Stories tagged transplant

Yesterday in Washington, D.C., operations in two hospitals swapped 13 kidneys between 26 different bodies in the largest kidney transplant process ever conducted. Most of the recipients had conditions creating a situation where it was hard to match a kidney for their body. But they had to procure a donor for another hard-to-match recipient. Then the doctors mixed and matched all the donors to find the right recipients making for the record operation. Read about it all right here.

Here's the weird organ transplant story of today. A heart, maybe a human one, was found on the floor of a car wash in Michigan. Investigators are trying to determine if it's a human heart or from another species. No word on if Dick Cheney had recently washed his car there.


A bin of spares: for future-babies.
A bin of spares: for future-babies.Courtesy Max Sparber
In many respects, the people of my country—we call it “Futureland” or “Futureworld,” depending on the state—are much like Lego men (minifigs). We have round, cheerful faces, chunky, clunky legs, and square, tapering shoulders. And the women… oh, the women of Futureland are the most beautiful in the world, with their round, cheerful faces, chunky, clunky legs, and square, tapering shoulders. Some might argue that they’re only distinguishable from us men by painted on lipstick and eyelashes… but I don’t see why that has to be a bad thing.

And, like Lego people, our arms are removable and replaceable. We can mix and match! Unfortunately, the process of arm removal is often extremely painful and bloody, and arm replacement involves extensive surgery, an anti-rejection drug regimen, and years of physical therapy. Still… replaceable arms! Yes, life in the future is fine indeed.

Oh? You don’t believe me? Well, put on your chronohats and futurnaut undies and join me up here for a moment, so that we might consider the case of one Karl Merk.

Karl was a German dairy farmer until six years ago, when he elected to have his arms removed. Although… Maybe “elected” isn’t totally accurate. Mr. Merk’s arms were detached just below the shoulders by a combine harvester, and he was screaming “Kill me, kill me!” when he was later discovered by a colleague. So it seems possible that the arm-removal could have been an accident.

Regardless, it wasn’t until just recently that a suitable set of new arms could be found to click back into Karl’s shoulders.

It took a team of 40 surgeons, specialists, and support staff 15 hours to reattach the arms of a donor who had died only hours earlier. The arms were filled with “a cooled preservation solution,” and then detached from the donor’s shoulders at the exact point Mr. Merk’s arms were severed. Merk’s arm stumps were then cut open to expose the bone, muscle, nerve tissue, and blood vessels.

The bones were joined first, followed quickly by arteries and veins, to ensure blood flow. Muscles and tendons were then attached, followed by the nerves, and then the skin was finally sewn together.

Click. Click.

I recommend checking out the video in the page linked to above (under “the case of one Karl Merk”). It has a video of Karl with his new arms. The arms are paler than the rest of Karl, and they look kind of muscley. They’re also kind of wet and shiny looking, which is gross. But they work, and over the next couple years Karl should be able to regain full use of the hands and everything. Because so much of his arms were cut off in the accident, there’s a greater risk that Karl’s body won’t accept the new limbs, but so far there doesn’t signs of rejection.

And that’s life in the future. Tons of painful surgery. And maybe some slightly disproportionally large arms.

Buzz has plenty on organ transplants and the like. Check in out here.


The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.
The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.Courtesy litmuse
Oh, you’re probably the same way—how often do you find yourself thinking, “I wish monkeys were more terrifying. Sure, they’re all fanged little were-men, with hand-feet and clever brains, but there must be some way that they could be worse.”

Pretty often, huh?

And, when you watch the news, don’t you constantly find yourself musing, “Hmm. The future is looking a little too bright.”

Well, don’t worry, Buzzketeers. The future promises to be just as dark and bewildering as ever, and horrifying cyber-apes are part of it.

“Now, JGordon, it can’t be that bad.”

Hey! Don’t sound so disappointed; it is that bad. Skeptical? Check it out for yourself—Sciencemen and Techladies have trained two macaque monkeys to control huge robotic arms…using their monkey brains!

Macaques have shown their evil little faces on Science Buzz before (murderous enthusiasm and enthusiastic murder), and I don’t think a refresher on robots is at all necessary—because there’s no escaping them.

Robotic limbs are becoming kind of a big deal these days, but even the most advanced of them rely on nerves remaining in a partial limb, or another part of the body entirely; which muscles to activate for a certain function must be relearned, or an operation like gripping with a robotic hand can be linked to a movement like shrugging the shoulders. It’s tricky to do, and it pushes the brain’s flexibility, especially considering that the only feedback the limb gives might be a hot or poking sensation at the connection point (this in place of a real limb’s feedback, like the pressure, friction, or warmth one might feel through their hands or feet).

Wiring a prosthetic (or any robotic device) directly into the brain—as was the case with these monkeys and their robot arms—overcomes some of the problems with existing prosthetic technology, while adding some new challenges.

With electrodes implanted right into the brain, relearning limb function can come much more quickly and naturally (awful little monkeys can do it, after all). A little too quickly, actually—a monkey at Duke University was similarly wired up this winter to make a robot in Japan walk, and the robotic body actually received the signals to walk before the monkey’s actual body did. Limbs wired the same way could be too fast or powerful for the brain to initially cope with. You might, say, run into a wall before your brain has time to create another route for your robo-legs; the speed of the limb action would be faster than the speed of thought.

However, if the prosthetics operated with a “closed neural loop,” that is to say if they could be made to provide natural feedback to the brain (like heat, pressure, strain, etc), scientists think that the brain could adapt much more quickly, and could even learn whole new pathways of motion. So a person wired up in the right way might be able to control a plane, or a nanosized robot directly with their mind. And it wouldn’t be something where you would think about walking forward and the plane would fly forward—you would learn the plane’s movements of flying, feel the flying, and control it as if you were the plane. That sort of things is still a long way off, and unless new technology is invented to sense and input to the brain in another way, it would require having a bunch of electrodes stuck through your skull and into your neurons.

This, of course, is all scientific blah be de blah, and if distracts from the real issue behind the story: cyborg monkeys. Do you know what the monkeys were actually taught to do with their metal limbs? Feed themselves. How horrible. Why not just teach them how to operate guns with their minds, or remove human brains through our nasal passageways?

In time, that too will come to pass. Look forward to it.


Dead heart transformed into a living heart

Tissue engineering has allowed a dead rat heart to be stripped of its cellular material, then after injecting the remaining scaffold material with with new cardiac cells, the cells organized themselves until the heart became alive.

A "crazy idea" at the University of Minnesota that could not get federal funding yielded "unbelievable" results after getting funding from the University of Minnesota and from the Medtronic Research Foundation.

New source for replacement organs

The accomplishment gave a significant boost to medicine’s dream of growing human organs to replace damaged ones. Organ transplants usually require replacement organs that fulfill extreme compatibility issues. By using the patients own cells in the rebuilt organs scientists hope to eliminate the need for patients to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives.

Growing human hearts at least 10 years away, if ever

The next step will be to use these techniques on pig hearts. Pig hearts are similar enough to a humans that parts from them have already been used in humans.

"Although this is only a first step requiring considerable follow-up development, the study nevertheless represents an exciting breakthrough that will eventually make the prospect of repairing damaged hearts a reality and will also be an approach that can be extended to other organs." Dr Jon Frampton Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow at the University of Birmingham

Source articles
New York Times
BBC News
USA Today
Nature Medicine journal's Perfusion-decellularized matrix: using nature's platform to engineer a bioartificial heart (abstract)

You weren't using that kidney right?
You weren't using that kidney right?
I was rather surprised to find out that only 50 organ transplants were conducted in the country of Scotland in 2005, despite their being 818 people on the waiting list for organs. This statistic and others are pushing the BMA (British Medical Association) to argue for a system of presumed consent for organ donation. Click to read their description of this new idea.


Diorama of the first heart transplant surgery: Is this the future of prisoner executions?Courtesy Trygve Berge
Diorama of the first heart transplant surgery: Is this the future of prisoner executions?
Courtesy Trygve Berge
I read a rather fascinating story last night by Larry Niven called The Jigsaw Man. Without giving away the plot completely, it spells out the possible dystopian future we could face as organ transplants become more efficient and common. In the story, society is not able to resist the temptation to harvest organs from criminals who are executed for their crimes. However, as the demand for organs grows, the list of crimes that are punishable by execution grows as well (think traffic offenses). Where does it stop? Well, you can read the story.

This story, written in the late 60s, is a great example of science fiction predicting the future in a small way. We reported recently (Give a kidney, do less time: State deals with organ donation ethics) on California lawmakers considering a law that could give prisoners up to 180 days off their sentence for donating a kidney. If we start trading time of prison terms for organs, why shouldn't we require organ harvesting from executed prisoners? I personally think this would be ethically atrocious but I also know there are allot of people waiting on the list for organ transplants.

What do you think? Do you see any sort of future where prisoners are considered acceptable organ donors, with or without their permission?

Isabelle Dinoire's face transplant was recently deemed a success by the surgeons who performed her operation. Dinoire had the operation last November after being mauled by her dog.