International longpig meatmarket

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2011

Grimly fascinating reading over at Wired, where there’s one of those infografficky-mashup articles about the international trade in illicitly-obtained human organs and body parts. Even when we’ve reached a point when we can reliably print off spare parts for our meat-machines, the ol’ global wealth gap pretty much ensures that there’ll be a cheaper option overseas if you’ve got the right contacts. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “unbranded spares from China”, doesn’t it?


My heart no longer beats

Tom James @ 30-09-2009

HeartMateIIPhysicians have successfully implanted an artificial heart that does not beat:

Salina Mohamed So’ot has no pulse. But she is very much alive.

The 30-year-old administrative assistant is the first recipient here to get a new artificial heart that pumps blood continuously, the reason why there are no beats on her wrist.

An interesting development. I wonder if the efficiency and reliability of such artificial hearts will ever be such that people elect to replace their existing hearts with them even before their biological hearts wear out?

[via Slashdot, from The Straits Times][image from on Technology Review]


Utility-belt artificial kidney module

Paul Raven @ 27-08-2009

OK, so it actually takes up the entire belt at the moment… but given a few more years of miniaturization the Wearable Artificial Kidney could end up no bigger than the holster for your cellphone:

A miniaturized dialysis machine that can be worn as a belt, the WAK concept allows patients with end stage renal failure the freedom to engage in daily activity while undergoing uninterrupted dialysis treatment.

Wearable Artificial Kidney

Worn as a belt, the device weighs just ten pounds (4.5kg), including the two nine-volt batteries that power it. The compact design, unlike conventional dialysis machines, will leave patients free to engage in the activities that normal kidney function would ordinarily allow them to enjoy. Walking, working and riding a bike can all be actively pursued without restriction while undergoing gentle, uninterrupted treatment 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This really brings home the rapidity of progress for me; a teacher at my secondary school used to have to undergo dialysis treatment for kidney failure, and once a year he’d do a show-and-tell with the machine, which was roughly the size of a three-drawer filing cabinet. That was back in 1992… he was a PE teacher, too – no quitter, this guy – so he’d have loved the idea of the WAK.

How many more organs might we be able to replace with belt-worn machines? They’re probably not an ideal long-term solution, but this technology might keep people alive and active during the long wait for suitable transplant organs to come available. Or perhaps we’ll just go the route of the Mechanists – why wait for a biological organ if you can swap it out for a mechanical device that offers a greater degree of control? [image borrowed from linked article]


First full ovary transplant patient completes successful pregnancy

Paul Raven @ 13-11-2008

The headline says it all – after ten years of research and testing, we have the first child born successfully after its mother received a full ovary transplant. The doctor who carried out the procedure is now suggesting that young girls have one of their ovaries removed and frozen in case they need it later in life. [both links via FuturePundit]

It amazing how quickly we’re adopting the idea of ‘banking’ parts of ourselves in case of future need; it implies an understanding of the body as a biological machine, which may be why some religions find it so morally repugnant.

But religion aside, the story above brings up another contentious question – if fertility is no longer a barrier to carrying a child to term, how old is too old for a woman to become a mother? Is it merely an issue of physical suitability, or are there psychological and social implications for a child raised by parents that we would currently consider to be of grandparenting age?