One more example of science fiction becoming science fact. We are another step closer to re-growing body parts to order. This time, functional brains.
Ben Waldau and colleagues, of the University of California, have overcome a giant obstacle in the growth of active in vitro tissues. Up until now, harvested tissue samples could be coaxed into new growth, by bathing cells in a solution of specific chemicals and growth nutrients. The resultant ‘organoids’, or three-dimensional clumps of brain matter, are more useful in experiments than standard slices or two-dimensional cell cultures.
Since the nutrients can only diffuse across surface membranes, the organoids rarely reach a diameter greater than two millimetres. Waldau and his team, recognised this limitation and set about designing a new phase of supportive tissue cell and tissue growth; that of a rudimentary circulatory system. Waldau’s group have created miniature brains with interwoven blood vessels.
Using donated living tissue from the dura membrane surrounding the brain, Waldau et al, encouraged cells to develop into either blood vessels or brain matter, by exposing them to different growth and chemical media. After a month of development, Waldau added a gel layer containing blood vessel cells to the organoid surface, and waited. A further month, saw functioning blood vessels growing in the centre of the organoid brain.
One of my standard quips to my family is that by the time I have retired, and my body starts to pack up, I will be able to order myself a new, bespoke kidney or hipbone on the internet, made entirely from an attached genetic blueprint. Will the medicare of the future look like the pop-up tent in Halford’s car park; a drive through operating theatre, instead of a little chap who replaces my windscreen wipers for twenty-quid?
It is both an exhilarating and terrifying prospect. The potential benefits are colossal. It suggests a cure for almost all physically degenerative diseases. Diabetes wiped out with a freshly grown pancreas transplant. Liver, heart and kidney disease, a thing of the past. As soon as they crack consciousness downloads, dementia, brain damage and Motor Neuron Disease, all eradicated.
But will we see an era of continuous tissue re-generation, where great-grandmothers compete against their offspring for swimsuit modelling jobs? Will it become the norm, to reanimate long dead loved ones and grow new bodies for the likes of Einstein and Walt Disney? What a peculiar and dysfunctional society that would be, and one I am not keen to live through. I cannot deny it though, we live in very exciting times.
Sam Nash is the author of the FREE prequel sci-fi conspiracy thriller novella series, The Aurora Journals – Now available here https://www.samnash.org. The Aurora Conspiracies Series will be available soon. Release date TBA. You can find her at Facebook.com/samnash.author or on Twitter @samnashauthor .