Apparently there are plans to introduce an opt-out system of organ donation in England, after the Scottish government has announced to introduce such system there. An opt-out system means that every person is automatically an organ donor unless he/she or his/her next of kin objects. Continue reading Organ donation
Human organs are short in supply, that is more people are waiting to receive organs than are available. There are too few donors, not in the least place because better road safety rules and better healthcare. So scientists and doctors are looking for alternatives. Continue reading Organs on demand
Human organ transplants have become a normal medical procedure during the last fifty years. Organ transplants in animals, usually pets, are, on the other hand, quite rare. Continue reading Animals and organ transplants
Yesterday we discussed the idea of 3D-printed organs. Though that technology is developing fast, it’s still far from any practical applications. Another solution for the shortage of organs, would be xenotransplantation. However that approach has it’s own differences, namely the risk of (hyperacute) rejection. Genetically engineered pigs have been studied as a solution of this problem, but this only counters hyperacute rejection. A third option is to combine xenotransplantation with tissue engineering. In this process a pig organs is decellurized so that only the structure of that organ is left. Subsequently tissue from a patient are placed on this structure, and with as final result an organ which will not rejected by the recipient’s body.
Here’s a treat for Valentine’s Day (in addition to this playlist of TED Talks about love): Below, take a close-up look at a decellularized “ghost heart.” This heart can serve as a scaffold upon which to grow a working heart from human stem cells. Researchers at the Texas Heart Institute created it by stripping all the living cells from a pig heart with a soap solution, which bursts the cells and leaves only the protein structure behind. These scientists have successfully implanted tissue-engineered hearts into rats and pigs so far. They hope ultimately to create personalized human hearts and help relieve the shortage of donor organs.
Behold, the “ghost heart.” Image: Courtesy of RMR Labs, Texas Heart Institute
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We believe that 3D printing is among the most important technologies to make the humanization of space a success. 3D printing enables us to manufacture complex items without the need of running large factories, and hence 3D printing will reduce the need to import goods from Earth by Space Settlements.
Also the developments in the field of stem cell research are going fast, scientists can now create embryo-like stem cells without creating and destroying embryos. In the near future it will be possible to create all kinds of tissue from a random tissue sample of a patient who is in need of such tissue. In this way rejection of tissue by the body is avoided. But tissues are not organs, yet.
Organs are complex structures, often made from different types of tissue. It was only a matter of time, before some one came with the idea of using 3D printers to make organs from patients’ own tissue. And according to an article on Science Daily British scientists have succeeded in the construction of a machine which could be used in the printing of organs.
When printable organs become a widespread reality, organ shortages will become a thing from the past. Also it allows us to avoid the difficult ethical debates surrounding xenotransplantation or the use of organs from executed criminals. A further advantage of this technique is that organ transplantation also becomes available for animals.
In Space Settlements we have a further complication, which will be solved by printable organs. In a small and relatively isolated community as a Space Settlement the issue of organ shortage is much larger, since organs cannot easily be transported from either Earth or another Space Settlement.
In Sweden nine women have received a uterine transplant, with the intend of getting pregnant very soon. According to the BBC the nine women were either born without a uterus, or had their own uterus been removed for medical reasons. Uterine transplants are a new area of medical science, earlier attempts in Saudi Arabia and Turkey have failed.
But suppose that the Swedish experiment works, after all organ transplants have a history of failure and ultimate success, then it will be possible to transplant uteri into males as well. Most academic discussions about male pregnancy, are about ectopic pregnancies (i.e. implantation of the embryo outside the uterus). But since ectopic pregnancies are usually lethal, no serious attempt has been made to induce such pregnancy in a male. Only a few ectopic pregnancies have resulted in live birth.
However, with uterine transplants the whole problem of ectopic pregnancies is avoided. If successful in women, there’s from a medical point of view no reason to refuse such treatment to males. Whether transplanting uteri into males is desirable, is a totally different matter.