Bioartificial Organs: A Gift for Life
Bioartificial organs, implanted or integrated man-made devices, replace natural organs in order to fully restore bodily functions to optimal levels. Not all bioartificial organs relate to life support, although the general connotation behind the concept implies the prolonging of a dysfunctional body. These special devices suggest the use of an independent, artificial organ that does not rely on a detached power supply resource, such as filters or chemical processing units. Therefore, a dialysis machine would not qualify under the strict terms assigned to a bioartificial organ.
Additionally, bioartificial organs may require an ongoing maintenance regimen not required by a natural organ, and often provides life support to prevent imminent death, re-enables patients to take care of themselves, improves the patient's social life, reconstructs fractured bone structures, skin lesions, surgical or accidental cosmetic damages. Unfortunately, research limits the ability to test new devices due to its lack of human subjects. Initially, extensive experiments do use animals; however, the only concrete results come from humans on the verge of death or who have undergone every other available treatment. Some healthy individuals, such as those awaiting execution for violent crimes committed, volunteer as a test subject for experiments involving bioartificlal organs.
What are Bioartifical Organs?
Bioartifical organs have undergone extensive testing with varying degrees of success. After years of experimentation, there are many artificial organs readily available for transplantation into a willing recipient. The human brain, one of the most fragile internal organs, could have specially crafted pacemakers, deep-brain stimulators that send electrical pulses to the brain for the sole purposes of relieving and controlling depression, epilepsy, tremors and Parkinson's disease. Brain pacemakers disrupt the output of dysfunctional nerve centers to regulate existing symptoms.
Other bioartifical organ devices model the cardiac and pylorus valves to actively combat esophageal cancer, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, and achalasia. Males suffering from erectile dysfunction might replace the natural corpora cavernosa with inflatable penile implants to rectify symptoms of complete sexual impotency. A cochlear implant can also help patients suffering from hearing loss to restore a comfortable audio range up to the level of high-pitched, musical quality. Improving human eyesight might fall short of an artificial eye, but an external digital camera with a unidirectional interface transplanted on the retina's surface or optic nerve comes closest. This digital interface recognizes brightness variances, color contrast, and basic geometric shapes, which proves the technology's efficiency.
Only life-threatening situations call for consideration in bioartificial heart transplantation due to the current technology's unsustainability beyond the eighteen month mark. Heart pacemakers and ventricular assist devices partially replace the functionality of a failing heart without removing the organ itself. The liver, lungs, pancreas, bladder, and ovaries all have breakthrough technologies through experimentation that may lead to an independent bioartificial organ that functions independently similarly to natural bodily organs.
The Process of Engineering Bioartifical Organs
Scientists and physicians have increased knowledge behind the mechanisms of the human body's self-healing processes. Regenerative medicine uses these existing self-healing processes to revitalize the medical enhancement of certain therapeutic options, such as bioengineering artificial organs.
A specific niche of bioengineering includes the field of tissue engineering, or the attempt to generate or repair human tissues and organs using the existing cells of the human subject. This field of study emerged due to an alternative therapeutic demand for patients suffering from terminal organ failure, and the complete imbalance of organ-donor to transplant patient ratio.
Bioartifical tissues have a multitude of advantages over conventional medical implants, including no tissue rejection, potential for regeneration, and potential for growth of the implant in children. The process of engineering bioartifical tissues requires three intensive steps to complete the generation cycle, including obtaining the cells through a biopsy, then increasing in number in a cell culture laboratory. Next, the scientist transfers the cells onto a carrier structure, otherwise known as a matrix, where it can be generated from animal tissues using specific techniques to create synthetic components. The cells sprout on the matrix, and then start to dissolve it and replace the individual proteins whereby the autologous bioartifical tissue originates. Lastly, the transplantation surgeon can replace the natural tissue into the patient after the bioartificial tissue reaches its full maturation.
Tissue engineering techniques have created various bioartifical tissues and organs for transplantation, including joint-cartilage, skin replacements, heart-valves, blood vessels, and muscle sphincters that control urinary incontinence.
Benefits of Bioartificial Organ Transplantation:
The advantages of bioartificial organ transplantation include the potential to overcome other diseases, possibility of prolonging life and improving general life quality, regenerating skin for burn victims, new innovations such as the HeartMate and BioLung, and replacing organ donors transplantation. The disadvantages of bioartifical organ transplantation include the possibility of a latent or hidden illness in the base tissue, and ethical issues dealing with animal testing and organ transplantation.