EDITORIAL

A Completely New Set of Skin

I magine that you leave the country on a trip, and several weeks later return with a completely new set of skin … actually artificially constructed skin made by outputting layer-upon-layer of your living cells produced by a bioprinter and transplanted back to yourself! Science fiction? No. This type of medical tourism is something that will eventually happen sooner or later … but more likely sooner.

In the not-so distant future, bioprinters will revolutionize medical practice as yet another element of what some have called the New Industrial Convergence (NIC), which blurs the boundaries between “manufacturing,” “medicine,” and “media.”

The above diagram evolves from Nicholas Negroponte’s* 1980 diagram describing the encroaching relationship between computing, communications, and content. And it is occurring so rapidly in some areas, that 2030 may end up being 2020, or sooner.


*Then Director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Ruling that Your Cells Are Drugs

Yet unfortunately, this is not likely to be available in what was once the promised land of medical science innovation, the United States. Thus, tissue bioprinting, adult stem cell procedures, and indeed the entire NIC revolution will take place offshore. As an example of why this will occur, just a few months ago, a Broomfield, Colorado clinic, Regenerative Science, was stopped in its promising efforts to measurably repair immobilizing joint damage with a patient’s own adult stem cells.1 Even though many hundreds of patients had significantly benefited from Regenerative Science’s procedures, the flow of patients was thwarted from receiving any further positive outcomes when the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC affirmed the ability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate therapies made from a patient’s own processed stem cells. The decision hinged on the court agreement with the FDA that such stem cells are drugs. In anticipation, Regenerative Sciences had moved its laboratories offshore, to the Caymans.

The problem with the FDA and almost any other Government agency is a basic conflict of interest. Their interest in promoting new and breakthrough technologies or treatments is secondary to their interest in self-preservation, which unfortunately entails a defense of current technology to that of truly innovative alternatives. Back in the 1990s, ex-FDA employee and publisher Kim Pearson (Food & Drug Insider Report) estimated that more than 200 upper echelon FDA bureaucrats had significant stock portfolios heavily represented by drug company stock. Things have not changed.

Let Them Eat Vegetables

“Food Shortages Could Force World into Vegetarianism, Warn Scientists” reads the headline of a recent Guardian article.


www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/aug/26/food-shortages-world-vegetarianism


Not so, according to billionaire Peter Thiel’s philanthropic foundation Breakout Labs, which recently gave up to $350,000 to a company named Modern Meadow. Based on a set of technologies originally developed for creating medical-grade tissues, such as skin, Modern Meadow plans to use 3D bioprinting to create an “edible prototype” that’s a meat replacement, indistinguishable in texture and taste to the real thing, and at a much lower cost than the environmental train wreck of the resource intensity of everything that goes into a hamburger. A one quarter-pound burger takes 6.7 pounds of grain, 52.8 gallons water, 74.5 square feet of land and 1,036 British Thermal Units of fossil fuel, not to mention a lot of polluting methane gas emitted from the cow.

Back to the Future

But the fate of Modern Meadow may also be determined by the precautionary principles of the FDA, as in the case of Regenerative Sciences, so we may have to leave the country to eat “meat,” perhaps on the same medical tourism junket to get our skin replaced!

Reference

  1. Gottlieb S, Klasmeier C. The FDA Wants to Regulate Your Cells. Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2012.

FREE Subscription

  • You're just getting started! We have published thousands of scientific health articles. Stay updated and maintain your health.

    It's free to your e-mail inbox and you can unsubscribe at any time.
    Loading Indicator