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


“How tiny lab-grown HUMAN BRAINS are giving big insights into autism”—Singularity Hub

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about how tissues and organs from aborted human fetuses are valued for medical experiments. (More on that another time here.)

Those “harvested” tissues are useful, but come from aborted fetuses . . . an issue which raises a host of legal and ethical issues, and offends many people. 

What if there were a way to generate human brain tissue, not from a fetus, but from stem cells generated from healthy adults?

In other words, suppose you could let a lab technician take a small sample of the flesh on your hand, and, hey presto! you might soon have small globules of brain tissue for researchers to work with.

But then the question, Why would you want a brain in a jar? One reason, among many: if you or your children were suffering from neurological disorders or brain abnormalities, such as autism. Then there might be no need to take actual brain samples . . .  or to wait while those abnormalities are studied in experimental animals (which may or may not provide results transferable to humans).

It’s not happening full-out just yet, but the work is underway at Cambridge University by Dr. Madeline Lancaster and team. Here’s the link to the article at Singularity Hub

Another question that may come to mind: How does the possibility of growing replica human brains tie in with my medical bio-technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with body, soul and biotech?  

Excelloent question! You'll find the answer at the top of this blog, or you can can check it out on Amazon.  I hope you will.


Big step taken toward achieving the "Holy Grail" of regenerative medicine

British scientists have now taken cells from a mouse embryo and, "flipped a genetic switch" in the DNA, and then injected the product into another mouse with a defective organ, where those injected cells grew into the whole organ of another mouse. (In that case, it was the thymus, which relates to  the immune system.)

The work was done under the lead of Prof. Clare Blackburn, of the Medical Research Council / Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. The most complete article I've found is by Rebecca Smith, medical editor of London's Daily TelegraphHere's the link

You can also find a shorter piece by Pranav Dixit in Gizmodo. Here's that link

 If you've keeping up with this blog, you'll have seen other stories about growing replacement organs. So what's distinctive about this?  This is reportedly the first time the organ has been grown inside the target creature.

When can we expect to find something like this happening for humans?  According to one scientist, maybe ten years and tens of millions of pounds for research. But by then, odds are the products will relate to other elements in the quest for radical life extension.


"Are myths about the rejuvenating powers of young blood true?""-- from Aeon

The article raises this question: "Are myths about  the rejuvenating powers of young blood true?"

The answer, as I discern it from this and other literature: Definitely yes and no.

Not long ago here we posted about some research in Lund, Sweden attempting to rejuvenate blood (of mice) by reprogramming stem cells.  Link to that post and the article on rejuvenating blood    The broader topic there, of course, is the search for methods of achieving radical life extension.

My point is that the idea of recapturing youth by somehow rejuvenating via young blood is very new-- witness the Swedish research.  But it is also very old, as recounted in this article in the Briish AEON, which begins way back in the myths of ancient times and carries through to what's happening now. Oh yes, vampires are covered in it, as well.  Here's the link to that AEON article


Excellent article on radical life extension and girls who never seem to age

I check out Zite (an app on my Ipad) at least once every day, and it's a rare day that I don't come upon at least one excellent article.  Today it was "Arrested Development: The Girls Who Never Seem to Age," by Virginia Hughes.

For one thing, it gives one of the best short overviews what's being done in researching human aging and the concept of radical life extension.

But it also covers the work of Dr. Richard Walker (and his book, Why We Age).

Dr. Walker has had a career-long fascination with those issues, and went down a variety of not-so-productive paths until he came upon the strange, sad phenomenon of young girls who basically never really age, at least not as we know it.  

"Aging is usually defined as the slow accumulation of damage in our cells, organs, and tissues, ultimately causing the physical transformations that we all recognize in elderly people. Jaws shrink and gums recede. Skin slacks. Bones brittle, cartilage thins, and joints swell. Arteries stiffen and clog. Hair greys. Vision dims. Memory fades. The notion that aging is a natural, inevitable part of life is so fixed in our culture that we rarely question it. But biologists have been questioning it for a long time."

 I'll leave you to the article for the rest.

As I said, I found it on Zite, which is a compiler. The origin of the article is not totally clear to me. It apparently appeared August 7, 2014 on Pacific-Standard: The Science of Society, which I had never run upon before, but seems to be filled with fascinating stuff.  And, if I read the attribution correctly, the article, under the title "Arrested Development" earlier appeared in Mosaic.

Article in Pacific Standard

 

 

 

 

 


Need a new brain? Why not grow your own?

Well, maybe not quite yet. But work is underway.

In Austria, researchers took both embryonic stem cells (i.e. from human embryos) and adult skin cells, then did some "lab magic" and in about a month the cells grew and self-orgaized into what the researchers termed "brain-like organoids" 3-4mm in size that showed "neural activity".  

Think of it!  A few flakes of skin can become the startings of a human brain. Now that's not to say that these litle bits had consciousness, that's many more steps ahead.

They have survived a year (as of when the article went to publication in the journal Nature,) but have not grown any larger, apparently because at this point there is no blood supply in. (But other research in other labs is focusing on generating bio-artificial  blood vessels.)

This work was reported on in  Britain's New Scientist , BBC News , Washington Post via Reuters , Siongularity Hub  and others .

What about the ethical issues of growing even a tiny  human brain?  The researchers are aware of the issue, and the Austrian team does not want to see larger human brain specimens grown now, as that would be "undesirable."

Gary Marcus, in a New Yorker article, looks at this same research, though taking a much longer look at the implications  of where this kind of work may lead decades or a half-century from now.

 "But we’ll also need to confront immense ethical quandaries. What rights does synthetic brain tissue have? Should a 3-D-printed brain have the right to vote? To an education? To terminate its own life? (Or to not be terminated?) For now, these questions are still just another round of thought experiments. But it’s more likely than ever that such thoughts might some day be held by just another brain in a jar."

Beyond all that, there's still one other big issue: even if we can "grow"  a complete human brain, where is the mind?   That is the biggie we tackle in  my technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH --Playing God with Body, Soul, and Biotech,  . . . though suggesting an approach other than bio-science.


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).

 


"Stem cells" created in less than 30 minutes in "groundbreaking" discovery--London Daily Telegraph

"Scientists have turned adult cells back to their embryonic form in under 30 minutes by simply treating them with acid in a breakthough which could revolutionise personalised medicine"-- this from the sub-head of the article by Sarah Knapton in London's Daily Telegraph.

This has so far only been done with the cells of mice. But there seems to be no reason why it should not work equally well with human cells.  And if it does? Well, one possibility is using those stem cells as the basis for skin grafts.  Or in regenerating organs (which is already being done by other methodologies.)  

Here's a link to other blog posts here on human stem cells.

Also apropos this, my recent post on "  "Vampire therapy"  experiments on using transfusions of fresh young blood to rejuvenate oldsters. (These "oldsters" are mice. But maybe before long . .  . who knows?)

And another related link on experiments in Sweden on "rejuvenating the blood of mice by reversing, or reprogramming, the stem cells that produce blood."  This from the Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence News.


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.


"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"