Christian Long

Anthony Atala: Growing New Organs

In TED Talks on April 9, 2010 at 11:03 am

Reflection by JACKSON H.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Anthony Atala:  Growing New Organs

Every now and then, you stumble upon something that just makes you step back and say “…Wow.”

Anthony Atala’s Ted Med talk on growing organs certainly falls into that category.

Atala flawlessly demonstrates the newest wave of life extension: synthetic organs that function as well as the real thing. This in itself is astounding. Patients with organ failure will be able to be treated without the risk of a transplant reject, as the organs are grown from cells taken from their own bodies. In addition, the scarcity of donated organs becomes an irrelevancy. Lab-grown organs can be easily (or so he makes it appear) grown in 4 to 6 weeks, making a transplant (at least, one that was foreseen) more feasible.

The point that really caught my eye, however, was when Atala remarked how doctors determined the proper size of the organ, so that they could grow it to the proper dimensions. “When we did the first clinical trial for these patients,” he says, “we actually created the scaffold specifically for each patient. We brought patients in, six to eight weeks prior to their scheduled surgery, did x-rays, and we then composed a scaffold specifically for that patient’s size pelvic cavity.”

This is all well and good, and to me seemed to be the best way to go about the problem. His next remark, however, astounded me.

“For the second phase of the trials we just had different sizes, small, medium, large and extra-large. It’s true. And I’m sure everyone here wanted an extra-large. Right?”

Applying the designations of “small, medium, etc.” to organs turns them into something completely different in the mind’s eye. Organs, now, could be similar to clothes. I might be able to walk into a clinic, and ask for blue eyes. And in 4 to 6 weeks, plus the cost of surgery and the process itself, I could get them. Perhaps I decided that I wanted to play football, never mind that I’ve never trained to do such a high-intensity sport such as football. I could order a beefier set of muscles. If a child is struggling in school, maybe brain upgrades could be possible, perhaps even to the extent at which learning disabilities could be treated by reconstructing a healthy brain and reverse-engineering to fit the patient.

If this is possible, there would be a huge boom in advertisements of organs, possibly even “designer” organs. Why buy plain when you can have your very own top-of-the-line bladder with “American Eagle” etched into it?

Atala’s advances open the floodgates for human enhancement and improvement. With the ability to regenerate organs, with no fear of a rejected transplant, human life could be prolonged for a very long time, possibly extending life beyond anything seen before. This discovery obviously has amazing potential, and is evidently one of the biggest medical discoveries in recent years.

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  1. Bah… typo that I missed while writing this. 2nd paragraph, 3rd sentence –

    Patients with organ failure **will** be able to be treated without the risk of a transplant reject, as the organs are grown from cells taken from their own bodies.

    ***

    Typo fixed, Jackson. Thanks. — Mr. Long

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