The future is already here…

Transplants and Organ Regeneration

Last week’s Living Beyond 100 lecture, Repair, Regeneration and Replacement Revisited was given by David G. Armstrong (Professor of Surgery and Director, Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance).  He started by saying that Tomorrowland is today and mentioned the Jetsons.  What bothered me (and this had nothing to do with transplants) was what our skies would look like if everyone had a flying car – the tangle of vehicles up there, especially in New York City!

Back to medicine.  There have been three ages of death.  First there was Disaster – fire, flood, dinosaur – that killed most people.  (Fire codes have lessened fire deaths, our beloved Army Corps of Engineers has built lots of dams to eliminate floods – except in New Orleans, and smoking eliminated Death by Dinosaur, at least according to Gary Larson.)

Second there was Disease such as plague, which has pretty much been eliminated around the world, except in Arizona.  (A woman in northeastern Arizona contracted the plague in 2007 from a flea bite.  Apparently there is plague in prairie dogs in Flagstaff.)

Now we are in the age of Decay, death from heart disease, liver failure, and so on.  In developed countries we use transplanted organs to postpone those deaths.  Unfortunately, 50% of all transplants fail.
NEW!!! Cell transplants
NEW!!! Composite tissue transplants (such as this hand pictured)
NEW!!! Intracoronary cardiosperen derived cells for heart generation

ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2012) — Results from a Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute clinical trial show that treating heart attack patients with an infusion of their own heart-derived cells helps damaged hearts re-grow healthy muscle.

Not yet done, but if a salamander can grow a new leg (watch this video from 1:04 to 1:07 –, why can’t we?

Then there’s the bionic man (although I don’t think he now costs six million dollars).  I tried to find the video that Armstrong showed in the lecture, and found instead a whole slew of youtube’s with bionic men, most of them military.  Scarey.  But here is a video similar to the one shown in the lecture: Robotic Exoskeleton Allows Paraplegic Man to Walk Again

Armstrong did not mention Oscar Pistorius and the controversy over the advantage of prosthetic limbs, which I read about in the Times:

The Blade Runner

Oscar Pistorius was born in 1986 with congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. When he was 11 months old, his legs were amputated halfway between his knees and ankles.  [Not one to let his disability get in his way,] with prostheses he played rugby, water polo and tennis in high school.  After a serious rugby knee injury in 2003, he was introduced to running.

He became a sprinter and with his carbon fiber Cheetah prosthetic legs at the 2006 Paralympic Athletics World Championships he won gold in the 100, 200 and 400-metre events, breaking the world record over 200 metres.   Pistorius was invited by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to take part in his first international able-bodied event.  In 2007, he ran in the 400-metre race at Rome’s Golden Gala and finished second with a time of 46.90 seconds.

[However,] Pistorius has been the subject of criticism because of claims that his artificial limbs give him an advantage over runners with natural ankles and feet.  The IAAF amended its competition rules to include a ban on the use of “any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device.  This decision was then reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the Court ruling overall there was no evidence that Pistorius had any net advantage over able-bodied athletes.
[Summarized from]

Then there are the cybernetic devices:

  • “Siri on iPhone 4S lets you use your voice to send messages, make calls, set reminders, and more. Just speak naturally. Siri understands what you say.”  I’m waiting for the Google implant, so that I can look something up by just thinking about it.  (Of course, I’m also waiting for a transporter.)
  • “Looxcie sees what you see, and effortlessly records your life as you live it, from the everyday to the adventurous. When something special happens, Looxcie can automatically send your video to your social network or email – wirelessly and handsfree – while you stay on the go. You’ll never miss a moment!”
  • Epidermal electronics, medical tattoos, powered by stretchable solar cells.  A doctor can check you out without you needing to go to his office!

Whew!  But as the author William Gibson said, The future is already hereit’s just not evenly distributed. I was curious about Gibson, so I got one of his books from the library, Neuromancer.

Neuromancer’s release [in 1984] was not greeted with fanfare, but it hit a cultural nerve, quickly becoming an underground word-of-mouth hit. It became the first novel to win the “triple crown” of science fiction awards (the Nebula, the Hugo, and Philip K. Dick Award for paperback original), eventually selling more than 6.5 million copies worldwide.


Two weeks ago there was a travel article in the NY Times on Penang, Malaysia.  I had lived there for two months working on a microchip fabrication plant, Silterra, (which was Fab of the Year in 2002) in Kulim.  The first recommendation of the article is to go to the top of the highest hill on the island for the view.  But it doesn’t suggest that you order an ais kacang there, a Malaysian dessert which is an acquired taste.

Ais kacang, shaved ice, generally comes in bright colours, and with different fruit cocktails and dressings.  In Malaysia, almost all variants now contain a large serving of palm seed, red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly and cubes of agar agar.

The article discusses local delicacies without even mentioning a national favorite, durian, that fruit which tastes sweet and creamy (they say), but smells like a corpse.

Yes, very much an acquired taste.  On my last night there a Malaysian friend took me and his girlfriend to the fishhead restaurant (all they serve are fish heads as large as the plate – “my mother likes the eyeballs, but you don’t have to eat them”) and then to a hawker stall (a tiny open-air restaurant) for a durian dessert.  Not only did I not want to try the fruit (and I taste most anything), I could barely sit next to him.

The article does mention Batu Feringghi, a beach, which translates to foreigner’s stone.  If any of you are acquainted with Star Trek: The Next Generation and/or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s character Quark, you now know where the Ferengis originated.

And they don’t mention the banana leaf restaurant.  But, oh well, they only give you three days there.

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4 Responses to “The future is already here…”

  1. Jim Says:

    So, the future is everyday. What a fantastically insane insight. You not longer need to wait for the future, since everyday is the future. I much prefer, my monkey’s view, that tomorrow is the future, when I shall seek out a new fruit tree, which I remember from last year – and fight for my share – or die fighting.

  2. Jim Says:

    I have tried for 3 years to get durian seed for Nuevo Jerusalen, in the Peruvian Amazon. This year I failed again. The great Alfred Wallace stated in one of his diaries that it was the best eating fruit in Asia.

  3. Jim Says:

    Now, after this course, by this authoritative professor, what exactly have you learned that will extend your life by a year or more?

  4. Jim Says:

    When reality gets mixed with fiction, where can the path to survival be found? Words and observations need to corroborate each other, or the path leads to insanity.

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