Repairing and Replacing Body Parts: What’s Next

A friend of mine sent me the link to this webpage. It’s an interesting article that I simply copy and paste here! Enjoy!


Advances in medical technology have helped us live longer. Now, researchers are exploring ways to repair, refurbish, or replace human organs that have been damaged by chronic disease, traumatic injury, heart attack, stroke, or just plain aging.

“Medicine is saving people who previously we weren’t able to save,” says Dr. Doris A. Taylor, director of regenerative medicine research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. Even so, demand for donor organs exceeds the number available. “Each year thousands of people die while waiting for an organ,” Taylor says. That gap in supply and demand is one factor that has led researchers to ever more innovative treatments; at times these treatments can sound like science fiction come to life. Here’s a look at what repaired and replacement parts are available to patients now, which treatments are undergoing clinical trials, and what medical scientists are working to achieve in the future.


implanted eye telescopeHere’s a new take on magnifying glasses: Surgeons can now implant a tiny telescope within the eye, to help restore some of the vision lost to end-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that affects 1.8 million Americans and is the leading cause of legal blindness for adults age 60 years and older. The device—which the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2010 and which is becoming more widely available to medical institutions across the country—is implanted via an hour-long outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. It requires about a month of working with an occupational therapist to get used to, says Dr. Mark Mannis, director of the Eye Center at the University of California Davis Health System. “The reason is that this is not a simple restoration of vision,” he says. “It really requires the patient to see in another way, much in the same way that a patient who loses a lower limb and then gets a prosthesis needs to learn how to walk in a new way.” In this case, the patient learns to use one eye—the one with the implant—for detailed vision and the other for peripheral vision.

Regenerative Medicine

As director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Dr. Anthony Atala is researching treatments to repair or restore—or “regenerate”—damaged or failing tissues and organs by using the patient’s own cells and healing abilities. That can mean “boosting” healing by injecting stem cells, or by implanting tissues or organs that have been artificially bio-engineered in the lab starting with stem cells usually harvested from the patient, a strategy that minimizes the risk of the tissues or organs being rejected. “We’re working on about 30 different tissues and organs,” Atala says. Already a number of implants have been tried successfully in humans, including knee cartilage, skin, blood vessels, urethras, windpipes (trachea), and bladders. Clinical trials are underway to treat urinary incontinence by implanting cells to help boost functionality of the urinary valve and thus keep patients dry. Says Atala: “The future is focused on making sure that these technologies can get to as many patients and as many conditions as possible.”

“Printing” Body Parts

At Atala’s lab and other regenerative medicine research centers, 3-D printing is another experimental strategy being used to build bio-artificial body parts and organs. “We’ve printed ear lobes and nose parts and miniature kidneys and skin,” he says. “You are laying [down] the cells one layer at a time, and placing the cells right where you need them,” by customizing the different layers to form the necessary shape, he says. “If you think of your printer and your ink cartridge, instead of using ink you’re using cells and a gel.” Wake Forest is also investigating the possibility of “printing” skin cells directly onto burn wounds.

Stem Cells for Stroke Recovery

Neurologist Dr. Lawrence Wechsler of the University of Pittsburgh’s Schools of the Health Sciences is in the early stages of exploring whether stem cells, injected directly into the brain, can aid stroke victims in their recovery. The first step—now being tested in a clinical trial—is establishing that it’s safe just to try the technique. If that goes well, Wechsler says, “then we can design a study that will more reasonably look at the issue of efficacy and clinical benefit.” Such therapies wouldn’t “unparalyze” patients, he warns. But small improvements in function could yield big improvements in quality of life. “If you can begin to use your hand to grip something and do some small tasks,” Wechsler says, “or gain enough strength in your leg to help you move from being in a wheelchair to walking in some way, that change is a huge benefit.”

Growing an Artificial Heart

Perhaps the ultimate goal of regenerative medicine researchers is creating and transplanting a functioning bio-artificial heart. Is it feasible? Building complex solid organs like the heart, liver, lungs, and pancreas is challenging, and a major issue will be “where do you get those hundreds of billions of cells to do this,” says Taylor of the Texas Heart Institute. But she adds, “we’re making huge strides,” and predicts that a transplant of one kind of bio-artificial solid complex organ will be possible within five years. “And if I have anything to say about it,” Taylor says, “I will be there when it happens.”

For more, see “On Beyond 100

we risk freezing down

Seriously, it’s too hot outside. All of a sudden I’ve turned the heating off in my small apartment, started watering plants daily and begun the countdown for the first bath of 2013!


Inspired by such a summerish weather, I thought it could be interesting to read something about Hypothermia and its causes. Hope this post will help cooling down a bit – but not too much, it wouldn’t be nice to freeze down completely 🙂

The first notion to know is that of Body Temperature (BT), the temperature that a living being autonomously keeps more or less constant through biologic processes such as homeostasis or thermoregulation. BT is about 37 °C for a human being, 38.5 °C for a pig, 39 °C for cats and cows, between 34 °C and 40 °C for camels and dromedaries, 42 °C for birds (whoa!) and so on… There is a sort of threshold, different for each single species, for the minimum temperature required to allow normal metabolism and body functions. Now, cows hypothermia is for sure an awesome topic and could raise kind of interesting discussion, but we’ll focus on the human being. For a normal healthy man, the threshold value is 35.0 °C. If our core temperature (i.e. “the temperature of an organism at which it is meant to operate”) drops below such 35 °C, we start feeling bad since our body does not like working in suboptimal conditions.

body heat lossWiki says that “Hypothermia usually occurs from exposure to low temperatures, and is frequently complicated by alcohol. Any condition that decreases heat production, increases heat loss, or impairs thermoregulation, however, may contribute”.

That’s the point! We lose our body heat in many ways, as shown in this nice image. Or better, we continouosly exchange our body heat with every single thing that surrounds us in daily life. In a sense, we are nothing more that walking heaters. Our internal mechanisms, normally, are enough to keep a constant BT. But in the case of, for example, prolonged exposure to cold, our body might become unable to replenish the heat that is being lost. As a consequence, a drop in core temperature occurs. This change causes a host of characteristic symptoms (according to the hypothermia degree), such as:

  • shivering,
  • mental confusion (difficulty in speaking, sluggish thinking, and amnesia),
  • muscle mis-coordination,
  • cyanosis (exposed extremities become blue),
  • decreased heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.

If you ever plan to swim or dive in cold water, to explore snowy landscapes, to drink alcohol and smoke outside at night (alcohol and tobacco -> vasodilatation -> sensation of warmth while, instead, heating loss is rapidly increasing), to chase russians in their homeland in 1812 and so on… well, you’d better take your time and think about all the risks you’re going to take.

A subject found in hypothermic conditions needs to be rewarmed. Rewarming can be achieved in three main ways:

  1. warm uppassive external rewarming: the subject is moved to a warm environment and provided with properly insulated dry clothing. Then, their own heat generating ability will be enough to restore proper BT conditions.
  2. active external rewarming: external warming devices, such as warmed forced air or hot water bottles placed in both armpits and groin, are employed to help the subject warming up faster.
  3. active internal rewarming: it involves the use of intravenous warmed fluids, irrigation of body cavities with warmed fluids or inhalation of warm humidified air.

In case of severe hypothermia, extracorporeal rewarming such as via a heart lung machine may reveal to be the fastest (and only) solution.

Watch out also for really hot environments! Hyperthermia, the opposite of hypothermia, can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

sources: one, two and google images

what’s LIRMM ?

I spent the first year of my PhD in Brest, at the LaTIM laboratory (TĂ©lĂ©com Bretagne). I wrote a short post about it, giving a brief description of its research topics and some contacts. Currently, I’m carrying out the second year of this project in Montpellier, in another laboratory called LIRMM. Et voilĂ  a new post with a quick description of this lab and its robotics department 🙂


The Montpellier Laboratory of Informatics, Robotics, and Micro-electronics (LIRMM in French) is a cross-faculty research entity of the University of Montpellier 2 (UM2) and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). LIRMM is located at the Saint-Priest campus of University of Montpellier 2 (about 5 km from the city center).

LIRMM research activities cover a broad range of topics, ranging from informatics to systems, from technology to people and applications, including:

  • Design and verification of integrated, mobile and communicating systems,
  • Agent-based modelling of complex systems,
  • Research on algorithms, bioinformatics, human-machine interaction, robotics and more.

Work is carried out in three main scientific research departments, each of which is organized into project teams:

  1. The Informatics department covers topics that range from the leading edge of modern mathematics to applied research: graph algorithms, bioinformatics, cryptography, networks, databases and information systems (data integration, data mining, coherency maintenance), software engineering (programming languages, objects, components, models), artificial intelligence (learning, constraints, knowledge representation, multi-agent systems) and human-machine interaction (natural language, visualization, Web semantics and e-learning).
  2. The Microelectronics department carries out cutting-edge research in the fields of designing and testing integrated systems and micro-systems, with a focus on architectural aspects, modelling and methodology.
  3. The Robotics department concentrates on issues related to synthesis, monitoring and management of complex dynamic systems (robots, robot/life interfaces), as well as navigation, localisation and steering of local and remote autonomous vehicles, and image analysis, coding and processing. The main research themes are the design of mechanical systems, the modeling, identification and control of robots, and perception. The department’s privileged field of application is health-related robotics applications (medical, handicaps), with activities that also include fields such as industry manufacturing and robotic exploration.

robotics at lirmmsource: LIRMM official website

let’s take stock of … the lower limb !

Hello everybody! Since the number of daily readers (and followers) of my blog is (surprisingly) increasing day after day (Thank you everybody!), I thought it could be useful to take stock of some important posts I wrote about the lower limb. Let’s start from the top -the hip- and go down to the bottom -the ankle-, with 9 posts that got many views and some funny comments 🙂

Obviously, since my PhD project is about a knee prosthesis, most of the posts (5 out of 9) are about the knee joint. But in general I tried to give an overall view of some interesting topics related to the biomechanics of the lower limb. Enjoy! 🙂

leg skeletal anatomythe Hip Joint: some hints

hammers, screws and Intramedullary nails

the Knee Bursae: some hints

the Meniscus: some hints

the Patella: some hints

Knee Alignment Conditions

Patellar Reflex

How many limbs do you actually perceive?

the Ankle Joint: some hints