Category Archives: Technology and Society

Tissue Engineering

I remember reading about this technique, using inkjet technology for constructing artificial organs, a few years ago. It’s starting to pay off:

Cells seem to survive the printing process well. When layers of chicken heart cells were printed they quickly begin behaving as they would in a real organ. “After 19 hours or so, the whole structure starts to beat in a synchronous manner,” says Forgacs.

The future may be here sooner than we think. And it makes things like Larry Niven’s concern about people harvesting corpsickles for body parts seem pretty silly.

Anti-Viral Breakthrough?

This could have huge implications for almost any viral-borne disease (including avian flu):

Aethlon Medical, a small San Diego biotech company, is developing a portable de-vice that removes viruses from blood. Known as the Hemopurifier, it filters not only smallpox but numerous other viruses, including Marburg and Ebola.

The Hemopurifier resembles a shrunken dialysis cartridge, the rolling-pin-size de-vice that purifies the blood of patients whose kidneys have failed. Both use a filter to remove toxins from blood. But unlike traditional dialysis, the Hemo-purifier also includes plant-derived antibodies, such as cyanovirin, that bind to a variety of viruses and eliminates them from the bloodstream. The plant solution can be modified to weed out even genetically engineered germs.

Growing New Organs

in the lab:

They took a bladder biopsy from each patient and isolated muscle cells and special bladder cells called urothelial cells, which they grew in the lab.

The cells were then placed onto a specially designed bladder-shaped scaffold and left to grow for seven to eight weeks.

The researchers surgically attached the engineered bladder to the patient’s own bladder and followed progress for up to five years.

They’re working on hearts as well. This sort of thing seems inevitable to me, and it’s exciting that it seems to be coming along very quickly, because I (curiously, like everyone I know) am not getting any younger.

Oh, Am I Annoying You?

As Paul Hsieh says, you don’t necessarily have to be autistic to find this device useful:

A device that can pick up on people’s emotions is being developed to help people with autism relate to those around them. It will alert its autistic user if the person they are talking to starts showing signs of getting bored or annoyed.

Or maybe cluelessness on this front is one of the defining characteristics of autism.


OK, my question is, will vegetarians be willing to eat this?

“I don’t find it hard to believe that in vitro meat can be produced that tastes like hamburger or chicken nuggets,” said Jason Matheny, one of the founders of Vive Research, a U.S. form working on growing meat for the global market. Most of the flavour in burgers and nuggets now sold in grocery stores or restaurants comes from seasoning or filler, he said.

Researchers have succeeded in growing bits of meat, the type that could be used in burgers or spaghetti sauce.

I mean vegetarians who are for ethical reasons, not because they don’t like the taste of meat.

And speaking of ethics, here’s a conundrum:

One group, which he would not name, did offer him money, but they wanted him to grow meat from human cells, so they could grow pieces of themselves to eat.

“I don’t want to participate in high-tech human cannibalism,” he said he told them.

Theoretically, he said, it would be possible. Researchers have harvested human myoblasts, cells that can grow into muscle fibre.

OK, so what would be wrong with that (ignoring the “yuck” factor)?

It kind of depends on why you think that cannibalism is wrong. In fact, it’s akin to the dilemma of child p0rn that is produced without harming (or even utilizing) children. Is it wrong because someone else is hurt in the production of it, or is there something intrinsically wrong with it? In the case of the latter, the Supreme Court has ruled (at least it’s my understanding) that the purpose of child-p0rn laws is to protect children from being molested in the production of the product, not (just) because the existence of child p0rn is perceived to be opposed to the best interests of society.

This seems similar to me. People will argue (as they do with synthetic p0rn) that having ready access to long pork may cause some people to want to experience the more gourmet version–the real thing, perhaps with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti, and should thus be made illegal, even though no persons are harmed in the manufacture of it.

I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s an interesting debate.


IBM has made an integrated circuit from carbon nanotubes:

With an 18-micron long carbon nanotube, the scientists built a 10-transistor ring oscillator, a device typically constructed to test new manufacturing technologies or materials. Using one instead of many carbon nanotubes to build an IC reduces the manufacturing steps and therefore cost…

…Electrical current moves more freely and faster through carbon nanotube than silicon, making carbon nanotube a more energy-efficient material for a speedier chip. It also is super small. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and a carbon nanotube is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair.

All these properties make carbon nanotube an appealing candidate for improving performance by piling on more and smaller transistors on a chip without causing overheating.

Moore’s Law marches on.