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Stamping Out Life


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#1 Kevin Street

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 02:35 AM

This is a bizarre article from New Scientist that was featured on Metafilter:

Ink-Jet Printing Creates Tubes of Living Tissue

Who knows, someday it may be possible to print out replacement organs. Vladimir Mironov has modified ink-jet printers to print living cells. Someday he hopes to print out whole circulatory systems and organs, instead of cloning them or surgically removing them from donors.

Mondo bizarro.

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#2 Godeskian

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 03:20 AM

exciting idea though isn't it. It could at a stroke solve the organ donation problem. allow tens of thousands that need new livers, new lungs, or whatever to get them direct from a machine

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#3 Christopher

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 09:21 AM

Wow, what a brilliant idea!  I've heard of "3-D printers" that can quickly make plastic shapes one cross-section at a time.  This is like a biological application of the same principle.  And the possibilities of high-speed, on-demand tissue engineering are amazing.  As well as making synthetic organs for donation, this process could perhaps be used as a kind of "food replicator," assembling steaks and vegetables and other foodstuffs on-site (if the basic cells were available).  Consider the applications.  It would be possible to obtain meat without raising and slaughtering animals, which would not only be more humane but much less strenuous on the environment.

An SF application for this technology might be the fast "printing" of organic masks or gloves, in case a secret agent wanted a realistic disguise or a fake handprint that could fool a DNA scanner.  This would first require obtaining cell samples of the person the agent wanted to impersonate, of course.

And hey, this could be the technique by which Harper "grew" the Rommie android's organic skin and hair!

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#4 QueenTiye

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 10:13 AM

Label me the wary public...

While this sounds exciting, it also strikes me as profoundly scary...and it (as always) alarms me that technology is so rapidly outpacing our ethical discourses...

.....still thinking...

QT

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#5 Bad Wolf

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 02:17 PM

I agree with QT on this...

And I apologize for the following but you can blame my silly Tyrant in hiding brother for it:

From the filk forum:

Quote

Mom was NOT!! take that back!

KeeeeerrrrrrrSmiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttttteeeeeeeeeee!!

Watches his Sis exit the thread to:

http://www.exisle.co...-bin....1;t=612



Darn it, she keeps leaving the thread.Gotta find her.

LoP runs off after lil

NYAYAYAYAYAYA...You can't catch me.................

*Lil flies away again*

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#6 Lover of Purple

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 02:20 PM

Slides into thread, looks around and only sees footprints from her sisters..ARMY BOOTS  :laugh:  

Sorry folks. do they think they can really do that? That's...odd.

Leaves thread in search of his Half-Sister


#7 Christopher

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 02:25 PM

QueenTiye, on Jan. 31 2003,10:13, said:

Label me the wary public...

While this sounds exciting, it also strikes me as profoundly scary...and it (as always) alarms me that technology is so rapidly outpacing our ethical discourses...
Sorry, I don't see what's scary about this.  The ability to quickly manufacture replacement organs, without having to wait for a compatible donor to die?  Perhaps the ability to make meat without having to slaughter animals or wreck the environment?  What's the downside?
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#8 Bad Wolf

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 02:28 PM

Well Christopher it has kinda a Frankenstein feel to it you know?

*sneaks out of the thread before LOP comes back*

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#9 Christopher

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 03:32 PM

Una Salus Lillius, on Jan. 31 2003,14:28, said:

Well Christopher it has kinda a Frankenstein feel to it you know?
Interesting.  "Frankenstein."  Viktor Frankenstein was a man who gave birth to a child, through unconventional means, and instantly hated and abandoned that child because it didn't look like an ordinary human.  The creature he created wanted nothing more than to participate as a peaceful, giving member of society, but because he was rejected and victimized by the prejudice of others, and especially that of his own father, he became bitter and vengeful.  Viktor was the real monster in the tale, because he hid behind superstitious moralizing about the evils of playing God, blaming the creature for the crime of existing, rather than admitting his own failure to do justice to his own offspring.

The moral of Frankenstein is not that it's wrong to create life.  The moral is that we must not reject the positive potentials of our creations out of fear.

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#10 Bad Wolf

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 03:41 PM

That's certainly one way of looking at it.

And while I agree that the doctor was the real villain and the creature a victim, I think a very big part of the moral of the story (yikes, I'm really not a churchy person) is that man has no business playing god.

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#11 QueenTiye

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 03:44 PM

Christopher, on Jan. 31 2003,19:25, said:

Sorry, I don't see what's scary about this.  The ability to quickly manufacture replacement organs, without having to wait for a compatible donor to die?  Perhaps the ability to make meat without having to slaughter animals or wreck the environment?  What's the downside?
One immediate downside is that we haven't given enough thought to a downside.

We don't know what it means, for instance, to eat food that is thus created.  We don't know what kind of imbalances we create by so doing.  We don't know how we react psychically to the ease of doing so.  We don't know what kind of nutcakes make perverse use of the technology.  Etc.

All I'm saying is that our ability to think about the consequences of things far lags behind our ability to go ahead and do them.

And yes... the Frankenstein story tells us that we SHOULD love our creations, but it also cautions us against the flagrant arrogance of creating in the first place.  Lest we forget that we currently habitually create babies who are unwanted, who didn't ask to come into the world, yet are here, and may become liabilities to society through lack of proper social development, health issues that nobody (but they themselves) care about, etc.... what happens when we start creating things in this weird way?  

Religiously, where do these cells come from that are to grow meat for food?  Pigs?  Cows?  Dogs?  Horses?  Humans?  Will the world's religions, with their various and sundry injunctions, be able to make the mental leap to say it's o.k. to eat (for instance) cow cells if you are hindu, since it didn't (actually) kill a cow?  How about Orthodox Jews or Muslims eating the unclean pig's cells?

Ultimately, the answer maybe that it's perfectly peachy.  Everything may be perfect with the technology and it may be  the answer to many of the worlds ills.  But I hope that we give ourselves time to think it all through.

QT

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#12 Cardie

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 03:48 PM

People talked about "playing God" and "Frankenstein" when in vitro fertilization came along, and now we have thousands of infertile couples as happy parents (even though the success rate is low and there are risks and disappointments involved.)  Organ transplants as now carried out are playing God, if you want to look at it that way. It sounds like this guy is proposing Trek replicators. My only dubious feelings are that I can't quite figure out how you do it with an ink jet printer.

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#13 Bad Wolf

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 03:55 PM

I hear you Cardie.

But I can't help it.  It creeps me out.

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#14 Jid

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 04:48 PM

Christopher, on Jan. 31 2003,13:25, said:

Sorry, I don't see what's scary about this.  The ability to quickly manufacture replacement organs, without having to wait for a compatible donor to die?  Perhaps the ability to make meat without having to slaughter animals or wreck the environment?  What's the downside?
I could see several downsides in the about the animal slaughtering and environmental stuff alone.

This doesn't bother me so much, considering that organ donations are slow enough that I for one, would welcome single organ cloning (or splicing to make a healthy one) in a heartbeat.

But as with all new technology, I think we have a duty to assess its impact before we embrace it outright as a new way of life.  Of course, this is a long way from large scale implementation, but still, it should certainly give professional ethical philosophers plenty more to ruminate on if the technology begins to emerge as ever remotely feasible on a production scale.

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#15 Godeskian

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 05:45 PM

Una Salus Lillius, on Jan. 31 2003,20:55, said:

I hear you Cardie.

But I can't help it.  It creeps me out.
Scares me to death personaly, but i can't help but be excited at the possibilities

you see i love the age we live in, it is never dull because it's always changing, and to paraphrase, i am both awed and terrified that we can watch it change

Defy Gravity!


The Doctor: The universe is big. It's vast and complicated and ridiculous and sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles... and that's a theory. Nine hundred years and I've never seen one yet, but this will do me.


#16 Uncle Sid

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Posted 01 February 2003 - 01:00 AM

Personally, I rather enjoy the prospect of maufacturing body parts and even food, but I agree that each step must be taken carefully.  The obvious example of splitting the atom comes to mind when discussing technology.  That advance could be used to end life or to provide vast amounts of power to improve life.  

Technology, like power itself, is morally and ethically neutral.  Indeed, morality and ethics is oft-defined by how we use power and technology.  

The key thing to remember, especially about things such as cloning and other genetic advances, is that our mindsets and our very principles of freedom are based on the foundation of our limits, perhaps more than our capabilities.  For instance, take the phone tap.  There are quite a few laws in place that limit the ability of the government to monitor phone conversations.  The phone is a reliable and (relatively) old advance.  We understand it, for the most part, and we also understand the limits of what that technology can do.  Then move to e-mail communications and the ability of laws to protect people using that technology becomes less.  Our e-mail can be read by powerful FBI programs such as Carnivore, and the law isn't really clear where something like that stands.  Indeed, most lawmakers probably haven't the foggiest idea how e-mail works, other than pressing a button when they hear "you have mail".

Although people are taking action today about things like Carnivore and wireless, as soon as technology shifts, so does the battlefield.  The law forbids wire tapping?  Well, we'll just stick up an antenna and pull in wireless communications!  

People need to understand that rapid advances in technology help those who can afford it first and foremost.  Unless we react conservatively towards the release of certain, very powerful technologies, it puts those technologies in the hands of those who can afford to get them first (ie. the government and rich individuals & groups).  If the rate of technological advance grows faster than our ability to understand and control its effects, it will eventually erode the foundations of liberty since technology now moves significantly faster than any kind of law, let alone effective law.  

Indeed, cloning is a central focus for potential danger, since where we ultimately derive our rights is from our existence as unique humans.  While it's true that clones are no more shocking than a pair of twins, no one has ever readily suggested the use of twins as unrestricted body-part donors (for instance).  Further, the ability to make clone fetuses, and then the current right to then kill fetuses via abortion makes it very easy to see one perfectly legal way that cloning can turn into an industry if not carefully checked.  

Even without such a grisly industrial horror scenario, the fact is that our literature is filled with situations where even natural twins are put into nightmarish situations.  Indeed, all that prevents natural twins from being an issue is that the current method of making twins (via natural gestation) naturally limits the number of twins available to cause trouble.  Further, natural twins also grow up under the care of guardians who view each twin as a person and (generally) love and care for them as individuals.  Clones, on the other hand, have no need need for a mother to exist, but it also removes the benefits of parents as well.  Although, right now, cloning is simply a form of artificial fertilization, eventually the ability exists for cloning to do without a mother at all, as we all know.  

Cloning is both very useful and extremely dangerous, and it will not cease to be either simply because we want to ignore the bad effects.  Those unethical uses of the technology will be discovered and applied, the only question is whether we give ourselves the time to come to grips with the technology before it gets away from us.

The argument is not for progress to stop, but it is an argument for technophiles to set the limits before the technophobes do.  The latter result is often as bad as what caused the problem to begin with.

I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it. - Jack Handey

#17 Christopher

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Posted 01 February 2003 - 10:00 AM

Una Salus Lillius, on Jan. 31 2003,15:41, said:

And while I agree that the doctor was the real villain and the creature a victim, I think a very big part of the moral of the story (yikes, I'm really not a churchy person) is that man has no business playing god.
I don't agree -- rather, it was that superstitious assumption of Viktor's that made it impossible for him to accept his creation as a being with a valid right to exist.

"Playing God" is generally used as a synonym for "tampering with nature" or "playing with the forces of creation."  But humans have always done that.  We've been doing it since the first time we deliberately burned part of a forest so we could cultivate plants there.  The first time we domesticated an animal or plant species.  The first time we redirected a river to cultivate fields.  The first time we cured a sick person who would "naturally" have died.

We have been remaking the world for millennia.  We have altered its geography, its climate, its biodiversity.  We have altered ourselves -- the changes we've made in our diet and lifestyle have changed our biochemistry and anatomy.  It's way too late to say we shouldn't do it -- we've always done it.

Certainly, absolutely, we should be responsible in pursuing these alterations of the world we inhabit, and of ourselves.  We have done great harm through pursuing them irresponsibly.  But that doesn't mean it's unnatural for us to do it.  Every species has an effect on its environment.  We have an effect on the world because we are part of the world. Nature has given us the intelligence and ability to change our environment to a greater degree than most species can, and it's only natural for us to use it.  It's not "playing God."  It's being human.  It's doing what we were made to do.  Yes, we should do it more carefully and responsibly than we've often done in the past.  But to say we shouldn't do it at all, that it isn't our place, is to ignore the entire history and prehistory of our species.

Besides... all these arguments about "It's wrong to play God" don't make sense to me on a spiritual level either.  I mean... don't most parents want their children to follow in their footsteps? ;)

We should create.  We must create.  It's our nature.  We just need to be responsible about it.  And refusing to do it at all because we're afraid of the consequences is the height of irresponsibility.  If we'd refused to harness fire because we were afraid of being burned, then all the good that fire has done would've been negated.  To deprive the world of the good because you're afraid to take responsibility for managing the harm -- that, like all irresponsibility and cowardice, does more harm in the long run.

So no -- we should not use God as an excuse to evade our responsibility as humans, our responsibility to use our powers of creation wisely and well.

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"The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas." -- "H. G. Wells," Time After Time


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#18 DWF

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Posted 01 February 2003 - 12:03 PM

This sounds really cool, even though it still sounds alittle like science fiction, I'd like to see the process in action. I also have to wonder about tissue rejection. But, overall this is good news for people with heart problems, and even stroke victims. :cool:
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#19 Anarch

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Posted 01 February 2003 - 02:13 PM

Thinking about the downsides to this technology, what kinds of biological organisms could be produced in this manner?  Anthrax by mail was bad enough; anthrax by fax takes it to a whole new level...

#20 Christopher

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Posted 01 February 2003 - 03:19 PM

Anarch, on Feb. 01 2003,14:13, said:

Thinking about the downsides to this technology, what kinds of biological organisms could be produced in this manner?  Anthrax by mail was bad enough; anthrax by fax takes it to a whole new level...
This is about manufacturing organs, not organisms.  Remember, it doesn't make new cells -- it just organizes pre-grown cells into larger structures.  Fill the ink-jet cartridges with muscle and cartilage and whatever sorts of cells you've already grown, and put them together in a specified structure.  This isn't capable of manufacturing single cells out of basic molecules or whatever.  No anthrax on demand.

Although I do think the article said that they'd come up with a way to "print out" DNA strands, so maybe I'm ruling it out too quickly.  But of course with the potential for good comes the potential for harm, and vice-versa.  Of course any technology can be misused.  That's no reason not to use it, or to be afraid of it.  It's just a reason to be aware and responsible.

Presumably for organ replacement, the optimal thing to do would be to culture the appropriate types of cells from the patient's own body and then shape them into the necessary organ.  If there weren't time for this, then an artificial organ could be used as a stopgap until the new organ could be "bio-printed."  Perhaps the bioprinter could be loaded with synthetic cells to create an artificial organ shaped just like the real one.

I can envision a future application of this technology, maybe a kind of home first-aid center in which you'd keep cultures of your own skin, connective-tissue, etc. cells; if you suffered an abrasion, maybe it could spray new skin cells on top of the cut, quick-healing it.  Maybe for more serious cases, you might give your local hospital cultures of your cells to keep on hand for their more elaborate biprinters (with, of course, ethical safeguards in place to keep your cell cultures from being used for other purposes).

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