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Jun 23

Pixie Dust Regenerates Body Parts

salamander therapy

The salamander-inspired therapy of regenerative medicine is quickly moving from science fiction to reality. As part of the ongoing research into regrowing body parts, Army Sgt. Shiloh Harris underwent a history-making procedure at Brook Army Medical Center that could help him regrow a finger that he lost during a bomb attack in Iraq last year.

The experimental procedure involves placing a special powder, nicknamed “pixie dust,” onto the wounded area. The pixie dust powder, which is made from pig tissue, does not regrow the tissue itself, but researchers believe that the special properties of the powder are able to convince the body’s cells to regrow the missing body parts.

The stem cells that grow into our whole body do not go away after birth. Although they stop developing, they stay in the body. The pixie dust works on a microscopic level to attract stem cells and get them to once again develop into the tissue that used to be there.

As unbelievable as it may seem, the pixie dust treatment has already been successful in regrowing a dog uterus and human bladder. In each case, the organ was grown in the laboratory and then implanted into the body. The dog went on to have puppies and the human benefitted from a bladder that worked as it should. Let’s hope that Sgt. Harris soon has a new finger.

Jan 21

Human-Animal Babies

Human Animal Embryo

British regulators at the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority have approved two proposals that would allow scientists to create human-animal embryos for stem cell research. Scientists are pursuing embryonic stem cell research in order to find effective treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

These mixed cell embryos, also known as chimeras, would be 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal. The embryos are being created in order to harvest them for stem cells. While many scientists cite the importance of stem cell research, many others are concerned about the ethics of mixing human cells and animal cells.

The human-animal embryos created in this research would not be allowed to develop for more than two weeks. In an odd twist, however, Bishops in the Catholic Church, who believe life begins at conception, have come out and said that women who have donated eggs should be allowed to have their babies placed in-vitro rather than killed, even though they oppose creating life solely for research.

Within the scientific community, this type of research is becoming more common. Just last year, scientists at the University of Nevada created a sheep with 85% animal cells and 15% human cells, in the pursuit of creating organs for human use. At Stanford University, researchers have created mice with brains that are 1% human, in order to study brain diseases. In 2003, Chinese scientists successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. Most people already accept the use of heart valves from cows and pigs for human use, which makes the recipient a human-animal chimera. For years, scientists have added human genes to bacteria and farm animals.

While the biological creation of chimeras is no longer just another science fiction story, the United States does not yet have federal laws in place that address these issues. You can expect there to be quite a debate about how to establish a reasonable balance between research and ethics in science.

Sep 04

Tailless Dolphin Goes Bionic

Dolphin Prosthetic

As a prosthetic specialist, Kevin Carroll handles some of the toughest human amputation cases. One of his latest patients was a whole new challenge - she needed a new tail. His patient was Winter, a dolphin that lost her tail when she was 3 months old.

Although the scientist took on the case to apply his expertise from working with human amputees to help a dolphin, he also inadvertently found a way to help human amputees. For Winter the dolphin, he developed a gel sleeve that would allow the tail prosthesis to grip without irritating her sensitive skin, using suction to grip much like a rubber glove grips a human hand.

Applying what he learned from Winter to a human case, he was able to find a way to soothe the pain of walking with prosthetic legs for Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage, who was injured during a mortar attack in Iraq in 2004 and lost both legs and a right hand. When trying to walk with prosthetic legs, he had experienced great pain from the bony-growths in the socket that felt like daggers. That pain was eased by using a gel sleeve similar to Winter's.

Brian is just one amputee of many that will be helped by Winter.

Jun 13

Smart Contacts Help Diabetics

Diabetes Contacts

Exciting new research will help diabetics check their blood-sugar levels without having to prick their fingers with a needle up to six times a day. Scientists and researchers, who have been working for years to develop a non-invasive method of monitoring blood-sugar levels in the body, are applying new technology into color-shifting contact lenses that will allow diabetics to check their blood-sugar levels by simply looking into a mirror.

The technology behind this breakthrough is the study of nanoparticles, tiny microscopic materials that are being studied and used to develop many new products. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have been studying small particles called photonic crystals, particles which change color in the presence of certain chemicals. More specifically, they have been experimenting with photonic crystals that can detect blood-sugar levels in tear fluid.

The two scientists working on the research, Vladimir Alexeev and Sanford Asher, have been successful in the laboratory with this technology. While it will be several more years before these contact lenses are available to the public, this sugar-sensing, color-shifting technology will benefit millions of people who are suffering from diabetes. The specially designed contact lenses would be embedded with gel strips at the edge of each lens. If blood sugar levels are at a healthy level, the gel strip appears green; if blood sugar levels are too low, the gel strip will turn red; if there is too much sugar in the body the strip will turn blue.

Apr 23

Mom Prepares for 7 year-old Daughter’s Pregnancy


A Canadian woman has frozen her eggs to they can be used by her seven-year-old daughter, who is sterile due to Turner's syndrome, a genetic condition that occurs in one out of 2500 female births.

Melanie Boivin, a 36-year old from Montreal, is using a freezing method called vitrification, which has a pregnancy rate similar to that of fresh eggs. The process preserves the eggs for a period of 20 to 25 years.

If the daughter decides to use her mother’s eggs, she will be giving birth to her biological half-sister, while Boivin will become a mother and a grandmother.

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