Posts Tagged ‘Regeneration’

Science Saves Penises Everywhere!

// November 11th, 2009 // 5 Comments » // Recent Research, Sex and Reproduction

I wasn’t going to do it.

Really, I started on Tuesday, and then I thought to myself – Captain. Don’t do it. ‘Tis very silly, and we’re trying to run a professional pirate ship of science here.

But in the end… well… it’s Reproduction Wednesday and this shit is GOLD! A pirate worth her salt can never turn away from gold.

I submit for approval: How to Grow Your Own Penis

Grow Your Own Tomato Penis

Imagine life in a lab. Bright white tables, stainless steel sinks, and clean, filthily clean, a faint smell of ethanol forever clinging to the air. Sterile. You’re exhausted after a long day staring at cell cultures and running gels, hopping from microscope to microscope, always heating, chilling, measuring, counting. And then – SUCCESS! You have created a penis!

“Our hope is that patients with congenital abnormalities, penile cancer, traumatic injury and some cases of erectile dysfunction will benefit from this technology in the future” said Institue Director Anthony Atala, M.D. The technique could replace current surgeries, which usually involve some kind of robot-type prosthetic thing. The huge benefit of this procedure is that it would restore “normal” function – the penis would respond to sexual stimuli without the need of pushing a button. It simply replaces existing tissue with functional penile erectile tissue. AWESOME!

The study was done with rabbit models at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (that’s WFIRM people. FIRM by name, firm by nature.) Endothelial cells and muscle cells were harvested from the rabbit’s who-whos and multiplied in the lab. Cells were put into a scaffold to support them while they grew, which was then implanted into the rabbit’s penis. A mere month later the cells had begun to develop into organized tissues. As if rabbits need help in this department, but still…

Now we all know how erections happen (if we don’t – check out my vid on Viagra). The tissue worked great – nitric oxide induced a normal amount of relaxation causing the erection, which drained away normally after the fun. The animals even mated with females, and eight out of 12 vaginal swabs contained sperm (seriously – who designs these experiments? Voyeur much?) Four of those lucky lady-bunnies got preggo to boot.

Erectile tissue for all! I’m waiting to see how the black market and their damn spambots respond.

Source: Lab Spaces 9th November 2009.

Embryogenesis 101 – Aging Ova

// September 9th, 2009 // 3 Comments » // Sex and Reproduction

About 15% of couples trying to conceive experience infertility.

Possible causes are faulty ovulation, blocked tubes, old ova, swimmers which don’t swim, and erectile dysfuntion, to name just a few. Possible solutions run the full gambit from old wives tales to scientific technologies, and in the spirit of the Schooner I will focus exclusively on the latter (although most tales have a touch of truth to them).

Given that this topic is bigger than the big blue sea and just as fascinating, I’m going to post in bite-sized chunks once a week on what for a while will become Reproduction Wednesday. Before we go any further, this topic is not about me, I’m not pregnant, nor have any plans to that effect, so rest easy! With that out of the way, here’s the first installment of Reproduction Wednesday, Schooner style.

Old Ova, New Dicks Tricks

When a female enters the world, she has already stashed away all the ova she will ever have. They don’t keep replicating, they don’t spring up from nowhere, they’re already there. So by the time you’re thirty, your ova are thirty, and that’s really old for a cell. Almost all your other cells keep replicating throughout life, so on average your rib muscles are 15 years old, and the lining of your gut a mere 5 days (reference). But your ova keep getting older.

Old eggs are bad for fertility. DNA damage builds up, the mitochondria start losing their edge, and proteins in the cytoplasm get dodgy. This is important not only for the egg itself, but also the embryo. For the first three days of it’s life, an embryo doubles in cells but doesn’t change in size, it lives solely off the stuff already in the egg – like a packed lunch. Until the 16 or 32 cell stage, it is still the same size as an unfertilsed egg (reference), although there ain’t no cell in the human body bigger than an egg (to my knowledge.) Here’s a fertilised egg, splitting into multiple cells.

morula

Aging ova is not the end of the world, there is a procedure that gives them a face-lift. They’ll look and feel years younger with a Cytoplasmic Transfer!

It’s easy! Just take the nucleus from an old egg, and put it into a young egg that has had it’s nucleus removed. Hey presto – genetic material from a reproductively challenged woman, proteins from a donor, put it back into the body for implantation! Here it is in a thousand words.

cytoplasmic transfer

It’s the fountain of youth… or is it? This article says that by the time the nucleus is harvested, it is already too late. New proteins are needed while the egg is ripening, once the egg has been sent out into the world that ship has sailed. The jury is still out on that.

Either way, it creates an interesting scenerio… the DNA of one person, the proteins and mitochondrial DNA of another. It sounds scary, almost Frankensteinean to me. There are so many weird and wonderful things in the world of reproduction and embryogenesis, a face-lift for an egg is just the tip of the iceberg.

How to Mend a Broken Heart

// August 7th, 2009 // 3 Comments » // How Things Work, Recent Research

Yesterday I was at the pub, most sublime of settings for scientific debate, and had it put to me that within 10 – 20 years we would be able to grow hearts and other organs from stem cells and live forever. Imagine it – lung cancer? New lung please, hold the immunosuppressants (I find they shorten my lifespan.)

I have to say, I don’t see this happening for a long while. I think it’s theoretically possible, sure, (what isn’t?) but there is a lot of work that goes into making a heart. It’s more than just freshening up some DNA and letting it simmer in a test tube. There’s SIGNALS! It’s why we can’t grow embryos beyond a certain size in teh lab, ex utero.

Embryo Has a Heart

Your hair follicles and your heart have the same DNA, right? But you don’t want to take some stem cells and plan to bake yourself a heart and then end up with a long lock of luscious blonde hair (unless you’re balding, in which case congrats.) It’s all about the signals! The right signal at the right time in the right concentration in crucial for development. A growing heart needs a firm hand and direction in life, they need to know which way is left and which way is up for a start! It’s generally bad to have a heart the wrong way round.

So what is the answer, dear readers? How then shall we live without fear of death? How can we mend a broken heart?

broken_heart-1823

Option 1: Work with what you’ve got. Science Daily recently wrote that researchers “have devised a method to coax heart muscle cells into reentering the cell cycle, allowing the differentiated adult cells to divide and regenerate healthy heart tissue after a heart attack.” The growth factor involved has a suitably smart sounding name, neuregulin1, and the study was done in rats and mice.

Option 2: Pep up with stem cells. Now, this isn’t inserting a new heart, it’s just giving the heart you’ve got a little bit extra, a face-lift if you will. In the words of researcher Timothy Nelson, “Bioengineered fibroblasts acquired the capacity to repair and regenerate infarcted hearts.” Nifty!

Option 3: Get some hardware. An artificial heart is almost as piratey as a wooden leg, plus it looks cool.

Artificial Heart Beats So You Dont Have To

Option 4: Give it a helping hand. Just add in a donor heart for a few years, and let your own heart put it’s proverbial feet up and take it easy for a while. In ten years time, it will be good as new! An amazing example about the regenerative power of the heart.

So take heart (sorry), the future may hold a solution for our broken organs. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Oh – and my advice for a REAL broken heart? Chocolate and friends – eases the dopamine withdrawal.






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