Tag Archives: human stem cells

Have a heart? Don’t let it break. Now they can recycle it!

I came on an intriguing article in MIT Technology Review, “Transplant surgeons revive hearts after death.”

These days, we’re familiar with heart transplants from brain-dead patients into others needing a new, healthy heart.

But in a new experimental breakthrough, successes have been achieved in transplanting the hearts of those not brain dead. Yes, there are procedural and ethical issues involved.

Mind you, this involves actual human hearts, not 3-D printed replacements, or bits of heart tissue grown in labs from human stem cells.

But the possibility raises some issues of medical ethics to be explored: if the donor is not brain dead, when and by what criteria can the heart be removed?

Rather than dig in deeply here, I’ll refer you to the article itself. You’ll see a “reanimated” donated heart actually beating outside the bodies of both donor and recipient.  Here’s the link.

Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a human?

“Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a human?”–that’s the title of an article I came upon in Aeon.  https://aeon.co/ideas/should-a-human-pig-chimera-be-treated-as-a-person

It’s a variation of a question that I raise early-on in my technothriller,  A REMEDY FOR DEATH. In REMEDY, a researcher tries to implant brain cells from a human fetus into a young chimp. (Not a plot-spoiler: that is only a small part of the story.)

In the Aeon article, the focus is on the pigs that may be used to grow replacement human organs.

“In this case, the scientists take a skin cell from a human and from this make stem cells capable of producing any cell or tissue in the body, known as ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’. They then inject these into a pig embryo to make a human-pig chimera. In order to create the desired organ, they use gene editing, or CRISPR, to knock out the embryo’s pig’s genes that produce, for example, the pancreas. The human stem cells for the pancreas then make an almost entirely human pancreas in the resulting human-pig chimera, with just the blood vessels remaining porcine. Using this controversial technology, a human skin cell, pre-treated and injected into a genetically edited pig embryo, could grow a new liver, heart, pancreas or lung as required.”

So now suppose the human patient has a fresh new pancreas grown in the pig. But, once that pancreas is taken out, what about the pig?  Off to the pork-chop shop?  No! It’s not so simple. “It is not a pig with a human pancreas inserted into it—it is a human-animal chimera . . . This could affect the chimera’s brain.”

In short, maybe, just maybe, that chimera—whether pig or chimp—may have something approaching human brain function or other “characteristics that we usually think of as having moral relevance.”

Seems far-fetched that a pig or a chimp might begin developing human-like brains, but a whole lot of far-fetched stuff  is fast becoming reality in today’s world.


FOR MORE on human-animal chimeras and related topics including organ harvesting, growing human body parts, human stem-cells, mice given human brain cells, what is a human?, and others I invite you to check out my blog for A REMEDY FOR DEATH.  http://www.a-remedy-for-death.com/

“Are myths about the rejuvenating powers of young blood true?””– from Aeon

The article raises this question: “Are myths about  the rejuvenating powers of young blood true?”

The answer, as I discern it from this and other literature: Definitely yes and no.

Not long ago here we posted about some research in Lund, Sweden attempting to rejuvenate blood (of mice) by reprogramming stem cells.  Link to that post and the article on rejuvenating blood    The broader topic there, of course, is the search for methods of achieving radical life extension.

My point is that the idea of recapturing youth by somehow rejuvenating via young blood is very new– witness the Swedish research.  But it is also very old, as recounted in this article in the Briish AEON, which begins way back in the myths of ancient times and carries through to what’s happening now. Oh yes, vampires are covered in it, as well.  Here’s the link to that AEON article

(This post originally appeared on another of my sites: www.A-Remedy-for-Death.com  That site  was my author’s research blog for the medical science techno-thriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH   

(It is still active, though I am gradually moving the posts over to this new site, MichaelMcGaulley.net, which includes background information for Remedy and  all of my other technothrillers.

Synthetic human embryos from human stem cells? Ethical issues on the horizon!

That’s where it all begins . . .  human life, that is. What you see is a scan of the surface of a human embryonic stem cell.  (Photo credit to David Scharf and Science Source. )

An article by Carl Zimmer  in the NY Times this week raised the prospect that science is on the threshold of creating “synthetic human entities with embryolike features”.  (“Sheefs” in their acronym.)

Hold it right there!  Just what IS a “synthetic human entity with embryolike features”?

“Soon, experts predict, they will learn how to engineer these cells into new kinds of tissues and organs. Eventually, they may take on features of a mature human being.” (Quote from the Times article, my emphasis added.)

“Features of a mature human being”  –– Hmm, and what does that mean?  Does that ( in the not-so far distant future) mean man-made creatures walking around, looking like us, but with “parents” were petri dishes in a lab?

I don’t speak directly of Sheefs or stem cells in my science techno-thriller A REMEDY FOR DEATH, but the problem REMEDY raises is much the same as in the quote–taking on “features of a mature human being”.  (For the record, neither did Michael Crichton in JURASSIC PARK get into this issue of stem cells in bringing about his dinosaurs.)  But something like that had to have been done in both JURASSIC and REMEDY to reach the outcomes.

But REMEDY and JURASSIC PARK  are just science fiction. But the “fiction” is quickly fading as reality pushes up against the “what-if.”  As Paul Knoepfler, a biologist at University of California, Davis, put it, speaking of this and other  related research at the University of Cambridge: “They’ve opened the door to a lot of tough questions.”

Which echoes a warning from the fictional Kate Remington, Ph.D.  in A REMEDY FOR DEATH: “You’re opening very dangerous doorways! Once they’re open, there’s no stopping what may come through from the other side of that doorway!”

Organ harvesting from aborted human fetuses, medical ethics, and the medical techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH

The  method used in my medical techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, depends on human stem cells from adult donors (Induced Pluripotent Cells—IPS cells) rather than tissue from aborted fetuses–a topic very much in the news recently because of a series of videos.

(Want to know more  about Induced Pluripotent Cells? Here’s a link to a basic Wikipedia overview.)

In case the link doesn’t work, here it is in open form:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_pluripotent_stem_cell

 That said, an alternate research strand is very much in the news these days—fetal tissue research using organs from aborted fetuses.

Reasonable people can—and most definitely do, strongly—disagree on the medical ethics not only of abortion but also of “organ harvesting” from the resulting fetus. The fields of bio-engineering, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine are moving very fast, and  medical ethicists are struggling to keep apace.

I expect you’ve heard about—and perhaps watched—the series of videos made by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group recording interviews with Planned Parenthood staffers, as well as shots of the product of abortions induced in Planned Parenthood  facilities.

In A REMEDY FOR DEATH,   I  raised different but related issues involving bio-engineering, organ harvesting and other issues–different because the plot-line does not involve aborted fetuses. But it does  touch upon some of the same issues of medical ethics and biological research ethics as are raised by these videos and resulting discussions.

For  an informative, balanced article on this issue of using aborted human fetal tissue in research, I suggest Sarah Kliff’s piece in VOX: “The Planned Parenthood controversy over aborted fetus body parts, explained”

That link repeated, in case it didn’t come through:  http://www.vox.com/2015/7/14/8964513/planned-parenthood-aborted-fetuses