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The field of medicine is pretty mind-blowing when you stop to think about what we've accomplished in just a few generations. We've all but eradicated diseases that once decimated entire populations. We can replace failing organs or build replacements for amputated limbs. And we can finally sedate people who have to undergo the procedures themselves, instead of filling them full of whiskey and giving them a belt to bite.
But it gets way crazier than that. In fact, recent breakthroughs might have you thinking we're living in a distant future. Especially given things like ...
3D Printed Organs
You likely remember when 3D printing was all the rage, with the internet claiming it could solve basically every problem we've ever had. If so, you might also have noticed that while it hasn't gone away completely, the hype isn't what it used to be. Sure, entire houses are being built with 3D printers nowadays, but for whatever reason the newness has worn off.
But that hasn't stopped medical science from continuing to explore its capabilities, and to be clear, it's cool as hell. Right now, 3D printing literal, functioning human organs is becoming a reality.
Like every new technology that has ever existed, 3D printing of organs has always had its problems. Even though printers that could technically print live organs existed, getting the material that could mimic the real thing was difficult. With the development of bio-ink, something that could be used to 3D print the almost-equivalent of real tissue, it's now becoming very, very real.
We're finally on our way to creating Shiva-like humans with multiple arms.
Developed by Cellink, a Swedish biotech company, the bioprinting ink can be used with any 3D printer, and is already being shipped across the world for research and lab work. It's not exactly skin, but it's close enough to help scientists experiment on it as such, and get a better idea of problems like cancer.
Thanks to an even more advanced version of bio-ink, more persistent scientists in China have successfully 3D printed arteries that work in a real creature. They grafted them in place of actual arteries in rhesus monkeys, who not only turned out to be alive (if a little confused) at the end of it, but the arteries soon started functioning like real ones.
And that means we're well on our way to fulfilling our dream of one day seeing a person made entirely of arteries. Our dreams are ... kind of weird.
Eyesight Projected Directly Onto The Retina
Be it poets, philosophers, scientists or Jesus, giving sight back to the blind has generally been agreed upon to be an OK thing to do throughout history. Granted, it's been a largely unachievable one, unless sorcery or divinity was involved.
Medicine may have solved many of the usual, fixable problems associated with the human eye, but a true end-all solution to vision impairment hasn't yet been developed. That is, until a California-based company, Second Sight, took a shot at it. They developed a technology called "Orion" (more like OrEYEon!), a prosthesis system that may just cure many types of blindness.
Second Sight works toward providing solutions to people with degenerative eye conditions -- the bad ones where the retina or other crucial parts just stop working after a while. They implanted one into a 30 year old patient to test it out, and he was able to successfully "perceive and localize individual phosphenes or spots of light with no significant adverse side effects." Or in normal lingo: he could see.
Ew. We mean, cool, but still ... ew.
What Orion does is take the feed from an installed camera, converts it into electric pulses readable by your brain with the help of pre-installed receptors, and projects images directly onto the retina. While it was in no way like being able to see in full HD again, the patient could see light and patterns.
We may be only a few years away from giving sight back to all of the blind. Hopefully they find a way to implement some kickass HUD into the technology, too, because that would be rad as hell.
Healing Any Cell By Reprogramming It With A Single Touch
A big part of medical research is focused on identifying the kinds of problems that can occur in the body before they can be solved. Various types of injuries, diseases and aberrations exist, and to know when to treat them is absolutely crucial. But wouldn't it be cool if we could just convince our body's cells to do our bidding, commanding them to solve the problems they're not capable of handling without direction?
Fortunately, we're doing that exact thing right now.
Scientists have developed a chip that rests on the surface of your skin and injects the affected cell with information that could alter its genetic makeup through an electric pulse. The technique is called "tissue nanotransfection," and it’s a step toward total domination of our mortal, biological form. What it does is reprogram the problematic cell into whatever the hell type of cell is required to fix the problem at the moment, all in a single touch.
Of course, like every futuristic research, the first subjects lucky enough to get these sort of high tech treatments were rodents. They put the device on a bunch of mice with no blood vessels between their legs and the rest of their bodies. With the help of an electric field, the device was able to successfully change the very structure of the skin cells, turning them into a wholly different type of cell required to form new blood vessels. They were surprised to see that the affected areas soon formed their own network of vessels, with bloodflow completely returning to the legs in a matter of two weeks.
In a different experiment, skin cells were turned into nerve cells to help rodents bounce back from strokes, and it absolutely worked. With this technique, we'll soon be able to turn any cell into any other on a whim, and it's already proven to work a whopping 98% of the time in lab tests.
Imagine a world where every injury could be treated with a single touch of a magical (read: scientific) device, able to fix most anything using nothing more than your body's own cells. There are poetic implications, of course, as heartbreak doesn't mean too much in a world where injury has been eradicated. Though we'd still love to see how it develops, overall.
Plus: Artery Man!
The Cancer-Detection Pen
One of the primary problems in dealing with cancer is its detection, given many cases are not diagnosed until the horribleness has developed into scary proportions. Detecting it early requires diligence, regular checkups, and in some cases, learned use of WebMD. Fortunately, thanks to scientists from University of Texas, we may have finally invented a new way to identify a tumor, with the help of a device as small as a pen.
Called the MasSpec Pen, this technology allows surgeons working with cancer to almost instantly identify tumors in regions like the breast, thyroid, lung, ovaries and brain, with an accuracy of 96.5%. Apart from being a worthy advancement in cancer detection, the device helps medical science in another way: during cancer-removal surgery, there is no way for the surgeons to tell whether the cancerous cells taken out comprise all of the cancer, as it's mostly estimated based on a keen eye and guesswork. The MasSpec Pen allows an analysis of the cancerous tissue within seconds, giving them the ability to potentially remove all of the tumor at once.
Oh, and in case it wasn't awesome enough, it's 3D printed and disposable.
While it's not magic, per se, the ability to detect cancer without having to perform a biopsy and examine samples under a microscope is still a huge leap in cancer-fighting tech, given how little we have of it in the first place.
Nanobots ... Yep, They're Finally A Thing!
Nanobots. You probably recognize them as the tinyass machines that may one day take over the world and smother us all, if science fiction is to be believed. But the thing is, if you can ignore the possibility of death by microscopic robots, these little guys have enormous potential, like solving many of our medical problems. Hell, they've already been used to treat cancer in mice. Man, mice get all the cool treatments.
Made from sheets of DNA, the nanobots were programmed to do one thing: cut off the blood supply to cancerous tumors. With soldier-like precision, they injected the blood vessels around the tumors with clotting drugs, and it worked. With the blood supply cut off, the cancer wasn't able to spread, proving that nanobots could, in practice, work on removing cancer in humans very soon.
In the future, the face of The Terminator isn't Arnold. Think waaaay tinier.
And while this is pretty freaking remarkable, cancer is only one of the potential uses of nanobots. From reaching far off places inside of the body during surgery and acting as scouts for early signs of serious diseases, there may be no limit to their capabilities. Which is awesome, so long as you're a trusting soul who's cool with millions of tiny little robots swimming around inside of you.
Artery Man would be totally fine with that.
Like this article? Check out "Where's All The Cool SciFi Stuff We Were Promised As Kids? Well, Actually ..." and "5 High-Tech Solutions Invented For Simple Problems".