Monday, 24 November 2008

Sore throat? Get a new one...

Stem Cells used to rebuild throat!

Spanish woman gets her damaged trachea replaced by a stem-cell developed new one? Admittedly, I've twice used the word 'throat' now without actually being technically accurate, as it's the windpipe that feeds into the lungs that's been replaced. This isn't technically part of the throat, in my limited experience, although it does connect to it. Still, it's an impressive feat.
The article mentions several drawbacks though. The holy grail of stem-cells seems to be taking a clump of stem cells from the person who needs a transplant, put them in a dish of some sort, then grow whatever organ or tissue is needed by said patient, then stick it back in them. Sort of like some squidgy but biologically advanced herb garden, perhaps? That would understandably be great, preventing the need for this whole opt in-opt out organ donor malarkey.

I'm firmly in the opt-out camp myself, if organs from my mangled carcass can be used to save lives why the hell wouldn't I approve? A lot of people I've heard are just uncomfortable with the idea for no discernible reason. "It's not natural" apparently. Of course not, it's medicine. The natural thing to do would be just to let everyone die when they get ill, even if it's something easily curable, but we don't do that, because as thinking, rational beings we don't have to submit to natures whim's. Nature doesn't have whims either, it's a concept, or a process or whatever you like. Some people don't allow themselves medication because of their ultra religious beliefs which state that illness is the work of God, so by treating themselves they are going against his will. Unlike most scientists, I support this viewpoint. If I was God, and I'm at least a close second, the first thing I'd do is kill off all the people that stupid. So good luck to them. Or not.

So, back to the point, his trachea surgery is brilliant, but not quite perfect. For starters, someone still had to die for the surgery to go ahead. Without getting into the whole aborted -foetuses debate, this is a less than desirable pre-requisite for any surgery. Before they've begun, it's already got a 50% mortality rate. But there's potential for improvement, as they needed a donor trachea to provide a 'framework' for the stem cells to grow around. I guess it's beyond our means to make false ones at the moment, but still, here's hoping. We obviously can't control the way the stem cells develop in spatial configurations at the moment, but it's a start.

Also, I like the way the article states that the use of stem cells 'tricked the body into thinking the donor trachea was part of it'. If we're being honest, the stem cells are technically part of her body, so it's not really a trick. The trachea structure is donated, but does that make up the bulk of the donated tissue after every donor cells has been scrubbed off? But that's just being pedantic.

So, the scope for this is endless, but as always I worry about such procedures being abused, or used for less than noble purposes. If we can make safe, reliable organs to order, would people be happy with the ones they've got? My initial throat confusion was genuine, and lead me to wondering if the Spanish lady had the same voice as before. Obviously a trachea transplant wouldn't effect that, but what if it was the larynx and voice box?

Say some well-to-do person wanted to be a singer, so they get specially designed voice box made that allows them to sing well. But of course, a voice is nothing if you don't have the lungs to use it right. So they get a new pair of those too, bigger and better and fresher than the old ones, which are taken out and thrown in the bin, as no-one needs donor's anymore. Theoretical person can now sing very well. But being a famous singer is more than just vocal ability these days, it's about image. So person gets all ugly parts of her, or his, but lets say her, her body removed and replaced with specially designed better ones. Lets say for arguments sake that said person is horrifically ugly, so all bits of her body, bar skeleton and brain and some connective tissue, get replaced. Now we have basically the bulk of a person sat squelching in the corner. Rap it around a skeleton, bung in a rudimentary brain and it could be used to perform very simple tasks, like digging holes, pushing buttons or working for Virgin Railways. All unskilled labourers could be made redundant, replaced by the flung-off semi-carcasses of the wealthy.

So what happens to our now attractive singing person? She becomes a star for a brief period, but then people start doing the same and redesign themselves to be more talented and better looking and ever on to the point where she gets left behind in the race to be the next new superhuman celebrity star person thing. She gets depressed and sinks into drink (seriously damaging 8 Livers before the money runs out) and drugs (4 septums lost to coke and 2 arms lost to repeated use of infected needles, all replaced before money runs out). After a lengthy spell in 'rehab' where she's chained to a wall for 23 hours a day and gets hosed down regularly (proper comfy rehab is for people with money, which as we've established, has run out), she attempt to re-launch her career by appearing on 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here', but in this day and age the horrific trials involve eating massive, swollen organs like anuses and bladders grown from her own cells, while being watched and laughed at by Ant & Dec (versions 4.8).

This combination of copious autocannibalism while being mocked by small Geordie clones finally destroys the last vestiges of her sanity. She tries to get a brain replacement, but that's the only organ that can't be replaced as it would mean she's not the same patient anymore, and medical malpractice insurance doesn't cover that. But she's adamant, so they put her under anaesthetic and just remove her brain and launch it into space. Not for research, just to get rid of her because she's getting on everyone's nerves.

So what I'm saying is, stem cells, not necessarily a good thing.

1 comment:

Kev said...

We should stop trying to improve the human race and start finding more elaborate and entertaining ways to distort it;amputate Kerry Katona's tits and glue them to the front of her head where her eyes once were so that when she cries the tears squirt out of her nipples.

The future is gore!

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