Tag Archives: organs

Laboratory lungs to replace rats

Got lungs?Briefly overcoming my kneejerk hatred of articles with the phrase “[x]-on-a-chip” in their headline, here’s a New Scientist article about a new development that could eradicate the need for lab rats in toxicology experiments. The basic idea: grow little spheres of lung tissue on a silicon substrate, enabling you to run multiple tests at once.

While the ethics of animal testing are a contributing factor here, there’s also a significant element of practicality:

… the European Union’s REACH regulations require about 30,000 chemicals to be tested for toxicity over the next decade. Yet testing the effects of inhaling a single dose of a particular chemical typically requires more than 200 rats, while testing the chronic effects of breathing it in over time can take more than 3000. Meanwhile the EU Cosmetics Directive – which covers items from deodorants and perfume to air-fresheners – seeks to ban all tests of cosmetics on animals by 2013.

The obvious alternative is to test chemicals on human cells grown in the lab. The difficulty, however, lies in enticing those cells to form complex tissue that responds as our organs do.

That difficulty hasn’t yet been overcome, but this project and others like it suggest that it’s far from insurmountable. Given the collosal advances in computer modelling in recent years, though, I wonder whether these artificial test organs will be in use for long before being superceded by software – which would not only be ethically sound but presumably much faster as well. [image by bbaunach]

Lungs out of body experience

lungA new technique for storing lungs outside the human body has been developed by the Toronto General Hospital:

In an operating room at the hospital, the technology can keep a pair of human lungs slowly breathing inside a glass dome attached to a ventilator, pump, and filters.

The lungs are maintained at normal body temperature of 37 °C and perfused with a bloodless solution that contains nutrients, proteins, and oxygen.

The organs are kept alive in the machine, developed with Vitrolife, for up to 12 hours while surgeons assess function and repair them.

It is hoped that this process will mean lungs intended for transplant are more likely to be usable. According to the Technology Review article as few as one in ten lungs for transplant are usable with existing cooling-based preservation techniques.

[via Next Big Future, article from Technology Review][image from Technology Review]

Charles Lindbergh, transhumanist

charles-lindberghIn 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. His single-seat, single-engine monoplane – the Spirit of St. Louis – made the flight from New York to Paris in just over 33 hours, catapulting Lindbergh to instant stardom.

Initially, Lindbergh used his new-found fame to extol the virtues of commercial aviation; later, as leverage in the America First campaign against US involvement in the Second World War. In anticipation of the UK publication of David M. Friedman’s book, The Immortalists, journalist Brendan O’Neill highlights on a lesser-known chapter in the Lindbergh story [for BBC Magazine];

In the 1930s, after his historic flight over the Atlantic, Lindbergh hooked up with Alexis Carrel, a brilliant surgeon born in France but who worked in a laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan. Carrel – who was a mystic as well as a scientist – had already won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on the transplantation of blood vessels. But his real dream was a future in which the human body would become, in Friedman’s words, “a machine with constantly repairable or replaceable parts”.

This is where Lindbergh entered the frame. Carrel hoped that his own scientific nous combined with Lindbergh’s machine-making proficiency (Lindbergh had, after all, already helped design a plane that flew non-stop to Paris) would make his fantasy about immortal machine-enabled human beings a reality.

But while the Lindbergh-Carrel duo made some significant breakthroughs, including ‘a perfusion pump that could keep a human organ alive outside of the body’ (and precursor to the heart-lung machine), their partnership had a darker side. In a New York Times review of The Immortalists, Kyla Dunn comments on the sinister undertones of these early cyborg dreams;

“We cannot escape the fact that our civilization was built, and still depends, upon the quality rather than the equality of men,” Lindbergh wrote in his 1948 treatise “Of Flight and Life.” As late as 1969, he remained concerned that “after millions of years of successful evolution, human life is now deteriorating genetically,” warning in Life magazine that “we must contrive a new process of evolutionary selection” in order to survive.

Of course, it’s worth noting that eugenicist views were fairly common in the 1930s, and some of the claims made by Friedman in The Immortalists have been criticised as based on circumstantial evidence. Either way, the New York Times has published the first chapter of The Immortalists online, for your perusal.

[Image from the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia]

Farewell, third molars – five vestigial organs that humans no longer need

Four Wisdom TeethNew Scientist has a top-five run-down of vestigial organs that humans (arguably) no longer need.

(I imagine a number of readers will share in my vehement agreement that wisdom teeth (more properly known as third molars) are on the list … my unreasoning dislike of dentistry has been mentioned here before, and the consequences of an overcrowded jaw were a major contributing factor to that reaction.) [image by Lone Primate]

So, now we know which stuff we don’t need, how do we go about removing it from the human system? Permanently?