by Aaron Brenner | | |
A cochlear implant is like a tiny microphone inside the head.
Somebody get Lee Majors on the phone! The Six Million Dollar Man is making a comeback. Not on television but in research labs. Scientists are making breakthrough discoveries on how to create artificial body parts, everything from bionic bones to makeshift knees.Think about what these advance could mean: no more season-ending athletic injuries (torn anterior cruciate ligament? We've got a new one!). Broken hearts can be fixed -- literally. Blindness and deafness could be a thing of the past. And replacement bladders could wipe out the adult diaper marker.
"I think it's a really promising area," said William Murphy, Assistant Professor of BiomedicalEngineering and Pharmacology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We're starting to see significant progress on engineering individual tissue types."
Murphy's specialty is in tissue engineering, and he operates a lab at the university that works with mechanical biomaterials acting as regenerated body parts, as well as looking into stem cell development.
He said there are three primary limitationsto structurally building replacement body parts. The first is tissue quantity and size.
"It's very hard to make large tissue types because there's a need for a functional vascular supply," Murphy said. "Blood and nutrients have to be able to get in, waste has to get out."
The second challenge is complexity, according to Murphy.
"Most organs and structures, like the knee joint for example,contain a lot of different tissue types and they're really well-organized," Murphy said. "It's very hard to engineer in that kind of complexity, and the interfaces between tissues have to work just right."
Functional tissue engineering poses the third and final problem.
"This is different than your garden-variety tissue engineering," Murphy said. "The distinction is that one can generate a tissue likecartilage effectively now â€¦ but it doesn't perform mechanically like cartilage in the body, and it's very hard to get cartilage to function like actual tissue."
Biologists and engineers are working to clear each of these hurdles, and once they do, Murphy is hopeful that engineered body parts will become a mainstream faction of science.
Here is a list of the top ten body parts that could beartificially engineered and their significance on the human race:
10. Skin and Cartilage
Thin tissue types such as skin and cartilage are on the cusp of widespread use, said Murphy. They are less complicated to engineer and therefore close to being engineered on a regular basis.
"The tissues that don't require a functional vascular supply are probably those that have been closest tocommercialization or clinical use," he said. "There are some products that have been developed based on these methodologies."
"The other area that's had some fairly significant progress is tissues that tend to remodel themselves actively over time in the body," Murphy said. "Bone is the best example of that; it's constantly being re-absorbed and reformed. "
A shattered bone could simply be replacedby artificial bone that is printed up, as like a copying machine. Badly broken bones don't always heal correctly, and sometimes end up shorter or in need of amputation. Therefore, surgeons are looking into reproducing substitute bone segments that are copied to match the broken portion.
Dean Kaman, the man who invented the motorized Segway, has developed a prosthetic arm called the Lukearm, after Luke Skywalker from Star Wars who modeled this bionic arm. Kaman released a video on the Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers' blog, of an armless man reportedly picking up a chocolate and eating it with a prosthetic model.
"These electromagnetic systems are real," Murphy said. "They're developing rapidly, but super-expensive, obviously, and really complex, but possible...