Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Wizard Did It: Growing Body Parts.

Losing body parts can be one of the most traumatic experiences in a person's life. Even with skin and organ transplants, there's a chance of rejection. Alcohol killing brain cells isn't cool, either. Also...oh, hell, you came here for the freakish science. I may as well cut the lead-in and show you what you came here to see: A mouse with an ear on its back.

This mouse is one of many comprising its appearance to give humans missing bits and pieces. It's hairless and has its immune system compromised such that it will not reject foreign tissue. Although the masters behind the mouse claims that it will live a normal mousey life, given the reduced immunity, we highly doubt that. It will, however, have popularity among evangelists as a harbinger for the end of the world.

The ear and several other body parts can be grown on biodegradable scaffolding. This is harder than it sounds; specific chemical signals are required to make cells grow. There are no stem cells required; instead, all the bits are harvested from cadavers, which may be better or worse. Once they are re-started, however, everything from ears to arteries can be effectively grown in a bioreactor. Or on a hairless mouse. 

The names to know for this form of tissue engineering are Boston's Bob Langer and Joseph Vacanti, now widely hailed as the fathers of growing tissues in the lab. (There is also a Chinese scientist questionably copying them.) Other scientists refined the processes, creating fancy things like bioreactors that simulate the body even better than a petri dish. There are even ways to make body bits grow in 3-D environments thanks to NASA. Oh, and despite harvesting corpses, the Vatican says this process is OK.


We just hope that cutting off body parts or some such does not become a sick fashion trend. Amputee fetishes are bad enough; now that parts can potentially be regrown, who knows what people will be trying out as edgy trends next?

Catgirls are always an option. No exceptions.

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