6 Terrible Medical Conditions Cured Using Sci-Fi Technology
Medical science became indistinguishable from science fiction long ago. Machines that can scan every inch of the body, titanium joints, focused radiation -- all old news. To impress the jaded patient of today, medical science is going to have to get weirdly futuristic. We're talking cybernetic limbs and zombie hearts weird. Luckily, medical science doesn't take a challenge lightly ...
Organs That Keep Functioning Outside Of The Body
Transplants are basically miracles already, but the procedure still has some weak points. In Hawaii, more than 30 or 40 perfectly good hearts wind up going to waste every year because they don't survive the trip back to the mainland USA.The usual practice for transporting live organs is to put them on ice and transport them as fast as humanly possible, in the hope that they don't have time to realize they're dead before you shove them into someone else's torso and ask them to get back to work. From the moment a donor dies, doctors only have between five and 10 hours to transport and install the donor organs into a new body before they're useless. But a company called TransMedics has come up with a way to prolong the out-of-body longevity of live organs.
By hooking up donor organs to live, warm blood, and simulating the conditions inside the human body, TransMedics gives organs a first-class ride while every other organ is flying economy. With what is known as the "organ care system," TransMedics uses technology to pamper transplant organs so that they might never even realize their body is gone. Hearts beat ...
"Is that the Beverly Hills Cop theme?"
Lungs breathe ...
"Look, I know it's not ideal, but we've only got 20 minutes until the party starts, and our balloon air tank is empty."
Kidneys and colons ... Well, they do their thing too. You don't need visuals for that.
Clinical trials are already well underway, and in other parts of the world, there have been over 400 successful transplants using the system. And presumably thousands of dollars won by bored medical couriers turning to their fellow passengers, patting their coolers, and saying, "Hey, betcha I can show you the freakiest thing you've ever seen ..."
Growing Replacement Body Parts On Your Own Body
Medical science is always on the lookout for ways to grow replacements for the parts you inevitably lose after handing somebody your beer and saying "check this shit out." The only problem is that new parts generally don't grow if they don't have a body to sprout on. No matter; you weren't using that forehead for anything important, anyway.
"My eyes are down here, ladies."
Growing new noses on foreheads is now so common in China that it's considered a routine procedure. Scientists first plant stem cells on a nose-shaped lattice, and then apply nutrients that convert the cells into cartilage. Then they stick it inside your forehead or arm or anywhere else that it'll fit, and the organ hooks up with the blood vessels in your body and grows until you look like a defective knockoff version of Mr. Potato Head.
Or, given enough time, like Kuato.
And it's not just noses. When an American woman lost her ear to cancer, doctors spent four months growing a new one on her forearm. Back in China, 17-year-old Xu Jianmei is in the process of receiving a new face after being disfigured in a house fire. Doctors are growing the girl's new face on her chest. For this, they needed to lay down a vascular network to supply the chest-face with nutrients, so they clipped a blood vessel from the girl's thigh and embedded it into her chest to germinate into capillaries. Her new face will be so delicately crafted that the doctors assure her she'll be able to blush again. Which is great news for Chinese dudes with lewd propositions, we guess?
Reprogramming HIV To Cure Genetic Diseases
Since new scientific advancements are often developed by scientists watching horror movies and taking notes, they recently started attempting to hack into HIV to reprogram it for good. HIV is one of the most feared viruses for the same reason that scientists think it could be the most useful. By fooling the body's cells into believing it's a harmless protein, the virus infiltrates the cells and then goes Hulkamania on them from the inside, replacing the cells' normal DNA with its own stupid virus DNA, rapidly spreading through your body.
"WHATCHA GONNA DO, BROTHER!?! WHATCHA GONNA DO!?!"
Of course, if you could replace the virus' malicious DNA with healthy, normal DNA, then you could theoretically use it to "infect" sick people with healthy cells. And that's what two Italian scientists have been trying to do for the past 17 years, to incredible success (by which we mean there hasn't been a single zombie so far).
That could be due, in part, to the trouble in attracting human test subjects.
By reprogramming the HIV virus to inject healthy genetic material into malfunctioning cells, the scientists managed to effectively treat two genetic diseases, metachromatic leukodystrophy and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (which both sound like they were named after an explosion at the Scrabble factory). Despite their success, we imagine they have an uphill battle for mainstream acceptance, since there's no quicker way to lose faith in your doctor than to have him tell you that the only cure for your condition is to inject you with HIV.
Contact Lenses That Monitor Your Blood Sugar
Since things get bad quickly for diabetics who have either too much or too little sugar in their blood, they have to draw their own blood to continually check their glucose levels. The process isn't nearly as metal as it sounds. But now, pharmaceutical company Novartis AG is teaming up with Google to come up with a better solution: contact lenses that detect glucose levels in your tears. The process isn't nearly as goth as it sounds.
You are so anti-climactic.
The lenses are packed full of tiny technological goodies, including a hair-width antenna and glitter-sized electric components, which send all biometric analyses straight to your phone. Basically, it's an extreme version of Google Glass that you shove directly into your eyeball.
Which, let's face it, has been the endgame for Android and Apple for quite some time now.
Google and Novartis hope to make the lenses commercially available before 2020. And since the smart lenses give you a constant reading (as often as once per second), within five years, we may entirely eliminate the need to cut yourself like you're trying to impress a girl backstage at a My Chemical Romance concert.
3D-Printed Bones and Body Parts
We're still some years away from being able to print out an entire girlfriend like in Weird Science, but 3D printing technology is still making great strides -- to the point where you can now 3D-print your own body parts. The FDA has recently approved a 3D-printed facial bone implant fabulously named OsteoFab, which uses a hard plastic very similar in texture and strength to the bones in your skull. Doctors can now simply sit down at a computer and Ctrl-P you a new face if parts of your skull are damaged in an accident.
"WHY DO I NEED A CYAN CARTRIDGE TO PRINT A WHITE CHEEK BONE?!"
Doctors in England utilized the same technology and printed a woman a new hip. They even added stem cells to the implant to regenerate more new bone around the artificial hip.
Missing an entire limb? Print out a new one. With 3D printing becoming more mainstream, it's only a matter of time before you can download yourself a new leg from The Pirate Bay.
The benefit of 3D printing over more traditional methods of developing prostheses is that it's a hell of a lot cheaper. Until now, prostheses had to be modeled by hand. After all, body parts aren't exactly one-size-fits-all. You have to model each limb or implant specifically to the recipient, and this not only requires painstaking and often invasive procedures, but the costs can stack up to tens of thousands of dollars. With 3D printing, most of this work is done by a computer, and you can order a new body part for little more than the cost of the materials.
This is obviously going to lead to a future in which people download and print body enhancements like wings, Wolverine claws, and extra penises. But that's probably still some distance down the road.
"Oddly enough, a high-strength, composite exoskeleton to crush those who disobey you is covered under your HMO."
Prosthetic Limbs That Can Move And Feel
One of the biggest drawbacks of a prosthetic limb is that at the end of the day, no matter how realistic it looks, it's still a useless prop. One of the holy grails of biomedical science has been to discover a way to create an artificial limb that can mimic the functionality of a real one, thus living up to the promise of Star Wars. And, god bless them, scientists are close to achieving that goal.
The FDA recently approved the closest thing we have to Luke Skywalker's robot hand: the DEKA arm, which uses a process called myoelectric control to operate in a very similar way to a fleshy human arm. See, the muscles that you use to manipulate many of the delicate functions in your hand are actually located further up in your forearm. If you lose a large part of your arm but still try to manipulate objects as though your hand is still there, you're still firing the same nerve cells; there's just no hand for them to activate anymore. Unless you have the DEKA arm.
"Call in the next 15 minutes, and you'll get two DEKA arms for the price of one, plus the exclusive DEKA Lil' Grabber mini arm!"
The DEKA arm uses muscle sensors to detect signals from your upper arm and figure out what you're trying to do with your imaginary hand, and translate those movements into your new robot hand. It's so effective that it can not only grasp objects, but can even turn a key in a lock, or pick up an egg without cracking it.
The ability of myoelectric limbs was recently demonstrated during a TED talk, when dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost a leg in the Boston marathon bombings, returned to the stage to dance a routine using her new robot leg:
But even then, you're still not getting the full limb experience. What if your robot arm had the ability to feel? Well, they're working on that, too. If myoelectric limbs are able to interpret signals from the nerves into a robot limb, then theoretically, the process can work the other way, which is what researchers are working on right now.
Despite our repeated warnings against teaching robots to feel.
Several teams of scientists have developed robotic hands with sensors that can deliver sensations into the brain that detect the firmness of an object, as well as its temperature and even its wetness. So hypothetically, amputees can play fetch with their dog without missing out on the sensation of dog slobber all over their baseball.
Trials of the device are so promising that participants are now able to pluck the stems out of cherries blindfolded, not squashing the fruit 92 percent of the time. So we can't trust the technology to perform brain surgery or anything, but we can trust it to make a pretty good cocktail.
Justin is building a free horror novel here. Vote to keep it going. Check out his other writings on Business Handshakes. You can find John Mulroy on Twitter and you can read more of his stuff on AbsrdComedy