Monday, November 16, 2009

Call 1-800-New-Organ, by 2020?

[Linda MacDonald Glenn is guest blogging this month]

Growing a set of new teeth, or new kidneys, or new eyes, or whatever it is you need, is something we could do as soon as 2020, according to a report that was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services a few years ago. In a follow-up to George's previous post, I'll be following and reporting on issues in regenerative medicine, with a focus on nano-scale materials and technology. The NIH uses the term 'regenerative medicine' interchangeably with 'tissue engineering' and defines it as "a rapidly growing multidisciplinary field involving the life, physical and engineering sciences that seeks to develop functional cell, tissue, and organ substitutes to repair, replace or enhance biological function that has been lost due to congenital abnormalities, injury, disease, or aging.” And researchers are doing amazing things: Gizmodo has posted videos from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, about how lab grown tissues are benefiting patients now.

Regenerative nanomedicine will, understandably, likely be embraced for all the promise it holds -- but there have been concerns expressed about the ethical, legal, and social implications, particularity the nano part. Nanotechnology has the potential to have the greatest impact in three areas: energy, medicine, and environmental remediation. Of these three areas, nanotechnology in medicine is the most likely to be accepted by the public, starting with therapeutic treatments and then moving over to enhancements. But it does raise some interesting questions, such as can nanomedicine be considered separate and apart other nanotechnologies? And what does 'nanotechnology' encompass anyway? Pinning down a usable definition of nanotechnology has been harder than anticipated.

For a quick peek into some of the issues, you can check out the series of YouTube videos my colleague and I did at the Human Enhancement Conference in Kalamazoo earlier this year, which I'm hoping to post on Vimeo shortly. I'm also following Gizmodo's feature This Cyborg Life and am intrigued by the question, what is the enhancement that you would like to have the most? (and keep it decent, folks, comments are moderated here!) For the readers of Sentient Developments, I'll tell you mine, if you tell me yours....

You can check out Linda's original blog at the Women's Bioethics Blogspot.

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