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Biotech Medicine Science Hardware

Printing Replacement Body Parts 101

Deep Penguin sends in a piece that appeared in The Economist a couple of weeks back about a developing technology to "print" body parts for transplant. "A US and an Australian company have developed the $200,000 machine, which works by depositing stem cells and a 'sugar-based hydrogel' scaffolding material. (The stem cells are harvested from a transplant patient's own fat and bone marrow, to avoid rejection down the line.) The companies are Organovo, from San Diego, specializing in regenerative medicine, and Invetech, an engineering and automation firm in Melbourne, Australia. The initial targets are skin, muscle, and 'short stretches of blood vessels,' which they hope to have available for human implantation within five years. Down the line, they expect the technology could even print directly into the body, bypassing the in-vitro portion of the current process."
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Printing Replacement Body Parts

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  • Re:Count-down (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:55AM (#31342664)

    As much as your comment may have been intended as a joke it is interesting to imagine a future in which you basically load up a large machine with the necessary basic materials, input a scan of yourself with whatever changes you want made and let the machine rebuild your body. And why stop at changing genitalia? or even general enhancement of your existing body, imagine what such technology could do for transsexuals, step into the machine a man and come out a woman. Hell, maybe you want to be a horse with a human brain, maybe if technology progresses far enough this will one day be possible...

    Yes, I'm speculating wildly but I'd rather aim for the stars and reach the top of a mountain than aim for making my way to the gas station two blocks away and ending up at my neighbor's house. <Insert rant about space exploration here>


  • by plastbox ( 1577037 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @07:56AM (#31343448) Homepage

    Of course you are correct but as you might be interested to learn, the more sugar our food contains, the harder the diabetes becomes to regulate. Blood sugar levels are supposed to stay between 4-8 mmol/L and while we have quite the margin upwards before something acute happens, the chances of over-compensating when eating a meal rich in high-GI carbohydrates and then crashing and quite easily dying are huge.

    Yes, we can eat as much sugar as we want, at least in theory. We shouldn't though. Cutting sugary and starchy foods gives even you non-diabetics huge health benefits, so why shouldn't we do it when it makes our "wetware malfunction" so much more managable?

  • by plastbox ( 1577037 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @08:38AM (#31343836) Homepage

    Greetings, fellow Type 1 diabetic!

    The reason pancreatic transplants aren't performed is that the chance of rejection is 100%. Your auto-immune system is already attacking anything that secretes insulin.. An insulin-producing organ from someone else would most assuredly not stand a snowballs chance in hell.

    There have been trials though. A few years back two diabetics here in Norway were "cured" by pancreatic transplants. They still had to live in virtual bubbles though because of the very strong immunosuppressive meds they were on. Despite the drugs, they only remained non-dependent on injections for about 12-18 months or so before the organ was put out of commission, so it's sadly not viable cure at all.

    Another procedure that could (in theory) work is to have your immune system and bone marrow destroyed chemically, then receive both a bone marrow and pancreas transplant from the same donor. The chances of finding both from a compatible donor aren't exactly convincing though, and there is of course the chance of the "new" immune system that follows your transplanted marrow will accept the pancreas but reject the rest of the body, promptly causing your death.

    There are some viable solutions though, like creating some sort of protein or something that to the immune system looks like insulin. Then administer huge amounts of this fake allergen to the patient to desensitize the immune system (similar to what is done with things like pollen allergies). The problem here is that no such substance exists as of yet, and you can't exactly give someone a superdose of insulin. Death isn't really the best solution, after all.. x)

    Another being looked into encapsulating cells (in this case, insulin producing beta-cells) in some sort of alginate made from seaweed. This allows insulin and nutrients to pass to and from the cell, while making it "invisible" to the immune system.

    Another seemingly promising solution is the theory that the immune system keeps attacking our beta-cells because of an on-going pain response triggered by the immune systems attack itself. Break the circle, and your body recovers most of it's insulin producing capability for at least a couple of years before something (like inflammation, etc.) causes you to need treatment again. I don't know how relevant this research is with regards to humans, but in animals injections of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs directly into the pancreas has reduced or abolished the animals insulin dependence for a year or two.

    Btw, I am as I said a Type 1 Diabetic. These days, I am playing around with a ketogenic diet, and I am currently taking 20 units of 12-hour insulin (Insulatard) each morning. That's it. Do the opposite of what the "FAT IS THE ENEMY"-evangelists have been preaching the past 40-50 years and all of a sudden every health marker is even better than before, and I need less medication than most Type 2 diabetics.

  • Hamburgers! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jahava ( 946858 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @08:59AM (#31344048)
    What would, in my opinion, be truly interesting is if this printer device can be used with beef cells to produce artificial steaks (etc.). This could potentially remove the agricultural overhead of growing the meat, while reducing prices, increasing availability, dissolving concerns of inhumanity, and (possibly) skittering past some of the vegetarian reservations. Furthermore, there's no integration issues trying to put the product back into a live and functioning body!

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly