Grow your own…

The other day I was doing a little channel surfing. For those of you who immediately think, Why not read a book instead?, I’ll just say one word: research. (I challenge you to prove otherwise.) I drifted into a science show by mistake and saw something quite remarkable: one of the boffins has managed to grow a new bladder, using cells from the future recipient. He says he’s working on growing a urethra next as these are “simple” organs and therefore easier to cultivate. I gather he’s working his way up to the more complex ones such as livers and kidneys. In the future people won’t need to wait for a transplant; they’ll grow their own replacements.

(I had no idea there were people waiting for bladder transplants. That’s something you don’t hear much about on social media!)

I immediately thought of all the sci-fi books I’ve read that had wounded soldiers/space explorers/space-cops etc, lying in “regeneration tanks” while their bodies grew replacements for the damaged or missing parts of their anatomy. For the fantasy nuts think: Wolverine. For the horror nuts think: Mila Jovovonich’s character in those amazing zombie movies.

That made me think: how many times have sci-fi writers predicted future technology? Or, perhaps I should ask: how many scientists read science fiction? I remember when every good sci-fi movie had people talking to each other on the phone while seeing the actual person on a flat screen. Now every teenager can do it with the latest mobile phone. Then there’s the early Star Trek series with tasers and lasers. Now the police already use the tasers, so laser guns must be on their way. Jules Verne had humans going to the bottom of the sea and walking on the moon. They were both completely unthinkable things in his day, but now no one turns a whisker when the next submersible or rocket ship sets off.

Can you think of other examples? I know there are myriads of them, it’s just too early on a Saturday morning for me to think too hard. However, it does prove a point: the scientific, rational, logical, “let’s not get too emotional or fanciful” types need the creative, fanciful, imaginative, “why can’t we build a time-machine?” types. It’s a necessary – dare I say, important – symbiotic relationship. It’s not a coincidence that our brains have both a left and right side.

(My deepest sympathy and sincere best wishes to everyone waiting on a queue for an organ transplant, whatever it might be. I wish you good health and a long and happy future.)



  1. Chris Rodda
    Oct 27, 2012

    One of the surgeons I work with has just come back from a conference. She’s associated with the Army Reserve and her thoughts and observations are that a lot of new innovations actually come to fruition through wars and conflict. There is currently a swing to regeneration through stem cells…”something shot off/missing-regrow your own part”.

    Also think of the necessity of generating new skin. This came about due to the Bali bombing.

    • Wendy Noble
      Oct 27, 2012

      I would agree that war/military conflict/violence – sadly – creates the need for innovation in medicine. It’s interesting (and/or frightening) that the possibility of the solutions and, indeed, the type of warfare that creates such need, has already been explored in various forms of literature. Perhaps we could think that, knowing our nature, God has given gifts of foreknowledge to the “dreamers” of both the potential for further atrocities, and the possible cures for them. Just throwing that out there…

  2. Wendy Noble
    Oct 27, 2012

    Didn’t the bionic man (back in the 70s) have a bionic ear implant? What a great example, Michael, and very well said. Dream on, indeed! We need the dreamers to say: Hey, here’s an idea… And then we need the scientists to say: How could it be done? And then the engineers to say: I can build that.

  3. Michael Wishart
    Oct 27, 2012

    Most of the medical discoveries, and indeed the scientific ones, of note have not been from super scientific deduction, but from ‘what if’ type observations, and moving ahead despite not knowing. A case in point is the multi-channel cochlear implant. No-one had any real sense of how (or why) it could work; it was trial and error and a vision of what might be. The actual scientific community laughed at the project run by Graeme Clark in Australia, actually, But here I am using one to be able to participate in everyday life.
    Science is useful to validate something we see, but should not be restrictive simply because we don’t know how it could be. Dream on, inventors and explorers.

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