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'Bionic' Nerve To Repair Damaged Limbs and Organs 107

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-will-rebuild-him dept.
University of Manchester researchers have transformed fat tissue stem cells into nerve cells -- and now plan to develop an artificial nerve that will bring damaged limbs and organs back to life. In a study published in October's Experimental Neurology, Dr Paul Kingham and his team at the UK Centre for Tissue Regeneration (UKCTR) isolated the stem cells from the fat tissue of adult animals and differentiated them into nerve cells to be used for repair and regeneration of injured nerves. They are now about to start a trial extracting stem cells from fat tissue of volunteer adult patients, in order to compare in the laboratory human and animal stem cells.
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'Bionic' Nerve To Repair Damaged Limbs and Organs

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's interesting to think that in Larry Niven's "Gil 'The Arm' Hamilton" stories (collected in Flatlander [amazon.com] ) and other Known Space books organ transplants were supposed to be the rage, before eventually being supplanted by alloplasty, "gadgets instead of organs", long after. At the rate science is progressing, viable artificial solutions are going to be found for many things before transplantation would be possible.

    What I wonder, though, is whether these artificial solutions will be allowed to be so much b

    • by aepervius (535155) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @02:45AM (#21021643)
      Your spine would long give in if it is not muscled/solid enough to lift those hundreds of pound. Sure some people do lift as much , but they are trained for it, and as far as I know are not adverse to accident. Then also there is the center of gravity, unless you lift your 100's of pound like an those alter-lifting pros do, you could have serious problem when your gravity center is suddenly out of the body. Which naturally limit what you can take on, although the second one is probably a detail in comparison to the first one.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        What about the possibility of enhanced limbs - not so much that they could LIFT hundreds of pounds but perhaps they were more dexterous? Able to move faster or with more precision? Wrists that could literally rotate 360 degrees? Sensors embedded in your fingers to detect certain things.

        This is more entering the bionic range and is not really the topic of the article, which I have not read yet but once you open the flood gates to "new" ideas that are not organic in nature, you have a huge world of things to
      • One would assume at that point they could just give you an artificial spine, which could support 100's of pounds.

        The paralympics would become a lot more popular.
      • I do some weightlifting and read up on this very topic some years ago (so take this info with a grain of salt). As far as i can remember the dorsal spine can take about 700kg and the ventral about 500kg. if you do squats or deadlifts it is very important to stress only the dorsal part of the spine, no hunching. here is a good link about squats: hhttp://www.exrx.net/Kinesiology/Squats.html , it's pretty hard to get the technique right.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @02:41AM (#21021619) Homepage
    'Bionic' Nerve To Repair Damaged Limbs and Organs

    Unfortunately, it costs 6 million dollars, and makes a very distinctive sound when in use.
    • by CRCulver (715279)
      Steve Austin's enhancements were done decades ago. Since technology gets cheaper over time, you can now become a bionic superhero for $3.99 down at your local Target.
      • by Anpheus (908711)
        You're not taking into account inflation, which has had the opposite effect on the price, and it now costs over six billion dollars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jamesh (87723)
      Obviously the whole '6 million dollar man' project would be shelved in todays world. There is far more money to be made by selling penis enhancements. Imagine the spam "Impress your woman with your gigantic bionic dong".

      Of course... if there's a problem with it, do you go to a doctor or a mechanic?
      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        Great. My sex life would be so much better if I heard that "dit-dit-dit" sound all the time. Awesome idea.

        That's almost as bad as a bionic ear. "Well, on the upside yout tinnitus is gone. On the downside you're going to hear that 'bionic power' sound effect 24/7."
    • I'd put up with it if my MS was alleviated. (And don't worry too much about the cost, I'll find a way to pay for it. [I'll be able to work. {Insert rant about insurance companies that will let you die before they pay and gu'mint agencies that won't help you until you're destitute from having to sell off EVERYTHING, (your house, your car, your furniture, your jewelry, your computers, your retirement savings, your grave [I'm not fuckin' kidding!]) ... right here.}])
    • I for one welcome our, female bionic overlords.

      Bionic Woman [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      'Bionic' Nerve To Repair Damaged Limbs and Organs

      Unfortunately, it costs 6 million dollars, and makes a very distinctive sound when in use.


      Only 6 million? Dang, we should have invested when it was cheap. I've been watching the new "Bionic Woman" and heard it's now 50 million for the Bionic parts. Inflation no doubt ;D
    • Unfortunately, it costs 6 million dollars, and makes a very distinctive sound when in use.

      And due to devaluation that would be.... 6 dollars of today :)
  • ALS/MND (Score:4, Insightful)

    by emjoi_gently (812227) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @02:51AM (#21021669)
    I'd be interested to know if this would be helpful for people with ALS, where nerves slowly degenerate.
    It might not be a cure to the fundamental problem, but might extend a life.
    • Re:ALS/MND (Score:5, Informative)

      by yog (19073) * on Thursday October 18, 2007 @03:35AM (#21021913) Homepage Journal
      Nerves are complicated. To splice a regrown nerve into a particular spot will require some mighty fine tools, and it's got to be the right type of neuron. Also, if an axon has been cut, the body will have reabsorbed it and there's nothing to splice. You'd have to thread your replacement axon from a ganglion next to the spine all the way out to the muscle or organ that is to be innervated.

      Unfortunately this is probably beyond the abilities of current medical science. The problem is that the nervous system grows with the limbs and organs starting from early embryonic stage; it's not something that you can entice to regrow from scratch. Probably the long term solution will be nanomachines that are injected into the body and rebuild nerves along preplanned routes, molecule by molecule. This is very appealing and also probably about 50 years away from reality.

      Also, axons (the long part of the nerve cell) usually require a myelin cell wrapping along its length to boost its ability to depolarize quickly. It's not clear that these folks in Manchester were able to grow a nerve cell along with its myelin. If we knew how to do that, we could also help people with multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks myelin specifically.

      As for ALS, it's an agent or group of agents that attacks motor neurons; these agents are not fully understood. It might be possible to splice in healthy neurons here and there but you still have the myelin problem.

      This kind of research announcement should not be taken as a big step forward in fixing nerve damage until they can demonstrate it in vivo. Until then, it's just another cold fusion type story.
      • by maxume (22995)
        Your 50 year number is so meaningless that you shouldn't have even said it. Highly functional nanotech might happen, highly functional nanotech might not happen. No one really knows. I'm somewhat optimistic, as all the pesky living things infesting the planet demonstrate that fairly complicated systems can be made to work at that scale, but pretending that there is some sort of relevant time scale before such things become possible is ridiculous; with a breakthrough, it could be five years, or, it could be
      • by suv4x4 (956391)
        Unfortunately this is probably beyond the abilities of current medical science. The problem is that the nervous system grows with the limbs and organs starting from early embryonic stage; it's not something that you can entice to regrow from scratch. Probably the long term solution will be nanomachines that are injected into the body and rebuild nerves along preplanned routes, molecule by molecule. This is very appealing and also probably about 50 years away from reality.

        I like how everything infeasible is
      • "Also, axons (the long part of the nerve cell) usually require a myelin cell wrapping along its length to boost its ability to depolarize quickly." In addition, this myelin wrapping is maintained in the peripheral nervous system which allows the cells to repair themselves. In the central nervous system however, it is oligodendrites rather than schwann cells that are responsible for the sheath and they aren't so helpful.
      • by StikyPad (445176)
        This is very appealing and also probably about 50 years away from reality.

        Just in time to save me from Alzheimer's!

        This is very appealing and also probably about 50 years away from reality.

        Just in time to save me from Alzheimer's!
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I would think this is more along the lines of replacing nerve grafts - as you would use to replace a section of severed nerve so it has a path to regrow.
  • by m2943 (1140797)
    have transformed fat tissue stem cells into nerve cells ... thereby turning fat people into really smart people.
    • by HyperJ (940722)
      so you wont be needing that procedure then....
    • by mrRay720 (874710)
      >>have transformed fat tissue stem cells into nerve cells ... thereby turning fat people into really smart people.

      Yes but the question is, does the IQ boost from hundreds of burgers beat the negatives of the BSE/CJD/mad cow disease disease from it? Further studies are required if your hypothesis is to be proved.

      Elvis was clearly just ahead of his time. Were he born in 2050, he'd be making Einstein look like a mere string theorist!
  • I guess it would be pretty simple to have someone doing liposuction sign away their rights to the fat. One persons waste is another persons gold mine. Doctor: "Do you want to bring home the fat in a kitty bag?" Patient: "No, why would I want to do that?" Doctor: "Well I guess you won't mind terribly much then if we use some of the fat for stem cell research and making soap?"
  • genetic memory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by n3tcat (664243) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @04:04AM (#21022035) Homepage
    Something that's always intrigued me about stem cell research is the concept of genetic memory. Considering the implications that this theory has on the theory of evolution, I wonder if mixing and matching stem cells, and thereby mixing genetic memories, would fuck the evolutionary process. It's the type of result that we probably wouldn't see for thousands (or tens of thousands) of years.

    Eventually though, I would imagine that it would be like the episode of Star Trek Enterprise when they find the race of people who are basically falling apart genetically and they have no idea why.

    And then of course the old addage "Overspecialize and you breed in weakness" has many powerful implications in this as well.

    Maybe I wouldn't be so scared if we weren't still completely reversing our dietary ideals every 3 years. If we can't even nail down a healthy diet (pyramid points up or down now?!), how the hell can we figure out what the ramifications of stem cell research would be on our evolutionary process?
    • google links on "genetic memory" appear to all be references to genetic memory in fiction or the "this site is run by bat-shit crazy people" sort of links. do you have any links that are better?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by maxume (22995)
        • nice, thank you. the wikipedia page refers to it as "cell memory" rather than "genetic memory" which appears to be used to refer to something else by the pseudoscience crowd
          • by yourfnmom (733312)
            I've also heard it referred to as mitochondrial memory. Along this same line, you might consider one of the most amazing books ever written: Power, Sex, Suicide by Nick Lane. It's an amazing book about Mitochondria. Change the way you look at the world. At least it did for me.
    • by maxume (22995)
      What dietary 'we' are you talking about? The foundation of a reasonable diet is well known: minimize sugar, get enough fiber, the redder the meat the worse it is for you. The rules with meat are pretty nebulous, as emerging ideas say that whatever the critter you are eating ate is pretty important(so beef from a grass fed cow is probably better than meat from corn fed salmon), especially in a cardiovascular context(i.e., the cancer related consequences of eating a great deal of red meat are pretty constant,
      • Ok, sugar, fibers and protein and all that are macro nutrients, they're very easy to nail down, its just simple chemistry happening everywhere in the body. But if you get down to micro nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamins etc, you'll see that science is completely lost. In those cases, experts basically say "um, we don't really have a clue, so you just eat everything and you're bound to get at least some of the right stuff".

        I've been into nutrition for quite a while. At first, it seems that every part of
        • by maxume (22995)
          Sure, the subtle long term effects of various micro nutrients are neither well characterized or well understood, but the effects of nutrient deficiencies and outright poisoning are pretty well understood, so we at least have an idea of how much is 'ok'.
          • by ShadowBot (908773)
            "Sure, the subtle long term effects of various micro nutrients are neither well characterized or well understood, but the effects of nutrient deficiencies and outright poisoning are pretty well understood, so we at least have an idea of how much is 'ok'."

            I think that just emphasises the OP's point. Despite everything we think we know about food, we still know far to little to create it artificially. Just having "an idea of how much is 'ok'" isn't enough. And the truth is we still have very little idea how t
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by riffzifnab (449869)
      Wait, what? We are talking about taking stem cells from fat and turning them into nerve cells. Where does tinkering with the DNA we are passing on to our offspring come into the picture? If it doesn't affect that, its not doing anything to our future generations.

      On the lighter side, at least the US has plenty of these stem cells. McDonald's is the savior of the world! [gag]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jollyreaper (513215)

      Something that's always intrigued me about stem cell research is the concept of genetic memory. Considering the implications that this theory has on the theory of evolution, I wonder if mixing and matching stem cells, and thereby mixing genetic memories, would fuck the evolutionary process. It's the type of result that we probably wouldn't see for thousands (or tens of thousands) of years.

      What I find interesting are the genetic atavisms that you get with certain species. The classic examples are cetaceans born with hind legs or humans with true tails, complete with muscles, bones, and nerves. These are throwbacks to previous points in the evolution of that species.

      There was a Trek episode that had a virus do that kind of thing, Worf became a predalien and some humans became bugs. That's a bit silly since bugs aren't in our history. But it makes me wonder, are the genes still there to turn a

      • the ones that became bugs weren't humans to start with..
        • the ones that became bugs weren't humans to start with..
          No, I'm positive there was a human crewman who got a bug eyes. Or maybe Marty Feldman was guest-starring that week.
          • by Knara (9377)

            I think it was Barlcay who turned into a spider and had spun webs all over engineering.

      • by maxume (22995)
        The rapid adaptations may simply be the selective pressure conferring an advantage on genes that where already in the population but until that point had not been particularly advantageous. You can expand this to a population splitting and each half encountering different selection pressures, and so on.
        • The rapid adaptations may simply be the selective pressure conferring an advantage on genes that where already in the population but until that point had not been particularly advantageous. You can expand this to a population splitting and each half encountering different selection pressures, and so on.

          Right, but how did those genes get there in the first place? It's not like the slate is wiped clean at each speciation point and then everyone has to wait for random mutation to build up some new genetic ideas before a new set of pressures can cause a new speciation. What I'm wondering about is how often animals will be reaching back to use ancient genes to meet new evolutionary pressures. Our hands are the descendants of pectoral fins from ancient fishies. When whales went back into the water, did they re

    • The only way this research would have an impact on evolution would be if:

      1) The stem cells found their way into the gonads and gave rise to germ cells instead of nerve cells.

      2) The stem cells were fundamentally different than the germ cells already present.

      3) The recipient of the stem-cells-that-became-germ-cells had a child, where the gamete was produced from that modified stem cell.

      Or, the stem cells allowed the recipient to lead a longer or healthier life or somehow improve their genetic fitness such tha
  • The nerve! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Eudial (590661)
    I can't believe these people have the nerve to do such a thing!
  • If Only... (Score:3, Funny)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot&keirstead,org> on Thursday October 18, 2007 @06:50AM (#21022669) Homepage
    If only they could come up with a Bionic Scriptwriter and Bionic Actress With Personality to save the god-awful Bionic Woman series....

    Had some high hopes for that one... what a waste.

    • Seriously! It's not like they don't have ten years of Ghost in the Shell to rip off to make some decent scripts from. Lord knows they don't have the physics of high powered impacts down any better than in the seventies. If girl kicks guy in the chest with enough impact to send him across the room then it was hard enough and a small enough diameter surface to go through his chest. That pretty much goes with every hit she makes. Hit somebody in the face at full strength? The jaw would leave on vacation to the
    • I just watch it for Katee Sackhoff. If she doesn't get a lead role after BSG is finished (or, alternately, if the series doesn't become Lesbionic Woman), I'm probably going to lose interest.
  • by dcobra (1175747) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @06:55AM (#21022685)
    It seems all the successful new treatments with stem cells that we keep hearing about use the adult type, which also have the great advantage of not causing rejection. It makes me wonder why there is so much pressure to use embryonic stem cells, when the research with the adult type is so promising and is far from being exhausted. Perhaps it is because the adult cells, being collected from the patient him/herself, don't need to be bought, so there is no profit incentive, while embryonic stem cells hold the promise of a very lucrative new pharmaceutical/medical market?
    • by pQueue (1091881)

      It makes me wonder why there is so much pressure to use embryonic stem cells, when the research with the adult type is so promising and is far from being exhausted.

      Research on both adult and embryonic stem cells is promising. There is no need to wait till one area of research is exhausted to work simultaneously on others. The real question should be why there is any resistance to federally funding embryonic stem cell research in the US. These restrictions have a chilling effect on research at our public universities, and ultimately slow down progress on new treatments.

      • by dcobra (1175747)

        There is no need to wait till one area of research is exhausted to work simultaneously on others.

        If there are two similar lines of research and one is ethically questionable to a significant percentage of the population while the other is ethically sound and has clear technical advantages (in this case, not causing rejection and being less likely to produce tumors), then I think it makes sense to favor the latter over the former.

        As far as I know, the main argument for the use of embryonic stem cells is that they are more malleable and can be turned into any type of organic tissue. But these resear

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by pQueue (1091881)
          Honestly I can't see how any reasonable person can see the destruction of microscopic cells as an ethical issue, when they are otherwise thrown away in the trash. Yes, they can become humans but so can sperm.
      • The real question should be why there is any resistance to federally funding embryonic stem cell research in the US.


        My real question is: Why can't you see the problem with coercing money out of people to fund something they find morally repugnant?

        (Just for the record I'm an atheist, and I feel the same way about our invasion of Iraq.)

        -Peter
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      More likely, because they wouldn't have to waste money and time learning how to trick the adult stem-cells into reverting into unspecialized stem-cells.

      It doesn't take much effort to pump their study animals (be they sentient or not) full of immunosuppressant drugs, so the researchers can test the boundaries of science.

      Everything they can now try with this *still limited* stem-cell, they could have been doing years ago with embryonic-stem-cells.
      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        Everything they can now try with this *still limited* stem-cell, they could have been doing years ago with embryonic-stem-cells.

        Except that they seem to have better luck getting adult stem cells to actually do what they want them to do.

        We right-to-life types tire of being accused of being against stem cell research. We object to sacrificing those we consider to be baby humans for the purpose. Think of our attitudes as that of the many who see the death penalty for murder as immoral: "It deters crime? So?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by foniksonik (573572)
        There's billions of dollars that go into embryonic stem cell research around the world. If there were amazing results being found with their use we'd be hearing about it. The US is not like some super advanced technological society that other countries and their scientists dream of becoming in centuries to come... they are just as advanced in medical science... and yet we rarely hear of break-throughs in ESCs...

        So reality check. Just because you'd like it to be so, doesn't make it so. Adult stem cell resear
        • As one example, some UK researchers have been working with embryonic stem cells to treat macular degeneration; see here [bbc.co.uk]. The article suggests that you're right about the ES version being useful largely because it can be mass-produced more easily. If that's so, then the ES cells do have significant potential to be useful to large numbers of people. My attitude is, why close off a promising research path?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ShadowBot (908773)
      It's a simple law of averages.

      Currently much more work is being done with adult stem cells than with embryonic stem cells. Therefore you will get much more results from the adult cell research than the embryonic one.

      It says nohing about the usefulness or morality of the research one way or another.

      Actually, your point about rejection and cancer tends to point to the solution of using cloned embryonic stem cells. Which will combine the advantages of both techniques.

      The moral issue is exactly that,

      • by dcobra (1175747)

        Currently much more work is being done with adult stem cells than with embryonic stem cells. Therefore you will get much more results from the adult cell research than the embryonic one.

        I beg to differ. I think we are seeing fewer successes with embryonic stem cells because it is turning out that it is harder to control their rejection by the recipient and slow down their accelerated replication (hence their tendency to turn into tumors) than it is to make adult stem cells be less specific about the tissues they can turn into. But we can't draw a conclusion on this without some real numbers on how much is being done on each of the two lines of research.

        Actually, your point about rejection and cancer tends to point to the solution of using cloned embryonic stem cells. Which will combine the advantages of both techniques.

        Perhaps, but I don't see how cloni

      • by jensend (71114)
        The "scientific issue" has a hidden moral angle- a common argument by proponents of embryonic stem cell research is that it's immoral to block such research if such research would result in medical procedures which would alleviate suffering. If the research can be done - and any benefits therefrom gained - using only adult stem cells, then that argument is defused and we don't have to try to answer these questions:

        1. Is the amount of suffering which could be alleviated a greater evil than the treatment of
    • by TheMeuge (645043)
      Don't even start.

      None of the adult stem cell research advances would be possible without the knowledge gained from embryonic stem cell research.

      Please don't bring ignorance and religious bias into this discussion.
  • Bionic? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @08:25AM (#21023159)
    There's nothing bionic about it. They are using a man-made tube to help a real nerve grow from stem cells. There's no electronics, not even any moving parts. It doesn't augment or affect the nerve in any artificial way. The end result is... A normal nerve.
    • by phayes (202222)
      Bionics is researching nature's biological solution to problems & reimplementing them in non-biological domains such as electronics. The definition of bionics [wikipedia.org] is :"Bionics (also known as biomimetics, biognosis, biomimicry, or bionical creativity engineering) is the application of methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology." so, once again the story submitter has used words he doesn't understand to clearly illustrate that he doesn't know wh
      • No, bionics is when we rescue people from disfiguring accidents and rebuild them with robotic parts. Haven't you ever watched television?
  • For MS (not the operating system). Because of the nerve damage that occurs in the patients. We still need to find a way to stop further attacks without daily/weekly/monthly injections but there is talk of a pill. This is really exciting! To go from near daily injections will no promise that it will stop the progression to the prospect of a daily pill that really does stop it. I for one welcome this research.
  • extracting stem cells from fat tissue
    Manchester's the perfect location - they'll never run out of maraw material.
  • It's an old and tired joke, but because it promises to "bring damaged limbs and organs back to life", it's the best post I've seen to use it with:

    I, for one, welcome our new reanimated zombie overlords.
  • Whoever tagged this article "forbiddenbybush" is what politicians refer to as a "useful idiot". In this case the "idiot" is "Useful" to Democrats because they think that Bush banned all stem cell research and therefore they must vote for a Democrat so this vital research can continue. This is WRONG! Bush banned using the embryos and zygottes from unborn and now dead(usually aborted) babies to harvest stem cells. He did not ban any kind of stem cell research itself. It should be noted that while this may act
    • In fact, he didn't even ban that much. He only banned using federal money to finance research from new fetal stem cell lines. People are still free to fund it themselves, or to use federal money researching older fetal cell lines. Many states and private research facilities are funding fetal stem cell research.
  • Finally testing on humans. It's about time we got some results instead of the mice getting all the 'love'.

[Crash programs] fail because they are based on the theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby a month. -- Wernher von Braun

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