IntroductionCAPTION: A closeup view of a stem cell colony.
Bionic man (thought-controlled prosthetics)
The thought of prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by ones mind leads one to think of mere science fiction. However recent discoveries in cutting edge robotics have begun to tear down such preconceived notions. Research on such technology makes thought-controlled prosthetics limbs a likely reality in the near future of medicine. This technology is currently being tested by individuals like Jesse Sullivan who lost both of his arms in a power line accident in his hometown of Dayton. Traditional prosthetics rely on the use of chin switches and other levers to operate the mechanical limb. A new concept was developed by Dr. Todd Kuiken and his colleagues at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Severed nerves that once controlled are moved to muscles in the chest where they grow to gain control of his chest muscles. Sensors in the prosthetic limb pick up electrical signals and contractions in the muscles which are translated to commands in the robotic limb. Such technology is far from perfection but opens up a world of possibilities for the future.
Prosthetic digital retina
The restoration of vision through digital retina implants has become more than fiction. The design and creation of a 16 by 16 pixel digital retina has opened up new concepts and is being experimented upon for use on humans. The prototype demonstrates the possibility of artificial retinas with much higher resolutions and image-processing functions.
A major issue of contention, stem cells are unspecialized cells that can renew themselves through cell division and become cells with certain specific functions (such as in the heart, pancreas, spinal cord, etc.). Two types of stem cells are available: embryonic and adult, each of which has different functions. Embryonic stem cells are isolated from human embryos and can form into specialized cell types. Adult stem cells, which cannot alter their specialization, can be typically used to create replacement cells lost or damaged over time in a person's body. Stem cells, however, have created controversy in the United States, as some believe that the creation of embryonic stem cells happens at the loss of potential human life. In addition, stem cell therapy is potentially dangerous, because stem cells can possibly transmit viruses and diseases to those receiving therapy. In addition, some research indicates that stem cells have the potential to become cancerous.
Although stem cell therapy is still in the distant future, it seems to hold much promise. Recent research indicates that stem cells can be used to create blood cells of different blood types (e.g., A, O, B, etc.), sperm, heart valve cells, and a myriad of other cell types. In addition, many degenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease, diabetes and heart disease, can possibly be cured in the future through embryonic stem cells that become neurons. Likewise, stem cells may provide a safer alternative to testing experimental drugs. Stem cells remain a controversial issue but may ultimately hold the key to curing many incurable diseases today.