Medicine and remedies have been around for centuries. As technology and education as advanced, Medicine, too, has advanced to help extend the average person’s life expectancy and to prevent terrible illnesses. With newer technology, basic medicine has also become affordable in 3rd world countries, which is helping keep many people alive – who 5 years earlier wouldn’t have survived. Modernized medicine is on the cutting edge of science and science-fiction and reality seems to be blurred with several of the procedures that have now been tested.
Human Head Transplant
Sergio Canavero had his own Dr. Strange moment when he announced he’d be able to do a human head transplant in a two-part procedure he dubs HEAVEN (head anastomosis venture) and Gemini (the subsequent spinal cord fusion). Valery Spiridonov, a 31-year-old Russian program manager in the software development field, soon emerged from the internet ether to volunteer his noggin. He suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a muscle-wasting disorder, and is desperate. But many dismiss Canavero’s plans as fantasy. Those judging Canavero generally assign him to one of two categories: either an outlandish Dr. Frankenstein seeking fame without regard for risk or an innovator willing to try what others consider impossible. Meanwhile, Canavero claims his detractors publicly denounce him but then approach him to learn more. And in a world of heart, lung, kidney, uterus and hand transplants, he wonders why we can’t yet transplant the human head. After all, back in 1970 American neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White conducted the first successful transplant of a head to another body when he operated on a rhesus monkey. Modern spinal cord fusion technology had not yet been developed, and the monkey lived only a few healthy days. But in 1999, White predicted that what “has always been the stuff of science fiction—the Frankenstein legend—will become a clinical reality early in the 21st century.”
Canavero has a plan, delineated in a June 2013 paper in the peer-reviewed journal Surgical Neurology International and presented in 2015 as the keynote address of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons’s 39th annual conference. It’s a 36-hour, $20 million procedure involving at least 150 people, including doctors, nurses, technicians, psychologists and virtual reality engineers.In a specially equipped hospital suite, two surgical teams will work simultaneously—one focused on Spiridonov and the other on the donor’s body, selected from a brain-dead patient and matched with the Russian for height, build and immunotype. Both patients—anesthetized and outfitted with breathing tubes—will have their heads locked using metal pins and clamps, and electrodes will be attached to their bodies to monitor brain and heart activity. Next, Spiridonov’s head will be nearly frozen, ultimately reaching 12 to 15 degrees Celsius, which will make him temporarily brain-dead.Doctors will then drain his brain of blood and flush it with a standard surgery solution. A vascular surgeon will loop sleeve-like tubes made of Silastic (a silicone-plastic combination) around the carotid arteries and jugular veins; these tubes will be tightened to stop blood flow and later loosened to allow circulation when the head and new body are connected. Then the two teams, working in concert, will make deep incisions around each patient’s neck and use color-coded markings to note all the muscles in both Spiridonov’s head and that of the donor, to facilitate the reconnection.
Regeneration of cells and reviving dead brains
Regeneration and repair are widespread phenomena in the biological kingdom, but the capacity varies among species.
Both amphibians and invertebrates can replace lost or damaged organs and tissues that are identical in structure and function to the original, regenerating a wide variety of tissues including spinal cords, limbs, hearts, eyes, and even parts of their brains.
In a similar fashion, many of these species possess fascinating skills for repairing and reversing cellular and genetic damage. Cancer, as an example, is found to be extremely rare in tissues of species displaying an efficient regenerative mechanism, even under the action of carcinogens. In many cases, when cancer does occur, tumors have been found to spontaneously remodel and integrate into their surroundings as normal, healthy tissue. Unfortunately for humans, the situation is very different. In most instances, the structure or function of an organ will not be restored after tissue damage, and is often replaced by scarring. Additionally, while humans do possess robust DNA repair mechanisms, these capabilities are diminished substantially over time as we age.
Extensive study into the regeneration and repair mechanisms of non-human species have found them to be intricately connected to an underlying capability of complex tissue reprogramming and remodeling. These capabilities represent a biological regulatory state reset, whereby damage is erased in cells, followed by their redirection into a developmental program, where they become reintegrated with their micro-environment cellular neighbors, and reorganized via a community effect along tissue, organ and positional specificity. While many of these species possess these reprogramming and remodeling capabilities throughout their lifetimes, the last and only time at which humans experience such potential is during the brief period following fertilization when egg and sperm first come together. And then it is gone. Bioquark’s mission is to bring these capabilities back for therapeutic application in humans.
Artificial Heart that could Last Forever
The human heart beats 60 to 100 times a minute, more than 86,000 times a day, 35 million times a year. A single beat pushes about 6 tablespoons of blood through the body. An organ that works that hard is bound to fail, says Dr. Billy Cohn, a heart surgeon at the Texas Heart Institute. And he’s right. Heart failure is the leading cause of death in men and women, killing more than 600,000 Americans every year. For a lucky few, a heart transplant will add an average of 10 years to their lives. For others, technology that assists a failing heart – called “bridge-to-transplant” devices – will keep them alive as they wait for a donor heart. Unfortunately, more often than not, the new heart doesn’t arrive in time.
That’s why Cohn and his mentor – veteran heart surgeon Dr. O.H “Bud” Frazier – are working to develop a long-term, artificial replacement for the failing human heart. Unlike existing short-term devices that emulate the beating organ, the new machine would propel blood through the body at a steady pace so that its recipients will have no heartbeat at all.The concept of a pulseless heart is difficult to fathom. Cohn often compares it to the development of the airplane propeller. When people started to develop flying machines, he says, they first tried to emulate the way birds fly – by flapping the wings aggressively.”It wasn’t until they decided, ‘We can’t do this the way Mother Nature did,’ and came up with the rapidly spinning propeller that the Wright Brothers were able to fly,” Cohn says.
The veteran surgeon, inventor and researcher has devoted the last half century to developing technologies to fix or replace the human heart, the most notable of which is the newest generation of continuous flow Left Ventricular Assist Devices, known as LVADs. Modeled after an Archimedes Screw, a machine that raises water to fill irrigation ditches, the continuous flow LVAD is a pump that helps failing hearts push additional blood through the body with a rapidly spinning impeller. Today, the continuous flow LVAD has been implanted in 20,000 people worldwide, including former Vice President Dick Cheney before he received a heart transplant nearly two years later. In some cases, the LVAD’s turbine has essentially taken over the pumping process entirely from the biological heart. In these instances, the implant recipient barely has any pulse at all.
Observing what happened in these patients led Frazier to one compelling question: If the LVAD can take over for a weakened heart, could it replace the organ entirely?
Stem Cells to Help Reverse the Effects of Strokes
Injecting modified, human, adult stem cells directly into the brains of chronic stroke patients proved not only safe but effective in restoring motor function, according to the findings of a small clinical trial led by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators. The patients, all of whom had suffered their first and only stroke between six months and three years before receiving the injections, remained conscious under light anesthesia.Throughout the procedure, which involved drilling a small hole through their skulls. The next day they all went home. Although more than three-quarters of them suffered from transient headaches afterward — probably due to the surgical procedure and the physical constraints employed to ensure its precision — there were no side effects attributable to the stem cells themselves, and no life-threatening adverse effects linked to the procedure used to administer them, according to a paper, published online June 2 in Stroke, that details the trial’s results.
Sonia Olea Coontz, of Long Beach, California, was one of those patients. Now 36, Coontz had a stroke in May 2011. She enrolled in the Stanford trial after finding out about it during an online search.“My right arm wasn’t working at all,” said Coontz. “It felt like it was almost dead. My right leg worked, but not well.” She walked with a noticeable limp. “I used a wheelchair a lot. Not anymore, though. After my surgery, they woke up,” she said of her limbs.The promising results set the stage for an expanded trial of the procedure now getting underway. They also call for new thinking regarding the permanence of brain damage, said Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, professor and chair of neurosurgery. Steinberg, who has more than 15 years’ worth of experience in work with stem cell therapies for neurological indications, is the paper’s lead and senior author.
Implants to Cure Paralysis
EPFL scientists have managed to get rats walking on their own again using a combination of electrical and chemical stimulation. But applying this method to humans would require multifunctional implants that could be installed for long periods of time on the spinal cord without causing any tissue damage. This is precisely what the teams of professors Stéphanie Lacour and Grégoire Courtine have developed. Their e-Dura implant is designed specifically for implantation on the surface of the brain or spinal cord. The small device closely imitates the mechanical properties of living tissue, and can simultaneously deliver electric impulses and pharmacological substances. The risks of rejection and/or damage to the spinal cord have been drastically reduced.
Flexible and stretchy, the implant developed at EPFL is placed beneath the dura mater, directly onto the spinal cord. Its elasticity and its potential for deformation are almost identical to the living tissue surrounding it. This reduces friction and inflammation to a minimum. When implanted into rats, the e-Dura prototype caused neither damage nor rejection, even after two months. More rigid traditional implants would have caused significant nerve tissue damage during this period of time. The researchers tested the device prototype by applying their rehabilitation protocol — which combines electrical and chemical stimulation – to paralyzed rats. Not only did the implant prove its biocompatibility, but it also did its job perfectly, allowing the rats to regain the ability to walk on their own again after a few weeks of training.
“Our e-Dura implant can remain for a long period of time on the spinal cord or the cortex, precisely because it has the same mechanical properties as the dura mater itself. This opens up new therapeutic possibilities for patients suffering from neurological trauma or disorders, particularly individuals who have become paralyzed following spinal cord injury,” explains Lacour, co-author of the paper, and holder of EPFL’s Bertarelli Chair in Neuroprosthetic Technology.
Detecting Cancer with One Drop of Blood
Conventional means of finding cancer can involve numerous types of scans and invasive options like surgical biopsies, but a new method of identifying the disease may involve nothing more onerous than a simple prick of a finger.
Researchers at the Umeå University in Sweden have developed a new RNA test of blood platelets that can detect, classify and pinpoint the location of cancer in the body by analysing a blood sample equivalent in size to just a single drop of blood.
“Being able to detect cancer at an early stage is vital,” said Jonas Nilsson, cancer researcher at Umeå University and co-author of the paper. “We have studied how a whole new blood-based method of biopsy can be used to detect cancer, which in the future renders an invasive cell tissue sample unnecessary in diagnosing lung cancer, for instance.” While the technique isn’t 100 percent perfect yet, it’s definitely showing promise. The researchers’ blood-based RNA testing method enabled them to identify cancer with 96 percent accuracy – a pretty stunning achievement for such a comparatively non-invasive ‘liquid biopsy’. To test their system, the researchers took blood samples from 283 individuals. Amongst this group, 228 people had some form of cancer, while the remainder (55 people) showed no evidence of cancer. By analysing and comparing RNA profiles in the blood samples, the researchers were able to identify cancer among the patients with varying levels of success. In 39 patients where cancer had been detected early, they were able to identify and classify the cancer with 100 percent accuracy. In follow-up tests the system wasn’t equally effective but still yielded impressive results. The researchers identified the origin of tumours with an “unsurpassed” 71 percent accuracy in patients with diagnosed cancer in the lung, breast, pancreas, brain, liver, colon and rectum. The authors of the study aren’t suggesting that this kind of ‘liquid biopsy’ method should replace other cancer detection systems, but it’s clear that if the technique can be refined it could hold huge promise for physicians and patients, especially with regard to enabling simpler means of catching the disease at its outset. “In the study, nearly all forms of cancer were identified,” said Nilsson, “which proves that blood-based biopsies have an immense potential to improve early detection of cancer.”
Locating Genes to “Shut Down” HIV-1 Virus
An international group of researchers has identified genes that disable HIV-1, suggesting a promising new strategy for battling the virus that causes AIDS. In their two studies, the scientists found that host cell membrane proteins called SERINC5 and SERINC3 greatly reduce the virulence of HIV-1 by blocking the ability of the virus to infect new cells. HIV-1 Nef, a protein important for the development of AIDS, counteracts the SERINCs. New drugs that target Nef would permit the SERINC proteins to inactivate the virus. “It’s amazing, the magnitude of the effect that these proteins have on infectivity. The SERINC proteins reduce the infectivity of HIV-1 virions by more than 100-fold,” said Prof. Jeremy Luban from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “The ability of HIV to inhibit these SERINC proteins has a profound impact on its capacity to infect other cells,” said Prof. Heinrich Gottlinger, also from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “Disrupting this mechanism could be a very powerful strategy for treating HIV and similar viruses that express the Nef protein.” The two studies used completely different, yet complementary, methodologies to unravel the complex interaction between the HIV-1 protein Nef and the cell surface membrane proteins SERINC5 and SERINC3, both of which are expressed in the immune system’s T cells.
Killing Cancer from the Inside-Out
A cure for cancer has been called the last frontier of medicine. President Obama recently called for a “moonshot” to find safe and effective ways of eliminating cancer cells from our bodies. Words such as “frontier” and “moonshot” are the language of distance. But for Dr. Steven Rosenberg of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., the cure is very near—inside our own bodies, in fact. Rosenberg is one of the leading developers of immunotherapy as a cancer-fighting tool. Instead of trying to bring such external forces as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to bear on a tumor, immunotherapy harnesses the body’s own abilities to attack cancer cells. It’s been 40 years since Rosenberg created Interleukin-2, the world’s first effective immunotherapy technique. In that time, immunotherapy has gone from being an obscure possibility to the foundation of a national cancer strategy that includes multimillion-dollar grants to universities, massive investment by pharmaceutical companies, and billions raised in initial public offerings. All that progress doesn’t mean we have a cure. Immunotherapy has been our most promising weapon to battle cancer, but it still does far better with cancers of the blood than with the more common solid tumors. “Until we can apply effective treatments to all innocent people who develop cancer,” Rosenberg said, “there’s plenty of work to be done.”
Living Without Breathing?
Scientists have created an oxygen particle that lets you live – without even breathing. In a 2012 study, scientists injected micro-particles filled with oxygen into rabbits’ bloodstreams. The particles were lipid-based and encapsulated a small amount of pure oxygen gas. The rabbits, whose windpipes were blocked, lived up to 15 minutes. The particles, the site explains, are suspended in the liquid mixture and can’t form larger bubbles – which could possibly kill someone if they reach the heart or the brain. The particles are also extremely small – on average ranging between 2 and 4 micrometers in diameter, it adds. Once injected, they come into contact with red blood cells – and oxygen transfers extremely quickly. Once the micro-particles meet blood, 70% of oxygen transfers in just 4 seconds. The micro-particles are also easy and cheap to make, according to John Kheir, a cardiologist who led the study. They can ‘self-assemble’ when lipids are exposed to sound waves in an oxygen environment. Kheir also said the technique could possibly be altered to keep subjects alive for 30 minutes. However, there are limits to the program. Fresh particles would need to be continually infused, and the body has limits to how much extra fluid can be pumped.”It’s not going to replace the lungs, it just replaces their function for a limited period of time,” Kheir said.