Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Regrowth And Regeneration Of Limbs - New Frontiers

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It is a tragedy when an individual loses a limb. Medical research has focused on the areas of robotics, prosthetics, rehabilitation and compensating devices to provide, in some fashion for these losses. We've all heard tragic stories of "phantom limb pain," months and years of therapy and  destruction of lives, careers and relationships because of these losses, whether due to amputation (in the case of diabetes for example), war injuries, atrophy (muscular and neurological) and congenital deformities.

The ideal solution, of course, is to be made physically and functionally whole again. This would not be an ungainly workaround -- it would be a direct solution.
Please read the article which follows (from several weeks ago, but still desperately relevant) and continue to read my commentary for THE GLOBAL FUTURIST, which appears afterwards. An amazing future may be possible, and we should look at its possibilities and opportunities now.

BigThink Weekly Newsletter:

How to Regrow a Limb

Megan Erickson on January 4, 2012, 12:00 AM

What's the Big Idea?

The loss of a human limb is a tragedy. We know that once they’re gone, mammalian arms and legs can't ever be restored. But if you cut off a salamander's leg - or tail - it will reappear in just a few weeks. The enigma of amphibian organ regeneration has puzzled scientists since it was first recorded by Aristotle, reaching its strangest and most scientifically-accepted heights in the 1700’s, when Voltaire decapitated a snail just to see if the head would grow back. (It did.)

Now, a new generation of longevity-seekers hopes to apply the power of amphibians like the salamander, the axlotl, and the worm to human medicine. Sonia Arrison, policy analyst and author of 100 Plus, believes that tissue engineering will revolutionize the treatment of chronic illnesses: “In the future, if we had the ability to grow a brand new heart or parts of hearts with that person’s very own adult stem cells, then when we know that they have heart disease, we could just replace the heart. All of those [costly] visits to the hospital, all of the drugs, won’t be required.” Better tools will enable us to repair people rather than just sort of patching them up for a little while until they get sicker and sicker, she says.

What's the Significance?

This idea is more practical than it sounds. Over the past few decades, scientists have begun to understand exactly how the regeneration process works in nature. When a salamander is injured, a clump of cells called a blastomea forms at the site of the wound. Like embryonic stem cells, the blastomea are especially plastic. These cells are then triggered to de-differentiate and re-initiate growth. (Debate remains over whether they're fully pluripotent, meaning that they have the ability to form any type of tissue, or whether the cellular dynamics merely have to be reprogrammed, as in recent studies by Doug Melton of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.)

The trick, of course, is applying this knowledge to human anatomy. Arrison explains, "Since we all evolve from the same place, humans must have a set of genes that can allow for growing back new limbs - it’s just that they’re 'turned off' right now ." If we could figure out how to turn them back on, or to add new genes based on the salamander model, then it could be possible to create new organs from scratch. In fact, one of the biggest spenders in this story is the Pentagon, which has put at least $250 million in to the search to find a way to create new human organs in the lab.

“They’re funding work in terms of growing all sort of organs - bladders and windpipes and hearts and lungs, livers," says Arrison, "but also in hopes of figuring out how to regrow arms and legs" for soldiers wounded in combat. Thanks to this influx of public money, the field has moved forward much quicker than it would have otherwise. So far, researchers have succeeded growing hearts, livers, breast tissue, and bone in the lab. The brain remains elusive - but Arrison is optimistic: "The brain is much tougher than other organs in the human body, but work is moving along."

There are, however, two things that she's worried about. The first is that technology won’t move quick enough for those alive today. "We’ve made a lot of progress in terms of reverse engineering the human code, we’ve made a lot of progress in tissue engineering and gene therapy, but it’s that we still have a ways to go." she says. The second is that, if we do see organ regeneration applied to medicine, the distribution of benefits like faster healing and increased longevity will be inequitable: 
How long will the gap be between the wealthy getting it and the poor getting it? Because we’re already starting from a point of inequality. If you look around the world, life expectancy in Monaco in the South of France is around 90 years. Life expectancy in Angola is around 38 years. That’s like a 50-plus gap of an entire lifetime, really. And then within the United States, there’s a pretty decent gap as well. An Asian-American woman living in New Jersey has a life expectancy of around 91 years. A Native-American man living in South Dakota has a life expectancy of about 58 years.
There's already a fifty year difference in what it's like to be rich and poor in the world, which may or may not be alleviated by technology, she says, depending on how we choose to use it.


Observation, Conjecture And Commentary:

Putting aside, for a moment, the issues of longevity and its correlation to wealth and exogenous environmental or situational variables, let's look at where we might start to be looking (and investing resources):

1) Studying and developing cellular plasticity - observing how certain cells, each equipped with a full complement of the organism's DNA, can assume different functions to compensate for the loss of other cellular functions;

2) Studying and developing stem cell research - where "basic cells" can be "influenced" or "instructed" to become specialized in certain ways. Either outside of the body, or appended to the body, these initially amorphous cells can "learn" to become the necessary parts or assume the needed functions;

3) Studying electromagnetic and electrochemical forces which can cause regeneration based upon (these are highly theoretical reasons) an activation of new growth from the "root" or "remnant" of an old limb, or through a stimulation of the electronic "framework" of the body as it would be if whole to create new growth through completion of the blueprint. I personally believe that the greatest possibilities lie in the notion of regeneration chambers or similar devices -- the mystery is precisely what force stimulates completion/construction of the body to duplicate its complete blueprint.

Douglas E Castle for THE GLOBAL FUTURIST

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Ever-Widening Wealth Gap

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"If the peasants are crying because they haven't any bread, then let them eat cake." This is a loosely translated quotation from some plutocratic, indifferent, callous, out-of-touch-with-the-common-serf, and likely French woman of great stature who should have shut up before she ultimately lost her head. Statements like the previous are almost as offensive as Leona Helmsley's  infamous "Taxes are for the little people."

The perception of the pampered, rich and powerful (can't you feel my envy?), who live in a certain isolation from the trials and tribulations of the wage-earning or unemployed crowd (the masses), is quite different than that of their poorer counterparts and, in the case of politics, constituents. There are very few truly wealthy people in the world, and they are vastly outnumbered by the struggling peasants who aspire to what amounts to at least a reasonable standard of living.

The disparity in wealth and income which separates these two groups is increasing rapidly, and dramatically. The social configuration is inefficient in terms of "government by the consent of the governed," or "government representing the interests of citizenry." This is because those who attain high political office and become part of the ruling class are so much wealthier than those who elect them that they cannot possibly empathize with the issues of the voters...the unrepresented majority.

This is happening all over the world. The United States is only one example.

To bring this difference in perception into clearer focus, when a Fortune 100 Director says he's struggling to get by, he might be saying it in a fine restaurant over cocktails while his chauffeur awaits, patiently parked at the curb. Or he might complain about it at the country club or at an executive retreat. When a commoner (as I am) says I am broke, he literally is on the verge of having his home foreclosed, clunky car repossessed, and has less than $4.75 in his jeans pocket. He is truly immobilized and worried to an extent which those elected officials, sheltered as they are on Mount Olympus, cannot remotely understand or relate to.

This makes for government of the increasingly growing population of poor folks by bodies comprised of wealthy, ideologically removed, wealthy folks. They cannot represent the interests of people to whom they cannot hope to relate!

An interesting article extract follows for your review. After you've taken a good read through it, take a look at my conclusions for THE GLOBAL FUTURIST.

The Wealth Gap Between Congress and Voters Is Growing

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post have separate reports today about the widening wealth gap between members of Congress and the people they represent. Almost half of all Congresspeople are millionaires and their median net worth has climbed to $913,000, compared to $100,000 for the rest of America households. 

According to the Post, that number drops to $725,000 when excluding home equity (and adjusting for inflation), but the same median figure for American families is just $20,500. And that gap has only grown wider in recent years.
Related: GOP Congressman Scraping By on Only $400,000 After Taxes

The biggest reason for the disparity is the sheer cost of running for office, which is both a full-time job and an expensive undertaking. The average successful House race costs $1.4 million to stage (the average Senate campaign is almost $10 million), and candidates are allowed — and often need — to donate as much as they want to their own effort. 

The costs of advertising and travel make it increasingly difficult for anyone who doesn't already have money to get their name out there. There have also been concerns raised recently about the ability of politicians to profit from their position, both through contacts made and the ability to trade stock based on privileged information.
Related: The Net Worth of Congress Rose 23.6% Since 2008

Even putting aside the questions of influence and corruption, the biggest concern is that those who elected to Congress are more out of touch with the world of their constituents than ever before. How can they be expected to look out for the interest of citizens when the biggest issues facing them — unemployment, health care, wages — are unknown to most of those who are supposed to be looking out for them? Or worse when addressing those issues directly contradicts their own interest, as when millionaires are asked to vote on a "millionaire's tax"? The biggest political movement of the last year, Occupy Wall Street, has been devoted almost exclusively to addressing the gap between rich and poor, but it's hard to see how any change becomes possible when that gap is greatest among those in a position to do something about it.

I am predicting:

1) An increasing number of one-term politicians, and increasing legislative turnover;

2) Increasing protests and acts of rebellion (i.e., "Occupy Wall Street") on the part of the citizenry against any person or institution which represents wealth and power;

3) Increasing pressure on investigative journalists prosecutors and judges worldwide to bring investigate, isolate and punish (i.e., make examples of) many of the world's rich and powerful, rendering this latter group somewhat paranoic for the first time since the Middle Ages;

4) An exodus of the powerful from public life to private puppeteering and market manipulation;

5) Ordinary envy turning to heightened animosity, acts of rebellion, and citizen activism.

I foresee dramatic upheaval in the composition and privileges of elected officials and government in general during these next five years. In defense, I would also expect to see many politicos finding new nesting places in the military-industrial complex, where they will continue to rule, but with a great deal less transparency, and with increased power.

While the rich will always win, I envision wild, extremist political battles, and the shift into the private sector of those who are old hands at being part of the governmental elite. This could portend a new brand of medieval feudalism surfacing as the new form of government.

"Let them eat cake?" Not one of the answer choices.

Douglas E. Castle

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