Speaking of news reappearing a year later (we’re risking some sort of multi-node self-reflective temporal singularity here at Futurismic, folks, so hang on to your hats): this time last year The Economist ran a piece on “printing” human organs for transplant; this week, we have a piece at Discovery on a bioprinter that takes a few cells as a sample and knocks up a sheet of new skin [via BigThink]. All good news… though it’s worth remembering the spectre of genetic intellectual property disputes lurks in the wings awaiting its musical cue (I’m thinking bassoons with a hint of cello, plus stabs of Moog voluntary), meaning that spats about the copyright status of fabbed creations may shift from discussing physical reproductions of optical illusions to claiming someone cloned your liver without your permission. As snarkily suggested last week, at least there’s plenty of work in the pipeline for the legal professions. Shame we can’t just print them off when we need them and then churn them up for feedstock, hmmm?
Forget broadband-over-power-lines or wi-fi; how cyberpunk would it be to transmit 10mbps of data through the human body itself? Very cyberpunk, fo’ sho’.
The researchers placed two electrodes 12 inches apart on a subject’s skin and were able to clock data transmission rates of 10 megabits per second. The technology may pave the way for ultra-efficient implantable body monitors that cut energy needs by 90%.
Transmitting data directly through the skin is much more efficient than current wireless transmission technologies (bluetooth, wifi), since it requires much less energy. The body is an excellent medium for the transmission of signals, and researchers found that low-frequency electromagnetic waves encounter very little interference when sent through the skin.
It’s unclear how useful this research is for those of us living in the real world… unless, perhaps, you have a short Cat-5 lead at your LAN party, and a flatmate who’s willing to stand with one hand jammed in the router ports while the other one grips the stripped cable ends…
Got epidermis? Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany sure have – they’ve developed an automated system for producing two-layer artificial skin at a commercial scale:
The process starts with small pieces of skin, which are sterilised and then cut into pieces, modified with enzymes and isolated into two cell fractions. These are then grown separately on cell culture surfaces, before being combined into a two-layer sheet. The whole process takes about three weeks.
The flexible lower layer gives the tissue natural elasticity, but two-layer skins have until now been too expensive to mass produce.
The synthetic skins currently available are eventually rejected by the human body because they don’t contain blood vessels. Jörg Saxler, Fraunhofer’s technology manager, told Wired.co.uk that they have created skin with blood vessels using pig cells, and are working on a fully synthetic version.
Obviously the first take-up of this stuff will be medical in nature – grafts for burn victims, so on and so forth. But once it gets cheaper, the street will find its own use for the same technology. First up will be rough-and-ready elective cosmetic grafts: replace your aged original skin, or maybe go patchwork with different shades and levels of melanin!
But some sort of generic off-the-shelf skin won’t be sufficient for the glitterati. Will we be able to buy celebrity-endorsed brands and strains of skin? Will famous models and musicians have their skin cloned as the ultimate high-price catalogue-cap of their personal clothing labels? Will you be able to literally wear Armani or Hugo Boss or 50-Cent? [image by /charlene]