Stem cell research is a double edged sword. On one hand, the potential benefits to science, humanity and health are immense, and on the other hand it can be plagued with ethical and moral dilemmas involving life, cells, tissue and some may say – playing God.
Scientists in Britain are developing a technique to cultivate live tissue from the stem cells in dead embryos. This tends to escape any moral dilemma as the cells are no longer dividing and are considered dead. Dead tissue, brought to life. Nothing wrong there! I don’t have to explain much to illustrate where this is going.
Setting aside all ethical and moral dilemmas about cultivating and developing stem cells and where they are harvested, stem cell research will progress and it will yield strange new results to us. There are certain things that should be brought up when considering a futurist look at stem cells. Specifically, tissue regeneration and reanimation. It is not so far fetched to consider – stem cells bear the unique property of being able to form into any cell the body needs, liver, heart, arm, brain. Perhaps in twenty to fifty years, we will have reached the point where stem cell therapy will allow quadriplegics to walk and the dismembered to grow new limbs. This is fantastic. And terrifying.
From the Max Planck Institutes:
“the possibility of regenerating the complex structures of entire organs, such as the kidneys for example, is already conceivable, although a comprehensive understanding of the organogenesis is necessary”.
Activating stem cells to produce or grow new tissue, organs and limbs is a scary and unknown frontier for biotechnology, especially since technicians are reanimating them to begin with. Certain questions are brought to mind:
- How will developing tissues be controlled?
- Is there a limit on what will be grown or developed?
- How large a tissue sample can be reanimated?
- Will reanimated tissue samples take on the characteristics of HeLa cells?
- Can stem cells grow in a dormant host?
- Will stem cells be beneficial in reanimating dead brains?
Even our scientists and government are in on the action. DARPA has a $7.6 million grant to focus on tissue and limb regeneration. Hydra Biosciences is working on a drug to target regeneration of the heart – without using stem cells.
Naturally, this is all speculation from a futurist, but things that must be considered. Reanimation research is shaky ground, though progress is being made. While British scientist sort out the problematic origins of stem cell cloning, scientists in Germany are truthfully working on reanimation research – and are having success restoring dead brain functions.
Reanimation research at the Max Planck Institutes focuses on restoring functionality to a dying brain after cardiac arrest and reanimating the neural processes. The brain poses a certain problem in reanimating an entire organism, as all other organs and life are tied to the functioning of the brain. Nerve clusters and neurological activities have been restored after an hour of death, but complete reanimation fails as the brain is overwhelmingly affected by cardiac arrest.
Reanimating the 1918 flu pandemic virus seems rather precarious – especially since no one has an immunity anymore. The virus could mutate, react violently with current medicines and turn into a resistant super strain, or perhaps just be itself and kill us all like it used to.
Not to sound like the bearer of bad news, but left unchecked, research into reanimating tissue, organisms and organs could have disastrous consequences. When radiation was first discovered, it killed its finders.