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A boy in England has received the first organ transplant that will grow inside the patient's body using their own stem cells.   (Source: PA)
The era of replaceable organs is drawing near

Mankind is close to defying nature and extending human beings' life spans tens of years by using replacement organs.  The key to this progress is stem cells, the same kind of cells that differentiated to form your original tissues.

In England, a 10-year-old boy received a groundbreaking tracheal transplant at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.  The windpipe -- a flexible tube that connects the nose, mouth and lungs -- was replaced with an organ that will grow inside the boy's own body using the boy's own stem cells.

The story began when the boy was born with long segment tracheal stenosis, a debilitating condition that leaves the victim with a 1 mm wide airway, which can lead to suffocation and death.  Doctors tried to treat the condition with stents, but the stents collapsed, cutting off the boy's airflow and damaging his aorta.  After the boy almost stopped breathing, his doctors contacted Paolo Macchiarini, from Careggi University Hospital, Florence.

Macchiarini decided to try an ambitious and risky approach that had never before been successfully performed -- regrowing the organ in the boy's own body using stem cells.  Leading a Italian, British and Spanish team, the researchers first took a donor windpipe and stripped it of all cells to prevent immune response.

The procedure has begun with a successful implant.  Seeded with the boy's stem cells and a cocktail of growth-promoting chemicals, the tissue was implanted into the boy last Week.  The boy responded well, breathing normally and speaking soon after the operation.

Professor Martin Birchall, head of translational regenerative medicine at University College London called the procedure a "milestone moment" and pointed out that by allowing the boy's own cells to regrow the tissue, the cost was dramatically lowered to "tens of thousands pounds rather than hundreds of thousands."  

He states, "We believe it’s a real milestone.  It is the first time a child has received stem-cell organ treatment, and it’s the longest airway that has ever been replaced. I think the technique will allow not just highly specialized hospitals to carry out stem-cell organ transplants. We don’t think it’s going to replace conventional transplants just yet, but already there are certain aspects of conventional transplant surgery it can be applied to. We need to think about how to make regenerative medicine a key part of our healthcare."

The work follows other significant work two years ago in Spain where Claudia Castillo, 30, became the first person to receive a portion of trachea regrown with stem cells.  That transplant, however, was a much shorter tract of trachea and was much more expensive as it was grown outside the body in a special bioreactor.

The researchers are looking forward to advancing the treatment aggressively, perhaps next performing larynx or oesophagus stem cell transplants.

Despite this optimism, it still remains to be seen whether the boy's recovery is as successful as anticipated.  Given Castillo's success, though, the boy is expected to make a full recovery.  And with that recovery mankind will move one step closer to immortality.



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RE: Medicine or de-evolution of our species?
By SPOOFE on 3/22/2010 3:04:51 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Most people don't realize just how fast a species can devolve

"Devolve" makes about as much sense as "unbreaking a window". You don't "devolve". There's either "evolve to fit your environment", and there's "don't evolve to fit your environment". That latter option can also be read as "extinction".

The notion that we "devolve" implies some sort of inherent environment or state that we "should" be in. Which is rubbish. Evolution is about fitting the resource-users into the resource structure... and the resource structure in the developed world is designed to be adapted for us, not the other way around.


RE: Medicine or de-evolution of our species?
By porkpie on 3/22/2010 3:39:34 PM , Rating: 2
"Evolution is about fitting the resource-users into the resource structure."

That's just the point. When you remove evolutionary pressure, the organism no longer evolves to better survive in that environment. It does't remain static either, as genetic drift is a much stronger force than we once thought. There is no such thing as "just not evolving".

Since the vast majority of mutations are deleterious, the lack of survival pressure results in devolution: a species becoming less able to survive.

You cannot remove evolutionary pressure and not face the consequences, no more than you can repeatedly pound a swiss watch with a hammer, hoping it will perpetually survive.


RE: Medicine or de-evolution of our species?
By SPOOFE on 3/22/2010 4:18:23 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
When you remove evolutionary pressure, the organism no longer evolves to better survive in that environment.

Reverse your statement: When an organism no longer evolves to better survive in that environment (in this case, due to adapting the environment to suit the species), you remove evolutionary pressure. I'm not saying it's a good or bad thing (since, being the first species to have such evolutionary pressure removed, we couldn't possibly know), only that it's the situation our species is in now.

quote:
There is no such thing as "just not evolving".

But there IS such a thing as evolution being dictated by the species, because that's us.

quote:
Since the vast majority of mutations are deleterious, the lack of survival pressure results in devolution: a species becoming less able to survive.

Or the environment has simply changed the survival pressures, and traits that were negative in an earlier environment have become less negative in the current environment. Are birds "less able to survive" than fish?


RE: Medicine or de-evolution of our species?
By porkpie on 3/22/2010 4:46:37 PM , Rating: 3
"since, being the first species to have such evolutionary pressure removed, we couldn't possibly know"

But Spoofe, we do know. The only thing that keeps random mutations from eventually destroying the viability of a genome is the continual weeding out of deleterious mutations. This is basic biology. You can't hammer on a swiss watch forever and expect to to keep working.

We can forever debate semantics about the meaning of "better", "worse", and "evolve" vs. "devolve". But the situation can be put into more concrete terms. Medical treatment requires a certain amount of labor and resources. Over time, the amount the average individual consumes of those resources will increase, and the number of individuals who are not able to produce meaningful quantities of labor or other resources will also increase.

At some point, the expectation value of resources consumed will therefore exceed that of resources produced. At that point, society will be unable to support its citizens, and it will collapse from its own weight.

This conclusion is inescapable, irrefutable...and can only be prevented if we either develop the means to artificially remove genes we deem deleterious, or we reinstitute survival pressure of some sort, even if its only through a form of healthcare rationing.


RE: Medicine or de-evolution of our species?
By SPOOFE on 3/22/2010 6:56:20 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
But Spoofe, we do know. The only thing that keeps random mutations from eventually destroying the viability of a genome is the continual weeding out of deleterious mutations.

Ah, so you agree with me! Yes, this is indeed what I am saying: That we can manipulate our genes faster than our environment can.

quote:
We can forever debate semantics about the meaning of "better", "worse", and "evolve" vs. "devolve".

Just like we can debate forever about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. That won't change the fact that "devolve", in this context, is a nonsensical term. It implies "the opposite of evolution", but there is no opposite: Whether an organism adapts for the better or worse, whether a mutation allows that species to thrive or causes it to go extinct, whether it's adapting to its environment or stagnating and dwindling to nothingness, it's still covered under the umbrella of "evolution".

quote:
Over time, the amount the average individual consumes of those resources will increase, and the number of individuals who are not able to produce meaningful quantities of labor or other resources will also increase.

Except even a casual look at history demonstrates the opposite: The number of individuals required for meaningful labor has dropped precipitously. I think your concern in this one regard is baseless.


By porkpie on 3/22/2010 7:54:43 PM , Rating: 3
"Ah, so you agree with me! "

Don't be coy. I've been very clear from my very first post. Either we turn to intentional manipulation of our genetic code -- eugenics, by a loose definition -- or we will eventually have to ration health care, or deal with social collapse.

"Except even a casual look at history demonstrates the opposite: The number of individuals required for meaningful labor has dropped precipitously"

Look, this really isn't that difficult to understand. Throughout most of past history, our ability to consume resources was --in the words of the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman-- "limited by the size of our stomachs". Agricultural advances reduced the amount of labor needed for us to simply survive ...everything beyond that was a luxury.

Medicine is the game changer, however. With advanced medical technology, a person needs more than just free air and a bowl of raman noodles to survive. They can require enormous amounts of highly complex machines, expensive drugs, and countless hours of highly skilled labor.

Every single year for the past 60, the amount of resources devoted to "keeping us alive" medically has increased. Every year. And as medicine improves, the situation gets worse, not better. New advances mean that much MORE that can be done to keep us alive.

Trying to apply lessons from the preindustrial age to era of high-tech medicine are far off base. Surely you can see that.


RE: Medicine or de-evolution of our species?
By JediJeb on 3/22/2010 4:07:43 PM , Rating: 2
Actually de-evolution has been shown to happen, if you want to call it that. There is a population of lions in Africa that live in an isolated area where they were cutoff from other lion populations and the genetic problems from the inbreeding have almost wiped out that group. They are not evolving to fit their environment, they are slowly dying out inspite of having a good habitat( good except for not having enough genetic diversity).


By SPOOFE on 3/22/2010 4:20:16 PM , Rating: 2
Population is a function of the environment. If there's not enough diversity in the population, then the environment is NOT a good habitat. Similarly, overpopulation is also a sign that a species is not in a good habitat.


By MozeeToby on 3/22/2010 5:46:36 PM , Rating: 3
It's generally called genetic drift. The population size is too small for the forces of natural selection to overwhelm the forces of chance. Combined of course with the consequences of inbreeding small populations are in significant danger. Supposedly the number for humans is somewhere between 100 and 500, depending on who you believe.

I understand that it's just semantics but scientists will avoid words like de-evolution because backwards evolution implies forwards evolution implies that evolution has a direction. They don't want people thinking in terms of more or less evolved, there's only more or less fit for the environment.


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