Have a heart? Don't let it break. Now they can recycle it!

Intriguing article in MIT Technology Review, “Transplant surgeons revive hearts after death.”

These days, we’re familiar with heart transplants from brain-dead patients into others needing a new, healthy heart.

But in a new experimental breakthrough, successes have been achieved in transplanting the hearts of those not brain dead. Yes, there are procedural and ethical issues involved.

Mind you, this involves actual human hearts, not 3-D printed replacements, or bits of heart tissue grown in labs from human stem cells.

But the possibility raises some issues of medical ethics to be explored: if the donor is not brain dead, when and by what criteria can the heart be removed?

Rather than dig in deeply here, I’ll refer you to the article itself. You’ll see a “reanimated” donated heart actually beating outside the bodies of both donor and recipient.  Here's the link.


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).

 


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.


"Science fiction comes alive as researchers grow organs in lab" -- Wall Street Journal and A Remedy for Death

"Science fiction" and "Wall Street Journal" are terms not often used in the same sentence, but just maybe science fiction is transforming into mainstream science.

The WSJ article this week, "Science fiction comes alive as researchers grow organs in lab" by Gautam Naik, is accompanied by a video, narrated by Mr. Naik, and a clear graphic, "Growing a new heart."

The first section focuses on work done in Madrid by Dr. Francisco Fernandez-Avila: a  human heart, taken from a cadaver has been "cleaned" to clear all the original cells so all that was left was the "scaffold". This builds on the work of American Dr. Doris Taylor at the Texas Heart Institute, in Houston,  who is working with the Spanish team. (For more on her work,  see my post "Reversing the aging process using pig hearts")

The "scaffold," once cleaned of the donor's cells, is seeded with stem cells from a human donor, who will--when the work is final -- be the recipient. (Though there's much more to it than that, needless to say.)  But it's one more instance of how science fiction in these areas is moving into fact.

At University College, London (and the allied Royal Free Hospital),  the WSJ's Mr.Naik describes how the team is working on a variety of kinds of "lab grown" organs to implant in humans, including a new nose for a man who lost his to cancer, new coronary arteries, windpipes, and others.  Dr. Alex Seifalian heads a team of 30 researchers there.

If you're interested in the how-to, they first developed the scaffold -- in this case by molding it with the help of an artist -- then poured the cartilage replacement material into a mold, then "added salt and sugar" to replicate the spongy feel of a normal nose.  (Hmm!)

Of course, using an artist's created mold is not the only way of shaping a lab-created organ. Last fall, another article in the Wall Street Journal (this by Robert Lee Hotz), reported on a method I've heard more and more about since. That article: "Need a new body part? No problem. Just use a bio-printer to produce it."

For still more, see the three-part series the New York Times ran, also last fall:  “Body Builders” by Henry Fountain., consisting of the three articles and the related graphics. 

This earlier blog post of mine will take you to the series:  "Bio-engineering human tissue on an animal scaffold"


"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, MichaelMcGaulley.com.  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.)


A REMEDY FOR DEATH Ah, but what IS death? Two interesting articles

"What's the difference between life and death? We're fretting too much about the distinction." --that's the title of an article by Druin Burch, that I saw in Slate this noon.   (The broader title sets the context: " Want to save lives? Don't worry so much about defining death.") 

It drew my eye because of the link to some of the activitiy in my medical technothriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH: Playing God with Body, Soul, and Bio-tech.

The article also picks up on a new book by Janet Radcliffe Richards (the Oxford Professor of Practical Philophy!), entitled THE ETHICS OF TRANSPLANTS: WHY CARELESS THOUGHT COSTS LIVES.

The overall points raised revolve around when is it legally/ethically acceptable to "declare death," in order to remove organs for transplantation to someone who needs them?  Yes, those organs can save lives, but what if--what if--the donor isn't quite finished living?

Which brings us to another article, "Organs taken from patients that doctors were pressured to declare brain dead: suit " 

That appeared first in the New York Post, September 26, 2012, and was picked up quickly in several other spots.  The lawsuit cites four examples of allegely improper organ harvesting. In one of them, a drug overdose victiim's body was about to be "harvested" when one of the attending nurses noticed that she "was being given 'a paralyzing anesthetic' because her body was still jerking."  

In another case, cited in the suit, a 19-year old auto accident victim was allegedly "still trying to breathe and showed signs of brain activity, the suit charged.  But doctors declared hm brain dead under pressure from donor-network officials. . . "

Hmm, better stay safe till the doctors and lawyers and judges (and no doubt legislators will chime in, as well) get it all worked out.

Or will the issue ever be settled?