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Bionics, Syncardia, 3D Printing, and Artificial Organs

IN BRIEF

Heart-related disorder treatment has undergone a renaissance in the last few decades. Scientists are now working on ways to create artificial hearts, including using robotics and 3D printing.

HEART SURGERY, NOW AND THEN

Currently, on the cutting edge of heart surgery is a small implant called the transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), one version of which is made of bovine pericardium (a tough membrane that surrounds the heart of a cow) encased in a collapsible metal stent. It is designed to clear impaired aortas by being inflated like a miniature expanding doughnut, after reaching it desired position using a previously inserted guide-wire.

While, in most countries, the most common procedure used to treat heart conditions like aortic stenosis (a narrowed valve) is open-heart surgery, the £20,000 (around $25,000) cost of TAVI means that only patients with severe complications that make surgery impossible are treated with the device. Remarkably, doctor’s are now even capable of implanting TAVI in unborn babies. The procedure was first performed on Angela and Jay VanDerwerken’s unborn baby girl at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2005 by Wayne Tworetzky, the director of fetal cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital. The fetus had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), which causes the left side to develop improperly — doctors have to create and retain a hole between the left and right ventricles in order to oxygenate the blood sufficiently. This improvement could reduce the rates of miscarriage and infant deaths.

Many think, however, that the future of treatment for heart-related conditions is the artificial heart, which scientists are trying to develop in three main ways:

First, a robotic heart could be created, which would contain tiny rotary motors suspended magnetically so as to assuage the damage caused by friction. And, while several companies are trying to develop them, most notable is Carmat which has been working with world-renowned heart surgeon Alain Carpentier. So far, no models have been tested in animals.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Second, this could be achieved by appropriating a heart. This process involves decellularizing (isolating the extracellular matrix by ridding the target of cells) a heart, modifying it to human specifications, and then encouraging human heart cells to grow around the skeleton heart. In a 2008 experiment overseen by Doris Taylor, now Director of the Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology at the Texas Heart Institute, scientists were successful in generating electrical electricity but no contraction or pumping motions.

Third, an artificial heart could be created by using 3D printing. This process works almost identically as the one above, but uses a heart printed with amenable materials.

DONORS AND ANTIDOTES

Due to the TAVI, the rate of heart complication survival is increasing, and surgery is becoming easier to overcome. Thomas Morris reported in The Guardian that, “Just minutes after being given a new heart valve, the patient raised an arm from under the drapes and shook the cardiologist’s hand warmly.” However, due to their high cost and the shortage of donors — the waiting list has doubled in the last 5 years in the U.K alone. Artificial hearts could eliminate the issue of a lack of donors, saving countless lives in the process.

Despite these incredible developments, the most cost-effective and life ensuring way to combat heart disease is to detect it early. Fortunately, major advances are being made in preventive heart treatments, including a silicon sleeve that can help your heart beat and an artificial intelligence (AI) that can predict heart attacks.

ARTIFICIAL ORGANS, LIVING WITHOUT A HEART

The Incredible Case of Stan Larkin

160603072131_1_900x600.JPG

 Living Without a Heart for Over a Year – Source: From a heart in a backpack to a heart transplant — ScienceDaily
Image Credit: University of Michigan Health System

Stan Larkin was the first patient in Michigan to ever be discharged with a SynCardia total artificial heart, back in 2014. He, long with his brother, was diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy, a condition that can kill instantly and without warning – a leading cause of death among athletes.

His brother received a transplant back in 2015, but Stan had to wait until just recently to receive his own transplant. In the mean time, he wore a backpack 24/7 for 555 days, containing an artificial heart that pumped his blood for him. The unit, which weighs about 6 kilos, is a revolutionary tool that is hoped to be able to help others with severe heart failure while they wait for a life saving transplant.

The total artificial heart is a temporary replacement used when both sides of a person’s heart fail, and the more conventional devices such as an implanted defibrillator won’t work. When Dr. Jonathan Haft first met the two brothers, they were extremely sick.

“They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units,” says Haft. “We wanted to get them heart transplants, but we didn’t think we had enough time. There’s just something about their unique anatomic situation where other technology wasn’t going to work.”

The incredible part of the story is that Stan not only was living without a heart for over a year, but led an almost normal life. He was able to play basketball with it on, something that astounded his doctors.

Haft, as associate professor of cardiac surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, is grateful that the two brothers have allowed this to become an opportunity for education, and that they’ve come together to share their story of how artificial support can help those with severe heart failure.

According to the American Heart Association, there are about 5.7 million Americans currently living with heart failure, with about 10% having an advanced stage.

“You’re heroes to all of us,” says David J. Pinsky, M.D., a director of the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center. “The fact that you take your story public and allow us to teach others makes a difference. You’ll make a difference for a lot of patients. You’ll make a difference to the doctors of the future. We thank you for allowing us to share your story and your bravery in sharing it.”

Stan Larkin lived without a human heart for more than a year. Instead, he carried an ‘artificial heart’ in a backpack for 550 days, which pumped his blood throughout his body and kept him alive.

A 25-year-old has just received a full heart transplant… but not before surviving for more than a year without a human heart inside his body.

Instead, Stan Larkin wore an ‘artificial heart’ in a backpack 24/7 for 555 days, which pumped blood around his body and kept him alive. The success of the procedure suggests that the device could be used to sustain other patients with total heart failure while they’re waiting for a donor.

Back in 2014, Stan became the first patient in Michigan to be discharged with the artificial heart device, which is known as a ‘Syncardia‘.

He and his brother Dominique had both been diagnosed as teenagers with familial cardiomyopathy, which is a genetic heart condition that can cause heart failure without any warning – it’s one of the leading causes of death in athletes.

After years on the donor waiting list, Stan – and eventually his younger brother Dominique – had their hearts removed and were fitted with the Syncardia device.

“They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units,” said the surgeon behind the transplant, Jonathan Haft, from the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Centre. “We wanted to get them heart transplants, but we didn’t think we had enough time. There’s just something about their unique anatomic situation where other technology wasn’t going to work.”

While other devices such as implantable defibrillators can help with partial heart failure, Syncardia is used when both sides of the heart fail.

Dominique only needed to use the technology for a few weeks before receiving a full heart transplant. But Stan had to wait more than a year, and instead of staying in hospital, he was fitted with the Freedom portable driver so he could go home in the meantime.

At the time, no one knew how much he’d be able to do with it. The portable device comes in the form of a 6-kg (13.5 pound) backpack that’s connected to the patient’s vascular system, to keep oxygenated blood pumping around the body.

WATCH: Artificial hearts make life possible without a pulse

It’s not the most versatile thing to have on you 24/7, and Stan reported not being able to hold his daughters or give them piggy back rides. But he did manage to continue playing basketball – a total surprise to his doctors.

“This wasn’t made for pick-up basketball,” said Haft. “Stan pushed the envelope with this technology … He really thrived on the device.”

Stan received his donor heart on 9 May 2016, and has now fully recovered from the procedure. He’s shared his story, which he calls an “emotional rollercoaster” with the press to raise awareness about the 5.7 million other Americans living with heart failure, and the need for heart donors.

“You’re heroes to all of us,” David J. Pinsky, director of the Frankel Cardiovascular Centre, said of Stan and Dominique. “The fact that you take your story public and allow us to teach others makes a difference. You’ll make a difference for a lot of patients. You’ll make a difference to the doctors of the future. We thank you for allowing us to share your story and your bravery in sharing it.”

The Future

Completely replacing a heart with an artificial one in a backpack is an incredible demonstration of the technologies that transhumanists are trying to push. We can be thankful to Stan Larkin and his brother for making their story public and allowing others to understand the truly transformative power that technology has when used as an augmentation of the human body.

Will this be the path forward? Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Should we provide a temporary, carry-around heart for all those with critical heart failure in order to live almost normal lives while waiting for a transplant?
  • Stan was living without a heart for over a year, how long could have this continued?
  • If in a similar situation, would you opt for an artificial heart you could carry around?
  • Would it perhaps be better to have a permanent artificial heart instead of a transplant?

This is certainly an interesting time to be alive. With this, and other technologies, humans may be just around the corner from extending their lives indefinitely.

ARTIFICIAL KIDNEYS IN PATENTS BY 2020

More than two years ago, scientists at Vanderbilt University told of their intention to build an artificial kidney that could be implanted into the bodies of those suffering renal failure. Now it seems like they could be getting somewhere, with new advances in nanotechnology potentially putting such a lifesaving system within our grasps.

It’s obvious why doctors don’t want to depend on transplantation: there is a worldwide donor organ shortage, and after that there are issues of blood type matching and rejection. People with kidney disease can go on to dialysis – a procedure that cleans the blood, usually performed by machine – but the prospects aren’t good. The survival rate after three years is only about 50 percent. And the quality of life for those undergoing this treatment is poor – imagine being hooked up to tubes and having your blood swished around like clothes in a washing machine, for hours, several times a week.

So clearly there is a need for an alternative, which is what Vanderbilt researchers, in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco, hope to ultimately achieve. A major part of the system they are developing is a nanofilter made of silicon that basically fishes out unwanted molecules from the blood, like waste products, excess water, and salt. This is the kidney’s main job, and also the role of dialysis machines, but progress in nanotechnology has led to better, more uniform pores that could mean more efficient filtering than the membranes across which molecules are exchanged in dialysis.

While we’ve used the word “nano” several times, this device is not exactly tiny; it’s about the size of a coffee cup, so probably not far off the size of an actual kidney. But there is no need to remove the kidneys to make room for it; the fake kidney is designed to be inserted nearby and hooked up to both the patient’s blood supply and bladder.

There’s still a lot to be done, but the group has just been given $6 million (£4 million) to play with, and said Tuesday at the American Society of Nephrology Kidney Week that human trials within this decade are on the agenda. But they’re not the only ones hoping to get this far. Other groups are working on 3D printed replacements, while some are opting for growing them using stem cells. One study has even managed to implant lab-grown kidneys into animals that could then pass urine, although they admit human studies are way off

Another promising solution is a recently trialed artificial kidney that’s kind of halfway between dialysis and this group’s design. It’s a wearable device that’s strapped around a patient’s waist, weighing a little over four kilograms (10 pounds). A diabetic man whose kidneys started failing two years ago has just become the first in the U.S. to have one strapped on, albeit a prototype that’s just proof-of-concept at the moment. Still, it seems there is progress being made, and the implantable artificial kidney project is set to be included in the FDA’s new fast-track program that will hopefully speed things along.

ARTIFICIAL ORGANS LIVING WITHOUT A HEART

The Incredible Case of Stan Larkin

160603072131_1_900x600.JPG

 Living Without a Heart for Over a Year – Source: From a heart in a backpack to a heart transplant — ScienceDaily
Image Credit: University of Michigan Health System

Stan Larkin was the first patient in Michigan to ever be discharged with a SynCardia total artificial heart, back in 2014. He, long with his brother, was diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy, a condition that can kill instantly and without warning – a leading cause of death among athletes.

His brother received a transplant back in 2015, but Stan had to wait until just recently to receive his own transplant. In the mean time, he wore a backpack 24/7 for 555 days, containing an artificial heart that pumped his blood for him. The unit, which weighs about 6 kilos, is a revolutionary tool that is hoped to be able to help others with severe heart failure while they wait for a life saving transplant.

The total artificial heart is a temporary replacement used when both sides of a person’s heart fail, and the more conventional devices such as an implanted defibrillator won’t work. When Dr. Jonathan Haft first met the two brothers, they were extremely sick.

“They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units,” says Haft. “We wanted to get them heart transplants, but we didn’t think we had enough time. There’s just something about their unique anatomic situation where other technology wasn’t going to work.”

The incredible part of the story is that Stan not only was living without a heart for over a year, but led an almost normal life. He was able to play basketball with it on, something that astounded his doctors.

Haft, as associate professor of cardiac surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, is grateful that the two brothers have allowed this to become an opportunity for education, and that they’ve come together to share their story of how artificial support can help those with severe heart failure.

According to the American Heart Association, there are about 5.7 million Americans currently living with heart failure, with about 10% having an advanced stage.

“You’re heroes to all of us,” says David J. Pinsky, M.D., a director of the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center. “The fact that you take your story public and allow us to teach others makes a difference. You’ll make a difference for a lot of patients. You’ll make a difference to the doctors of the future. We thank you for allowing us to share your story and your bravery in sharing it.”

Stan Larkin lived without a human heart for more than a year. Instead, he carried an ‘artificial heart’ in a backpack for 550 days, which pumped his blood throughout his body and kept him alive.

A 25-year-old has just received a full heart transplant… but not before surviving for more than a year without a human heart inside his body.

Instead, Stan Larkin wore an ‘artificial heart’ in a backpack 24/7 for 555 days, which pumped blood around his body and kept him alive. The success of the procedure suggests that the device could be used to sustain other patients with total heart failure while they’re waiting for a donor.

Back in 2014, Stan became the first patient in Michigan to be discharged with the artificial heart device, which is known as a ‘Syncardia‘.

He and his brother Dominique had both been diagnosed as teenagers with familial cardiomyopathy, which is a genetic heart condition that can cause heart failure without any warning – it’s one of the leading causes of death in athletes.

After years on the donor waiting list, Stan – and eventually his younger brother Dominique – had their hearts removed and were fitted with the Syncardia device.

“They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units,” said the surgeon behind the transplant, Jonathan Haft, from the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Centre. “We wanted to get them heart transplants, but we didn’t think we had enough time. There’s just something about their unique anatomic situation where other technology wasn’t going to work.”

While other devices such as implantable defibrillators can help with partial heart failure, Syncardia is used when both sides of the heart fail.

Dominique only needed to use the technology for a few weeks before receiving a full heart transplant. But Stan had to wait more than a year, and instead of staying in hospital, he was fitted with the Freedom portable driver so he could go home in the meantime.

At the time, no one knew how much he’d be able to do with it. The portable device comes in the form of a 6-kg (13.5 pound) backpack that’s connected to the patient’s vascular system, to keep oxygenated blood pumping around the body.

WATCH: Artificial hearts make life possible without a pulse

It’s not the most versatile thing to have on you 24/7, and Stan reported not being able to hold his daughters or give them piggy back rides. But he did manage to continue playing basketball – a total surprise to his doctors.

“This wasn’t made for pick-up basketball,” said Haft. “Stan pushed the envelope with this technology … He really thrived on the device.”

Stan received his donor heart on 9 May 2016, and has now fully recovered from the procedure. He’s shared his story, which he calls an “emotional rollercoaster” with the press to raise awareness about the 5.7 million other Americans living with heart failure, and the need for heart donors.

“You’re heroes to all of us,” David J. Pinsky, director of the Frankel Cardiovascular Centre, said of Stan and Dominique. “The fact that you take your story public and allow us to teach others makes a difference. You’ll make a difference for a lot of patients. You’ll make a difference to the doctors of the future. We thank you for allowing us to share your story and your bravery in sharing it.”

The Future

Completely replacing a heart with an artificial one in a backpack is an incredible demonstration of the technologies that transhumanists are trying to push. We can be thankful to Stan Larkin and his brother for making their story public and allowing others to understand the truly transformative power that technology has when used as an augmentation of the human body.

Will this be the path forward? Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Should we provide a temporary, carry-around heart for all those with critical heart failure in order to live almost normal lives while waiting for a transplant?
  • Stan was living without a heart for over a year, how long could have this continued?
  • If in a similar situation, would you opt for an artificial heart you could carry around?
  • Would it perhaps be better to have a permanent artificial heart instead of a transplant?

This is certainly an interesting time to be alive. With this, and other technologies, humans may be just around the corner from extending their lives indefinitely.

ARTIFICIAL PANCREAS

Scientists are reporting the development of an implantable “artificial pancreas” that continuously measures a person’s blood sugar, or glucose, level and can automatically release insulin as needed.
  • Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, affects about 1.25 million Americans. About 200,000 of them are under 20 years old. The condition arises when a person’s own immune system destroys the pancreas cells that make insulin, the hormone that converts blood sugar into energy. To make up for this loss of insulin production, patients must take insulin daily.
  • The researchers designed an algorithm that monitors blood sugar levels and computes an insulin dose that it delivers quickly and automatically when necessary. The algorithm is designed to work with implanted devices, specifically with an artificial pancreas, and would overcome the delays experienced with current devices.
  • Computer testing of the algorithm simulated the rise and fall of glucose that would correspond to meals and an overnight period of sleep. The artificial pancreas maintained blood glucose within the target range nearly 80 percent of the time. The researchers say they will soon test the device in animals.

 

Scientists are reporting the development of an implantable “artificial pancreas” that continuously measures a person’s blood sugar, or glucose, level and can automatically release insulin as needed.
  • Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, affects about 1.25 million Americans. About 200,000 of them are under 20 years old. The condition arises when a person’s own immune system destroys the pancreas cells that make insulin, the hormone that converts blood sugar into energy. To make up for this loss of insulin production, patients must take insulin daily.
  • The researchers designed an algorithm that monitors blood sugar levels and computes an insulin dose that it delivers quickly and automatically when necessary. The algorithm is designed to work with implanted devices, specifically with an artificial pancreas, and would overcome the delays experienced with current devices.
  • Computer testing of the algorithm simulated the rise and fall of glucose that would correspond to meals and an overnight period of sleep. The artificial pancreas maintained blood glucose within the target range nearly 80 percent of the time. The researchers say they will soon test the device in animals.

ARTIFICIAL KIDNEYS BY 2020

More than two years ago, scientists at Vanderbilt University told of their intention to build an artificial kidney that could be implanted into the bodies of those suffering renal failure. Now it seems like they could be getting somewhere, with new advances in nanotechnology potentially putting such a lifesaving system within our grasps.

It’s obvious why doctors don’t want to depend on transplantation: there is a worldwide donor organ shortage, and after that there are issues of blood type matching and rejection. People with kidney disease can go on to dialysis – a procedure that cleans the blood, usually performed by machine – but the prospects aren’t good. The survival rate after three years is only about 50 percent. And the quality of life for those undergoing this treatment is poor – imagine being hooked up to tubes and having your blood swished around like clothes in a washing machine, for hours, several times a week.

So clearly there is a need for an alternative, which is what Vanderbilt researchers, in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco, hope to ultimately achieve. A major part of the system they are developing is a nanofilter made of silicon that basically fishes out unwanted molecules from the blood, like waste products, excess water, and salt. This is the kidney’s main job, and also the role of dialysis machines, but progress in nanotechnology has led to better, more uniform pores that could mean more efficient filtering than the membranes across which molecules are exchanged in dialysis.

While we’ve used the word “nano” several times, this device is not exactly tiny; it’s about the size of a coffee cup, so probably not far off the size of an actual kidney. But there is no need to remove the kidneys to make room for it; the fake kidney is designed to be inserted nearby and hooked up to both the patient’s blood supply and bladder.

There’s still a lot to be done, but the group has just been given $6 million (£4 million) to play with, and said Tuesday at the American Society of Nephrology Kidney Week that human trials within this decade are on the agenda. But they’re not the only ones hoping to get this far. Other groups are working on 3D printed replacements, while some are opting for growing them using stem cells. One study has even managed to implant lab-grown kidneys into animals that could then pass urine, although they admit human studies are way off

Another promising solution is a recently trialed artificial kidney that’s kind of halfway between dialysis and this group’s design. It’s a wearable device that’s strapped around a patient’s waist, weighing a little over four kilograms (10 pounds). A diabetic man whose kidneys started failing two years ago has just become the first in the U.S. to have one strapped on, albeit a prototype that’s just proof-of-concept at the moment. Still, it seems there is progress being made, and the implantable artificial kidney project is set to be included in the FDA’s new fast-track program that will hopefully speed things along.

 

SYNCARDIA

Artificial Heart recipient, Stan Larkin lived without a heart in his chest for 17 months. Stan’s failing eart was completely removed in December 2014. It was replaced with an external artificial heart called a Syncardia. The machine was carried in a backpack and used compressed air to cause blood flow. He carried Syncardia with him until his heart transplant surgery in May 20 2016. Today, stan is expected to make a full recovery and live a normal life.

As I mentioned, we see plenty of examples of cyborgss with super strength and toughness, but there’s lots of other modifications we could make that might be handier. No pun intended, but one example would be steadier hands. If you have a neurological condition, you may never be a surgewon. IUts also be nice to type as fast as we thought and never miss a key or going back to the sensory angle, to have fingers more sensitive to touch and texture. We have options here underexplored, lungs that filter out toxins, get oxygen better, so you could breath easily in low pressure without long adaptation periods or needing drugs to help with altituyde sickness, maybe one that can filter oxygen right out of water, like gills, or even electrolize it right out of water. Maybe ones that could seal up youyr throat if you got exposed to vacuum and started swallowing carb on dioxide so you can use it as oxygen. Maybe alterations that let you eat a rtock and process it into everything you need. It kind of helps with concerns about food supplies and farm space if little factories in your body can process dirt without using plants as the middleman. Back to medical applications, what about little bands near major arteries that can clamp down as turniquets if you suffered an injury causing massive blood loss. Now you cant tie a tourniquet around your neck if your head gets chopped off, but what if you can, if a terrorist chops your head off, you have a backup bluetooth connection kicks in to recieve and send signals from your body while your arteries and veins constrict to stop bloodloss and a small backup lung in your sinus cavity turns on and supplies oxygen and keeps the blood flowing and oxygenated in your head for a while. There are things that can do most for muslce or bone’s’ job better or lighter while taking up less space. So instead of packing in enough syntehtic muscle to let you lift a car, or giving yourself the wolverine adamantium laced bones, maybe you replace them to keep to human norms of strength only, or a little better, then use that space and energy for other things. Maybe synthetic skin that feels just like the original. And in both senses of that, lets you have that heightened sense of touch too. Maybe its very injury resistant, maybe it can suck air in through your pores to help you breath or help with cooling. A lot o these components might build up phenomenal heat when in use after all. Take a lot of energy to run probably too. But maybe you dont need batteries and can derive it from your food. Or maybe that synthetic skin can be photovoltaic too. Though for modesty’s sake, solar panels built into your clothes might be better. You can take things like that pretty far too, especially if you have dense enough power storage or generation to run big things. Modifications let you waljk around without a suit on an airless moon, or swim around in ultracool liquid nitrogen, all the while looking and feeling otherwise human, all probably feesible. Lots of internal backup system for extreme conditions probably are too. Not a mechanical heart to replace the normal one, but a bunch of small pumps distributred through you to provide assistance and backup for pumping blood. Not bones made of titanium so you can get hit by a car, but hollow ones made of titanium that inside tem included the necessary mechanisms to fabricate bone marrow to make red blood cells and the rest of that place is data storage, or backup, or supplementary kidneys or livers. Perhaps some compressed oxygen you can use if you cant breath, or a backup brain to distruibute your thinking outside your head.

And with better health comes with long life. More time for these things to come about. I wouldn’t think feelings of invinciility would be too bad. After all, there’sd be plenty of other folks who were like you, but there’d certainly be a lot of confidence knowing that even if you had a heart attack by yourself, the paramedics would be there in minutes. Itd be even higher if knew you had several redundant pumps that could take over, even if everybody else is just as suiped up as you are, there’s a lot to be said about being dropped off a tall building and not shatter every bone in your body when you landed. Or not only being able to lose your keys. but remeber where you left the book you read 10 years ago, and more over remember every page read so it doesnt matter where you started.

 

 

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