscles"-- Health Day News

Rejuvenating  aging muscles -- I was really feeling the need for something like that this weekend in the course of my first-ever kayaking trip.  I felt my age then . . . NO, correction! I felt my age twice over.  But good news-- no after-effects the next day.

Which leads into an article I came upon, "Scientists get closer to rejuvenating aging muscles" by Mary Elizabeth Dallas, in Health Day News (which I had never run across before).

The report is on a study conducted at Stanford's Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology.  The study takes a very different approach than the fictional lab in my technothriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH, but I thought you'd find it of interest.

One thing struck me: "the muscle stem cells in 2-year old mice are the equivalent of those found in 80-year old humans." Implication: maybe there's a market for canes and walkers for old mice!  

Seriously, the process involves taking muscle stem cells from the oldsters (only mice, so far) and treat them in a certain way, then reimplanting in those muscle groups.  Two months later, those muscles were essentiall equivalent to those of young, uninjured mice.

Link to the article "Scientists get closer to rejuvenating aging muscles"


"The Race for Immortality"-- article in Slate

I came on still another article about the new drive on anti-aging and the quest for human immortality funded and directed by some of the rich guys at Google. Slate terms it "the race for immortality."  Subtitle: "Ray Kurzweil thinks we can stay one step ahead of death."   Link to the Slate article

The article in Slate is by Will Oremus, and joins other articles we've referenced here, which I'll link to below.

My context for interest in articles on the quest for immortality flows from my techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH.  The book is done and out in the world, but I'm still keeping up with the literature.

In a nutshell, A REMEDY FOR DEATH is about a kind of Jurassic Park for rich old guys . . . and about the unforeseen consquences that flow.  (More info on A REMEDY FOR DEATH.)

One key difference between my approach in A REMEDY FOR DEATH and the main trend covered in these articles: Ray Kurzweil's approach is directed to staying alive long enough to be around for what he terms "the singularity," when we have computers and other devices smart enough to in effect download "us" to the cloud.

Without spoiling the plot, in REMEDY the characters take a more bio-tech approach, including printing out replacement organs (which is actually under way right now in labs around the world); other bioartificial organs and organ fabrication; the use of stem  cells; tissue engineering; and the use of human-animal chimeras.

In both REMEDY and the proposed Kurzweil approach arises the small matter of how do you move "consciousness," or "the soul," or whatever you term it across to the new?

Here are my links and comments on some other recent articles on that theme of a Jurassic Park for rich old guys  (and not so old yet). Topics include anti-aging, reversing aging, human immortality, fear of aging and death, regenerative medicine, eternal youth, eternal life, and the regenerative medicine industry:

Business Insider article, "These Tech Billionaires Are Determined to Buy Their Way Out of Death"

See my previous post "New Google division, along with TIME Magazine, follow trail blazed by technothriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH!"   That will link you to the TIME cover story on Calico, a new division or subsidiary, of Google. Calico is exploring much the same issues as in my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH.

 See also Adam Gollner's article in the Daily Bookbeast, "The Immortality Financiers: The Billionaires Who Want to Live Forever"


"Bioengineer: the heart is one of the easiest organs to bioprint, we'll do it in a decade"--Wired UK

Organ regeneration, bioartificial organs, regenerative medicine, and the related possibility of 3-D printing of replacement human organs are all grist in my science technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with body, soul, and biotech.

The artitle, "Bioengineer: the heart is one of the easiest organs to bioprint, we'll do it in a decade"--in Wired UK, by  Liat Clark, focuses on work led by Dr. Stuart K. Williams at the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute at the University of Louisville. The team has already bioengineered arteries and other blood vessels within the heart. Now they are at work on producing a complete heart, which he estimates can be done within a decade.

Here's his overview of the process (as it would work a decade or so from now):  "a patient enters the operating room and tissue is removed (we think fat is the best source) and regenerative cells isolated. The cells are then mixed with solutions that contain extracellular matrix molecules and other factors and placed in the bioprinter. The bioprinter then prints the heart."
 
A week or so later the bioprinted heart is ready to be implanted in the patient.
 
 
We've alredy written in these pages about other ways in which 3D printers are being used to print replacement human organs.
 
Here's one article, which also internally links to a second
 
 
Also, check "Categories" in the sidebar of this blog to see several other posts here to bio-printing human body parts, as well as the use of human stem cells as one of the input materials.