Discovering Health and Technology in the Human Body
Why invent technology from scratch, when the body contains substances that point the way to high tech, and can heal almost like magic? Several articles show that harnessing the body’s own resources is the wave of the future.
Umbilical cords were usually tossed into the maternity ward biowaste can, but now they are sources of treasure. PhysOrg said that gynecologists are now asking new mothers, “After your baby is born, are you willing to donate the umbilical cord to save someone’s life?” Stem cells from umbilical cords are now collected and saved. “The cells became part of a rapidly growing national bank of cord blood stem cells waiting to treat patients with leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, aplastic anemia, sickle cell and other diseases.”
National Geographic reported on the finding that bile acids can form superior fillings for tooth cavities (see 05/28/2009, bullet 2). These natural ingredients are non-toxic and work well in preliminary tests.
Another field of cutting-edge engineering is biomimetics: the imitation of nature. Science Daily reported on a new radio chip that mimics the human ear. Scientists at MIT intentionally modeled their radio-frequency (RF) device after the cochlea. “The cochlea quickly gets the big picture of what’s going on in the sound spectrum,” said Rahul Sarpeshkar, an associate professor of electrical engineering. “The more I started to look at the ear, the more I realized it’s like a super radio with 3,500 parallel channels.” Their “RF cochlea” may soon be part of the next generation of cell phones and other wireless devices. New Scientist covered this on June 13.
In another MIT biomimetics story from PhysOrg, another engineering group is building heat sinks in nanodevices the way cells do – with hierarchical branching networks of carbon nanotubes that resemble a cellular cytoskeleton. “The template for this thermal material’s design is a living cell, specifically, the hierarchical protein networks that allow a cell’s nucleus to communicate with the cell’s outermost regions.” This method untangles the spaghetti of current technologies and dissipates heat far more effectively.
Science reported on advances with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).1 Results hailed as “fantastic” are leading to miracle cures for difficult diseases like Fanconi anemia, Constance Holden reported for Science Now. By reprogramming somatic cells, scientists can now create “embryonic-like” stem cells without the ethical concerns.
Nature’s Editorial in the June 4 issue called for clarity on the Obama stem cell policy, particularly in regard to sources other than discarded embryos from fertility clinics. These could include unfertilized egg cells and human cloning experiments. Although Nature did not call for free rein with these sources, the Editors said the draft guidelines should be revisited before long.
The scientific journals should not just assume their constituents agree with liberalized stem cell policies. Science (June 5) published one letter from a researcher in Colorado who did not appreciate the assumption. Constance Holden had written March 13 that “Scientists are breathing a huge sigh of relief” at President Obama’s relaxation of restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. Susan Boackle wrote to protest: “She should have recognized that not all scientists support embryonic stem cell research and not all are relieved at President Obama’s recent action.”
Speaking of health, how about mental health? Psychologists at the University of Rochester once again proved the obvious. Live Science announced once again, “Happiness has nothing to do with wealth.” Trying to achieve the American dream only produces anxiety, and a sense of being a pawn in someone else’s game – a feeling of being on a treadmill, missing out on what really matters. A survey of recent graduates found that the factor that provided the most happiness to them was having the right kind of goals.
The iPS stem-cell revolution appears to have all the potential of great historical advances with wonder drugs and antibiotics. The research described above owes nothing to Darwin. The Darwinian angle is using human embryos like chattel, like bits and pieces of biological stuff without intrinsic worth, just playthings for researchers. The successful research advances capitalize on existing design that scientists are discovering was there all along. It’s ID science, intelligently pursued, with morality – the honest application of the commandment to love one another.