Imagine what stem cells might be able to do in terms of revolutionizing medicine and society in coming decades. It’s an exciting time.
One cool notion that’s been out there for a long time (e.g. see this Tech Review piece from 2001) is The Human Body Shop.
I’d extend that to The Stem Cell Human Body Shop as I’ve discussed in my book and in this 2013 radio interview. How would this work?In the future it may literally be possible to replace human body parts that otherwise may have led to our deaths. Have a liver problem? In twenty years perhaps scientists can grow you a new one from your stem cells and pop it in after taking out the old one like a replacement part for your car. Same goes for heart, lungs, kidney, pancreas, and more.
Even now, the biotech ViaCyte is testing in humans an encapsulated form of essentially a bioengineered pancreas in a new, exciting clinical trial (see image above). Infusions of laboratory-grown young blood may in coming decades aid the fight against aging.
What might the risks be?
A few years back I held a stem cell essay contest and one of the winners, then 14-year-old Claire August, wrote an inspired piece invoking the Ship of Theseus in this context. If we start replacing many of our body parts and there are few left that are original, are we the same person?
Another issue revolves around price and access. Could we end up in a future where 1%er’s live say 150 years due to the Human Stem Cell Body Shop, while most people live about 80 years on average?
Still, overall the notion of organ replacement via bioengineering and stem cells provides real hope looking to the next few decades. In decades to come if we need a part to replace an old or diseased one, the process of getting a new one “installed” may not be so different than fixing a car part now except the new part will have to be grown first.