September 30, 2013
Our Bodies, Made Of Plastic
Of all the technologies growing by leaps and bounds, it is the medical field that has shown some of the most amazing breakthroughs in the past few years. Robotic limbs, a potential cure for HIV, and so much more have come out recently that it is strange to think that all of this seemed so implausible only a few short years ago. We have gained a whole new understanding of the human body, how it works, and most importantly, how to repair it and even make it work better. We are becoming trans-human in many ways, beyond human. Or, more accurately, we are changing what it means to be human. Through the miracles of modern medicine, we are able to restore what has been lost or damaged by injury, illness, or defect of birth, or, if we cannot, then we can replace it.
Recently, surgeons in Switzerland were able to help save a man with tracheal cancer by replacing his trachea with an artificial one made entirely of plastic, the same sort of plastic used to make soda bottles, interestingly enough. Such artificial replacements are nothing new, but replacing a trachea is. The trachea, or windpipe, is not an easy thing to replace, but tracheal cancer, such as that caused by excessive smoking, is all too common. The greatest problem with such artificial replacements is that the body tends to try and reject them, recognizing them as something foreign and thus not accepting the replacement as a part of the whole of the patient’s body. Fortunately, these surgeons have come up with a way to greatly reduce the chances of rejection, by coating the plastic trachea with stem cells taken from the patient’s bone marrow. The body then detects the stem cells and accepts the artificial organ.
Christopher Lyons from Baltimore was the second person in the world, and the first American, to have this type of replacement surgery performed. He had been diagnosed with inoperable tracheal cancer, and without doing something, he would have died. Were it not for Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, the director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Mr. Lyons would not be the living example of a modern medical breakthrough that he is.
Humans have always been more resourceful than we have been durable, and now being able to create artificial body parts out of plastic has proven that beyond all shadow of a doubt. It is a strange new world we live in, thinking that sometime soon anyone we meet might actually be – in part – made of artificial materials, a true cyborg. Of course, this makes such people no less human any more than someone with a pacemaker, a fake ear, or who must wear glasses. If anything, these survivors are living, breathing examples of just how wonderful and creative human beings really are.
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