04 October 2007

Portable Cell Cultures to Portable Embryo Incubator to Portable Artificial Womb

A recent story about the grandmother in Brasil who gave birth to her own twin grandchildren suggests that there would be a strong demand for an artificial womb, should such a thing ever be perfected. This grandmother was apparently happy to perform this vital service for her daughter. After all, she was able to walk away from the primary responsibilities of childraising when she left the hospital. But how would the dynamics of the same situation have changed in the context of safe and efficacious artificial wombs?

You may remember the microfluidic chip developed by Teruo Fujii of the University of Tokyo, designed to nourish an embryo in its early stages of development before final transplantation into a human womb. And the recent microfluidic cell culture incubator developed at Johns Hopkins is an impressive development along the same lines.
In a recent edition of the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems, the Johns Hopkins researchers reported that they had successfully used the micro-incubator to culture baby hamster kidney cells over a three-day period. They said their system represents a significant advance over traditional incubation equipment that has been used in biology labs for the past 100 years.

...In contrast, the thumb-size system developed by the Johns Hopkins engineers is self-contained and requires no external heating source. A drop of liquid containing living cells is injected into a port and flows through one of the microfluidic channels. A nutrient solution — the cells’ food – is also added in this manner.

The cells gravitate toward and stick to the surface of the microchip. The chip contains a simple heating unit – a miniature version of the type found in a common toaster – and is equipped with a sensor that continually checks to make sure the proper temperature is maintained. For human cells, this is usually 37 degrees Celsius or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The chip is connected to a computer that controls the sensing and heating process. The prototype is connected to a computer via a hard wire, but the inventors say a wireless version would be the next step.

A gas-permeable membrane on the incubator allows the microsystem to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen but keeps out bacteria that could contaminate the cell culture. If a cell colony grows too large, an enzyme can be injected into one of the microfluidic ports to detach and flush away surplus cells without destroying the primary cell culture.

Quite clever indeed. From such microfluidic culture devices, it is not such a stretch to imagine a staged device with graduated chambers (or a single expandable chamber) that accepts an IVF embryo at one end, and nine months later delivers a fully developed neonate out the other.

Bioethicists will no doubt agonize over the concept from now until the next millenium, but the fact is there is a demand for such devices. Where there is a demand, human ingenuity will usually created a supply.

A previous Al Fin article discussed two of the most famous would-be developers of artificial wombs, scientists Kuwabara in Tokyo, and Liu at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility. Other researchers are working in the background, developing the necessary techniques, devices, and software that would allow a single cell to develop into a fully developed neonate in vitro.

One step at a time, largely unnoticed by the public. That is how most science advances.

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Blogger WestEnder said...

I just found this blog and I like it. Interesting links, too. But the cuanas link is... well, I just didn't expect to find something like that in a virtual space characterized by intelligence and thoughtfulness.

It's your blog and your decision, of course, and normally I wouldn't comment. But it just seemed so incongruent with everything else.

Saturday, 06 October, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Many of the hundreds of links on this blog may be considered inexplicable unless one reads the caption at the top of the main page.

Also, as Michael Anissimov of Accelerating Future blog and The Lifeboat Foundation can tell you, I hold a special place in hell for religious fanatics who particularly enjoy killing women and children. That is something that Pastorius and I have in common.

It's a very big world out there, and an eclectic blog such as this one cannot be easily fit into any one pigeon hole.

I am an unapologetic atheist, evolutionist, believer in the scientific method.

But science can be hijacked by factions, and when I see that as occurring, I will attack factionalists who try to monopolise research funds and media coverage.

I strongly dislike monopolies in the intellectual and media arena, and favour choice and diversity of ideas.

I am also something of a secular apocalyptic, sometimes obsessing over existential threats to civilisation.

Monday, 08 October, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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