Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our Solar System, is 437 light years away, or 39.33 trillion kilometers(Wilkinson), The surface of Mars,for the near future, is inhospitable to humans(Marwaha), and the journey alone poses severe risk. The Earth with natural disasters, wars, disease, and all of its stressors challenges humans and how well or long we live our lives. To adapt, to evolve fast enough, to match our technological advances and outlive our species’ expiration date, requires a technological revolution.
Natural evolution occurs in units of millions of years, technology moves in months, week, and even days(Smithsonian Institute; The Emerging Future). The human body is quickly being outpaced by our achievements and in need of enhancements to function in new environments. Within the field of Biomedical Engineering (BME), Regenerative Medicine is the first step towards developing the technology that will be used to create and enhance humans for the future.
Regenerative Medicine is “a broad field that includes tissues engineering, but also incorporates research on self healing 7 where the body uses its own systems, sometimes with help foreign biological material to recreate cells and rebuild tissues and organs”(NlBlB).
Regenerative Medicine can also be broken into three subcategories; rejuvenation, boosting the body’s natural ability to heal itself; replacement, using healthy cells, tissues or organs from a living or deceased donor to replace damaged ones; regeneration, delivering specific types of cells or cell products to diseased tissues or organs, where they will ultimately restore tissue and organ function(Mayo Clinic).
Regenerative Medicine influences almost every aspect of medicine, however, the fields of cardiology, klnesiology &osteopathy, and materials science are the most fundamental to achieving enhanced life.
The human heart is highly impacted byzero gravity, with transitions between gravitational bodies leading to health complications(Abadie).On earth millions of people suffer from heart-related disabilities and illness, costing lives and money(CDC), The bones and muscle structures that humans depend upon on earth are needed in different way in space, causing atrophy of muscle and bone, and causing bodies to become fragile(Loehr et al,). Todevelop the devices, tools, and beings for the future leaps and bounds of progress are needed in the field of materials science. Integration with organic or bionic systems, which heal or replace lost appendages, enhance our bodies, and blend seamlessly to assist humans in their endeavors.These will seek create eternal beings, not on the individual level, instead living forever as a species. The human heart is beyond special. It is made up on its own category of cell, it never stops working, and while strong and powerful, incredibly vulnerable to stress.
Heart attacks kill 600,000 people each year, those that survive often live with heart disease leading to heart failure from tissue death(CDC). To reverse the effects of heart attacks and heart disease researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota are working with international teams to develop treatments based on stem cell therapiesiThe treatments can erase damage done by a heart attack and even strengthen generally weak hearts (Bartunek et al.). With heart related illnesses being the number one, two and ten leading cause of death in the world, a solution could greatly increase global DALY (Disability adjusted life years) values(WHO). Research is still needed to allow the heart to adapt to alternate gravity scenarios more easily, allowing for extraterrestrial habitation without compromising bodily functions In the near term, medical professionals are seeking to rejuvenate or regenerate weakened hearts; this would lower the rate of heart attack patients returning to hospitals, or even prevent hospital visits In the long run, replacing weakened or diseased organs entirely may be the best solution.
However this long-term solution is facing a demand issue, with too many patients requiring transplants, and too few donor organs available, In regeneratinga heart, doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota extract bone marrow from the patients hip bone via conventional techniques. Then the marrow and the stem cells that are found in the marrow are separated leaving the stem cells on their own. One isolated, a specific protein messenger is introduced to the stem cells that coax them into specializing into cardiac cells, that will go on to repair and build heart muscle. Once enough stem cells have been grown, they are injected via a minimally invasive catheter, into the tissue around the scaring left by a heart attack, Within months patients see dramatic increases in heart strength, and are able to return to mostly normal lives (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) To alleviate the disparity between supply and demand for donor organs the burgeoning field of tissue engineering will be instrumental. Tissue engineering“…refers to the practice of combining scaffolds, cells, and biologically active molecules into functional tissues.
The goal of tissue engineering is to assemble functional constructs that restore, maintain, or improve damaged tissues or whole organs(NlBlB)t” Today researchers are experimenting growing organs such as hearts, ears, liver, even lungs with the hope that one day a patient can have a brand new organ implanted made up of the patient’s own cells, thus avoiding an autoimmune attack against the foreign cells (Bloom DE). When the astronauts return home, they are carried out of their return vehicle and placed in reclining chairs because their bodies struggleto hold their frames in full earth gravity(The Associated Press), Our bodies have evolved to be efficient machines; in zero gravity or low gravity, the muscles that we no longer needbegin to atrophy. The effects are not limited to muscles, bones become more fragile as calcium and other minerals are no longer absorbed to promote strong bones.
To add to these challenges other organ systems like our eyes degrade too.’l’o counteract these side effects of living in space, international teams of scientists have built and sent various exercise devises up the International Space Station (Callini). Currently the 155 is fitted with a number of machines designed to keep astronauts in shape includingthe T2 Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill(T2 COLBERT), ARED “free weight” machine, andOptical Coherence Tomography (OCT)(Tarver M,D.). These machines simulate on earth conditions allowing astronauts to return to earth‘s gravity more easily. For example, astronauts who used the ARED machine retained 15% more muscle volume which is incredible difficult to recover (Loehr et al.).On Earth, soldiers and civilians harmed through combat, accidents or illness have lost their limbs, or sensations. The experiments aboard the [SS are aiding scientist’s research different methodologies for rehabilitation.
Other technologies can go a step further to improve quality of life, by augmenting a healthy human body to adapt faster and perform better. Alternate fields of research are offering different solutions; some dietary, some technological and others could go in the direction of genetics. In the technological direction,the field of bionics has advanced significantly over the past decade. Teams at MIT, Johns Hopkins, and UCLA are mimicking feet and hands that allow their users to almost regain full funcLionality by replacing missing limbs or sensory systems (O‘Brien).These limbs are currently still in development, and will not be commercially viable for a number of years. However, start ups around the world are beginning to attack the issue of prosthetics, advancing the field and drastically improving the quality of life of thousands of individuals on a daily basis.
One of the most advanced commercialized products for below the knee amputees is the BioM ankle. Hugh Herr demonstrated its capabilities during a TED talk in 2014, himself walking with twoBioMs fitted to his own prosthesis, and showcasing a single amputee dancing with an able bodied party(Herr). His device transforms the lives of the user, and allows them return to a mostly normal life (Grabowski and D’Andrea). With his team, Herr is also investigating products that help those without amputations, during the same 2014 TED talk, l-lerr introduced one such project, an exoskeleton structure that is “wrap[ed] around the biological limb… [the device] augments human walkinglt significantly reduces metabolic cost.lt‘s so profound in its augmentation,that when a normal, healthy person wears the device for 40 minutesand then takes it off,their own biological legs feel ridiculously heavy and awkward.We’re beginning the age in which machines attached to our bodieswill make us stronger and faster and more efficient” 7 Herr. Augmenting the body as to enhance, and replace components that need upgrading will be the means by which humans as a species adapt and evolve to suit our needs.
Exoskeletons will allow for greater strength and endurance, letting humans bring more with them, augments will enhance our bodily systems and function, while preserving who we are. These futuristic applications all require the advance of materials science especially for organic and bionic systems. To improve the integration of cutting edge technologies, new materials or new methods of applying known materials, will allow for these prosthetics and augments to weigh less, cost less, and use less energy, while being implanted seamlessly into the body with no adverse immune reactions. The modern world is on the brink of a new scientific revolution. The field of medicine as we know it could change over the next couple of decades, altering how we go about our daily lives, or how we receive medical treatment Quality and length of life would be extended beyond what we know today.
Environments that were once deemed hazardous to human health will open, revealing more about our world and universe than we knew before, Perhaps the most amazingpossibility is that populations once thought of as hopeless, will be able to carry on with their lives nearly unimpeded by their disabilities Every bit of research and technology mentioned in this paper is still being developed. But some, like BioM, have made it into the marketplace, and many more will follow One aspect of regenerative medicine that is yet to become reality is rejuvenation. Educated guesses suggest that this may come in the form of drugs, Nanoebots, or structures that we introduce into our circulatory systems However this is speculation. No matter the path taken, the future is bright, and possibilities numerous. The human race, as we know it, is about to change.