Every year thousands of people are involved in horrific accidents, and through no fault of their own, end up ultimately losing a limb or damaging an organ so badly that it needs to be replaced. Before now, these victims had to rely on organs or body parts being donated to them, and with these always being scarce there was never a guarantee that they would get the organ they needed to survive. This year, scientists are trying to find ways around this, by either growing organs or body parts, or developing mechanical versions of them.
Scientists are able to use stem cells to grow simple tissues such as thin layers of skin, and hope to eventually be able to grow whole organs. Stem cells are cells which have the ability to grow into any cell that they need to be, with the right genes. This could be revolutionary, as in the next decade, organ shortages may become a thing of the past.
‘Bionic’ body parts are also becoming much more advanced. The bionic heart has been shown to work effectively for an average of 3 years, which buys a person time before they can get a real heart. Bionic limbs have been around for a while, but they are becoming more and more advanced, and some are now capable of fine motor skills due to picking up small electrical signals from muscles that are still working. It is bionic limbs like these that are allowing people with disabilities to become top athletes and compete in the Paralympics.
In the not so distant future, scientists hope to be able to also find a bionic alternative for the pancreas, as without this one cannot survive. Prototypes of cochlear and eye implants have also shown that they can be effective. Who knows where this technology will lead? Will we soon be able to use machines to take over the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease? I’m guessing we will not have to wait long to figure it out.
Bio: Olan Ahern is a eco warrior and free-lance writer working on behalf of Pannone.