Researchers grow teeth from gum cells

Suppose you could regrow that tooth you lost to (a) a fall, (b) cavities, (c) a bar-room fight?  Well, someday you may be able to do just that.

The BBC  this week reported on work being done at King's college, London . BBC article: Researchers grow teeth from gum cells

Here they took "epithelial" cells from humans --from their gums.  Grew those cells, then mixed them with "mesenchyme" cells from mice.  The result was transplanted into mice, who then grew hybrid human/mouse teeth, with roots. 

"The mesenchyme cells" were cultured to be 'inducing' --they instruct the epithelial cells to start growing into a tooth," says the BBC article.

Alas, this is still early experimental. The process is expensive, and not likely to produce working results in the near future.

You'll see a photo of one of the resulting teeth taken from that chimerical mouse (a chimera is a blend of human and animal elements).

FYI: the researchers do a lot more than this in my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH" Playing God with Body, Soul, and Bio-tech

And it was just last week that we posted here about human brain cells being implanted into mice. Mice implanted with human brain cells become smarter--Discover Magazine!

I know there's a lot of worry going around about what if computers got smarter than us humans and took over.  But now I'm REALLY worried about mice that are too smart for our good!

(By the way, for a cracking-good, very intelligent technothriller about computers, try THE FEAR INDEX, Robert Harris.)


"Reversing the aging process by using pig hearts"

"Reversing the aging process by using pig hearts" is a post I put up yesterday on my main blog,  For some reason, I am unable to easily link it across, so I'll do it the hard way, because it's very relevant to  this blog, and the related technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH.

Among the related topics are reversing the aging process, bio-tech, bio-artificial organs, chimeras-- human-animal hybrids, the use of human stem cells, medical ethics, organ harvesting, and organ regeneration-- among others.

To go to that other post, and the related article

More on "when is death": now "organ donors who are 'pretty dead."

In the previous post, we looked at a couple of intriguing--maybe disturbing-- articles on the issue of harvesting organs from "recently dead" humans. (That post was "A REMEDY FOR DEATH. Ah, but what IS death? Two interesting articles.")

But that got into the emerging hot-button related issues of "what is death--how should it be gauged?" and "how dead does one really need to be an organ donor?"

In another take on the question, Dick Teresi in Discover Magazine, May 2012, wrote an article,   "The Beating Heart Donors"   Donors," --- that is, in some cases, those are "pretty dead." But how dead do you have to be to be an organ donor?  A couple of intriguing excerpts from that article:

  • "The only people who do not get a share of the transplant wealth are the most essential: the donors and their families. By law, they are the only ones who cannot be compensated. Joseph Murray, the surgeon who performed the first solid-organ transplant, maintains that donors must not be paid, in order to maintain the integrity of the field.
  • "The organ trade claims transplants are the neat extraction of body parts from totally dead, unfeeling corpses. But it's more complicated and messier than that."
  • "Organ transplants would be peripheral to the story of death if they were what the organ trade claimed them to be: the neat extraction of body parts from totally dead, unfeeling corpses. But it is more complicated and messier than that. The grisly facts compiled in this article are not an attempt to derail organ transplantation—an impossible task, given how entrenched the industry is—but knowledge that has been gained from the medical establishment’s obsession with recycling the bodies of people who are, in the words of Dr. Michael DeVita of the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center, only “pretty dead.”"

Just to be clear, these are Dick Teresi's words and thoughts.

In another of those little strokes of synchronicity that make my life so interesting, literally as I was writing this entry, I got a call from a friend, a retired Army Colonel, who told me he'd had a transplanted eye for 25 years now, still working well.

Transplants, good.  But still up in the air is the issue of donation.

Best yet, still to come, is the whole field of bio-artificial organs, organ fabrication, organ regeneration and the like .  It's happening, bio-artificial organs are being --what's the word? Created? Generated? Grown?  (On this, I recently did several posts noting current research in these fields. You'll find these mostly in the September 2012 archives of this blog.)

A couple of words more about Dick Teresi.  That Discover article is based on his newest book, THE UNDEAD: ORGAN HARVESTING, THE ICE-WATER TEST, BEATING HEART CADAVERS--HOW MEDICINE IS BLURRING THE LINE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH (available in both e-book and p-book version via Amazon  and other booksellers.)

And this: way back, when I was first beginning the research for my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with Body, Soul & Bio-tech, one of my earlist and most helpful resources with the book  THE THREE-POUND UNIVERSE  by Judith Harper and --you guessed!--Dick Teresi.  (Without giving away the plot of Remedy, suffice it to say that the three-pound universe is that thingee up inside your head, also known as "the brain."  And that one of the lead characters in Remedy just happens to be a experimental neurosurgeon with some ideas that are definitely outside the experimental mainstream.)

Need a new body part? No problem. Just use a bio-printer to produce it.

Well, it’s not quite that simple, yet. But the day is coming.  In a couple of other recent entries in this blog, I mentioned how bio-engineers and experimental surgeons were using “scaffolds” as frameworks for spreading human stem cells to regrow that organ or body part.  (That related to a three-part series in the New York Times by Henry Fountain.)

In one of those intriguing synchronicities, on the day of the third of these Times articles, the Wall Street Journal ran an equally-well researched article on a very different method for growing replacement human body parts.

That article, by Robert Lee Hotz, was “Need an Artery for Bypass Surgery or Custom Cartilage for That Worn-out Knee? Hit Print.” It focused on how a new breed of printers were producing three-dimensional living tissue in the form of organs.  (There's an intriguing video link, as well . . . if it's still up.)

These printers are a lot like the ink-jet printer on your desk, but “print” out with a kind of “bio-ink” composed of stem cells taken from the patient’s own body, usually bone marrow or fat. The printer heads circle and circle, spewing out this substance, gradually building up into shapes. (There’s a good bit more to it than that, so kids don’t try it at home with your faithful HP ink-jet!)

Summing up: in  research underway in some labs, relatively hard plastic shapes are used as matrices upon which to “turkey baste” (one bio-engineer’s folksy term for it) stem cells so they can grow into a corresponding shape.  In another experiments, a parchment-like matrix is used.

And in this third method, a kind of bio-ink jet printer spews out substance, gradually building up a 3-D form that can become an organ, or blend with others into a body part.

By the way, the 3-D printers are already in use in a variety of ways.  See the London Telegraph article “3D printing: the technology that could re-shape the world.” (Sorry, I don’t have the link at hand.)  From the article by the Telegraph’s Shane Richmond: “Instead of printing ink on paper, 3D printers use a fine powder that sets into a hard, plaster-like finish, building up an object one layer at a time. Building an object layer by layer wastes less material than traditional production methods and makes it possible to produce things that are very hard to make in other ways.”

In short, if we can use 3-D printers to fabricate parts (in some cases rip-offs of designer bling) it’s not a very big stretch to see that kind of progress coming soon in the field of bio-engineering.

I’ve been following all these aspects for years, since way back when I first got the idea that has grown into my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH – Playing God with Body, Soul and Bio-tech.      A REMEDY FOR DEATH -- more info and to order

In the weeks to come, I’ll be digging through my files for other intriguing stuff (to me, at least).  Tissue regeneration, organ regeneration and other kinds of bio-engineering human organs involve only one of the strands, so there’s much more to come.

"Cloning scientists create human brain cells," reports the London Observer

 "We can take a skin sample, make stem cells from it and then direct these stem cells to grow into brain cells. Essentially, we are turning a person's skin cells into brain. We are making cells that were previously inaccessible. And we could do that in future for the liver, the heart and other organs on which it is very difficult to carry out biopsies."

--- This from Professor Charles ffrench-Constant, director of the Roslin Institue at Edinburgh University, where sheep Dolly was cloned 16 years ago.

This work does not rely on using embryos at all; instead the cloning or regeneration comes from scraps of a patient's own skin.

Sounds like something from a Michael Crichton thriller? I hope so, but it's not from Crichton's, but rather from one of mine.

I won't spoil the plot of my speculative thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, by pointing out how this work ties in with what is done in the fictional clinic in the book. But it does, and that part of the book was written way back even before Dolly saw the light of day.

The article is by Robin McKie in the Observer of January 28, 2012. Here's the link

Human embryonic stem cells successfully implanted in chimps

First readers of my  medical techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, questioned the real-world likelihood of implanting the brain cells from a human fetus into Chimp Donnie.  "Too far out!" they said. "Probably too far out even for a Michael Crichton thriller.")

Well, now the future far-out is happening, and happening in the real-world, not just in my thriller. I could cite several reports on how human brain cells have been implanted in the brains of both humans (and animals, earlier, to test the procedures).  The aim is to treat conditions including stroke, Parkinson's, tumors, Traumatic Brain Injury, and ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).

Here's one news report to get you started: London Guardian: Stem cells transformed into brain cells to treat Parkinson's disease

PLOT ADVISORY re: A REMEDY FOR DEATH:  The experimental implantation of brain tissue as done by Dr. Daulby (with the assistance of Chimp Donnie) is not performed for any of the treatment purposes mentioned above.