From Transplantation to Xenotransplantation to Super Soldier

Here are some stories which aroused our interest in biotechnology in past few years:

Lab-grown genitalia
Penises from the test-tube have been successfully grown in the lab and are now waiting for a green light from the FDA to be transplanted on first patients. In the meantime, they are tested for “safety, function and durability”. Penises would be grown using cells from patients’ own bodies in order to avoid organ rejection after transplantation. The work is funded by the U.S. Army Institute of Regenerative Medicine that wants to help soldiers whose genitals were injured in the battle.
Scientists were doing similar research on rabbits in 2008, and it had a favorable outcome. Rabbit’s body recognized the lab-grown penis as its own.
Penis transplantation on humans, so far have been unsuccessful. The first partially successful one lasted only two weeks. In 2005, penis was transplanted to a man in China, but only two weeks later they removed it because he and his wife had major psychological problems. Encouraging thing is that the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where this newest research has been carried through, is the same institution which had successfully implanted lab-grown vagina into four young females suffering from a rare genetic condition causing undeveloped or underdeveloped vagina and uterus.

Impenetrable skin
Spider silk is much stronger than steel, and has numerous uses, from bulletproof wests to fiber optic cable and touchscreens. Professor Randy Lewis, the man who was the first to isolate the genes responsible for spider’s production of dragline silk, and who put those genes into goats, enabling them to produce milk full of spider silk protein, has teamed up with Jalila Essaidi, Dutch artist, to grow threads of human skin cells containing spider gene that could stop the bullet. It can be achieved by genetic engineering in which keratin, protein which provides the strength to human skin, would be replaced with a protein from spider xenotransplantpigssilk. Such endeavor could result in human invulnerability. Besides the fact that all experiments conducted so far failed to stop the bullet at full speed, the applicability of such transformation of human skin is questionable by itself. First of all, injuries caused by the bullet’s impact would still prove to be as grave as its penetration through the skin. The skin itself is simply not thick enough to minimize the trauma from the impact. Other issues involve problem which such skin could cause during surgeries, or even minor medical treatments. However, such material could prove useful with wearable items, such as protective glows, in which case it would be better to use animal skin, rather than human.

Human organs grown inside pigs
Scientists at Tokyo University have found the way to genetically modify animals to grow organs belonging to other spices, which could significantly affect the speed and success rate of organ transplantation. The most interesting case involves pigs which could have organs suited for human transplants. This can be achieved by injecting altered human skin cells, for example, in the embryo of designated animal, which would then grow into fully functional human liver, pancreas, even heart. The biggest obstacles on their way are legal and ethical issues, but benefits could be enormous.

Super soldiers
DARPA, US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is working on a project named “Advanced Tools for Mammalian Genome Engineering”, which would enable genetic modifications on humans in order to create ‘super soldiers’.
They want to engineer human cells to contain 47 chromosomes, instead of 46. Additional chromosome, known as Human Artificial Chromosome (HAC), would be able to carry desired genes introduced by researchers.
It is hard to predict the scope of possible applications of corresponding bio-alterations, but speculations are that such enhanced human war-machines would be able to go without food and sleep for days, run at Olympic speeds, and grow limbs lost in the battle. Considering that human genome has been fully sequenced for some time now, and that researchers identified gens responsible for lizard’s ability to regrow their tails, it is safe to presume something similar can be achieved on humans too.