From “i-limbs” to artificial organs, advances in technology have led to an explosion of innovation in the increasingly critical field of prosthetics
|Scooped by Ellen H Ullman, MSW|
"Perhaps the toughest challenge faced by inventors of artificial organs is the body’s defense system. “If you put something in, the whole body’s immune system will try to isolate it,” says Joan Taylor, a professor of pharmaceutics at De Montfort University in England, who is developing an artificial pancreas. Her ingenious device contains no circuitry, batteries or moving parts. Instead, a reservoir of insulin is regulated by a unique gel barrier that Taylor invented. When glucose levels rise, the excess glucose in the body’s tissues infuse the gel, causing it to soften and release insulin. Then, as glucose levels drop, the gel re-hardens, reducing the release of insulin. The artificial pancreas, which would be implanted between the lowest rib and the hip, is connected by two thin catheters to a port that lies just beneath the skin’s surface. Every few weeks, the reservoir of insulin would be refilled using a syringe that fits into the port."
"The challenge is, when Taylor tested the device in pigs, the animals’ immune system responded by forming scar tissue known as adhesions. “They are like glue on internal organs,” Taylor says, “causing constrictions that can be painful and lead to serious problems.” Still, diabetes is such a widespread problem—as many as 26 million Americans are afflicted—that Taylor is testing the artificial pancreas in animals with an eye toward solving the rejection problem before beginning clinical trials with people.
For some manufacturers of artificial organs, the main problem is blood. When it encounters something foreign, it clots. It’s a particular obstacle to crafting an effective artificial lung, which must pass blood through tiny synthetic tubes. Taylor and other researchers are teaming up with biomaterial specialists and surgeons who are developing new coatings and techniques to improve the body’s acceptance of foreign material. “I think with more experience and expert help, it can be done,” she says. But before Taylor can continue her research, she says she needs to find a partner to provide more funding."