The age of bioengineering is upon us, with scientists understanding of how to engineer cells, tissues and organs improving at a rapid pace. Here’s how this could affect the future of our physical bodies.
Watch these 8 TED talks and leave a comment below if you think we should redesign humans.
Juan Enriquez: The next species of human
Even as mega-banks topple, Juan Enriquez says the big reboot is yet to come. But don’t look for it on your ballot — or in the stock exchange. It’ll come from science labs, and it promises keener bodies and minds. Our kids are going to be … different.
Anthony Atala’s state-of-the-art lab grows human organs — from muscles to blood vessels to bladders, and more. At TEDMED, he shows footage of his bio-engineers working with some of its sci-fi gizmos, including an oven-like bioreactor (preheat to 98.6 F) and a machine that “prints” human tissue.
Each of our bodies is utterly unique, which is a lovely thought until it comes to treating an illness — when every body reacts differently, often unpredictably, to standard treatment. Tissue engineer Nina Tandon talks about a possible solution: Using pluripotent stem cells to make personalized models of organs on which to test new drugs and treatments, and storing them on computer chips. (Call it extremely personalized medicine.)
Arthritis and injury grind down millions of joints, but few get the best remedy — real biological tissue. Kevin Stone shows a treatment that could sidestep the high costs and donor shortfall of human-to-human transplants with a novel use of animal tissue.
lan Russell studies regenerative medicine — a breakthrough way of thinking about disease and injury by helping the body to rebuild itself. He shows how engineered tissue that “speaks the body’s language” has helped a man regrow his lost fingertip, how stem cells can rebuild damaged heart muscle, and how cell therapy can regenerate the skin of burned soldiers. This new, low-impact medicine comes just in time, Russell says — our aging population, with its steeply rising medical bills, will otherwise (and soon) cause a crisis in health care systems around the world.
Surgeon Anthony Atala demonstrates an early-stage experiment that could someday solve the organ-donor problem: a 3D printer that uses living cells to output a transplantable kidney. Using similar technology, Dr. Atala’s young patient Luke Massella received an engineered bladder 10 years ago; we meet him onstage.
What does it take to regrow bone in mass quantities? Typical bone regeneration — wherein bone is taken from a patient’s hip and grafted onto damaged bone elsewhere in the body — is limited and can cause great pain just a few years after operation. In an informative talk, Molly Stevens introduces a new stem cell application that harnesses bone’s innate ability to regenerate and produces vast quantities of bone tissue painlessly.
Bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe describes an astonishing series of recent bio-engineering experiments, from glowing dogs to mice that grow human ears. He asks: Isn’t it time to set some ground rules?