The future of human limb bioengineering

by Alexey Bersenev on August 11, 2015 · 0 comments

in tissue engineering

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Fascinated by Hugh Herr TED talk, I’d like to discuss future scenarios of limbs bioengineering.

Hugh Herr of MIT Media Lab, expanded a concept of nature-driven design to new generation of bionic limbs.

So, here comes the first future scenario – integration of neural tissue and electronics of bionic limb. A quote from Herr’s talk:

We want to go a step further. We want to actually close the loop between the human and the bionic external limb. We’re doing experiments where we’re growing nerves, transected nerves, through channels, or micro-channel arrays. On the other side of the channel, the nerve then attaches to cells, skin cells and muscle cells. In the motor channels, we can sense how the person wishes to move. That can be sent out wirelessly to the bionic limb, then [sensory information] on the bionic limb can be converted to stimulations in adjacent channels, sensory channels. So when this is fully developed and for human use, persons like myself will not only have synthetic limbs that move like flesh and bone, but actually feel like flesh and bone.

If you follow the field, please give us more examples of such integration.

The second future scenario of missing limbs replacement is whole limb bioengineering via tissue decellularization technology. The recent news from Harald Ott’s lab of Harvard about the first transplant of recellularized limb onto amputated recipient rats, made a big buzz in mass media.

Now, more news just came up from his lab about recent experiments with monkey limbs and human cells:

“[We need] to show we can apply this process to limbs of human scale,” says Ott. In his current work with Macaque monkeys his team have so far been able to grow the cells of human vascular tissue and its lining.
And in terms of time, going bigger doesn’t necessarily mean taking longer. “It’s a larger field that you plant with more seeds,” says Ott. The formation of a new human limb should, in theory, take the same amount of time as the rat.

Two great technologies have been developed across the Charles River! I think, both scenarios of limb bioengineering are possible in the future. What scenario is more realistic in your opinion and why? Will exoskeletons dismiss bioengineered limb technologies? Please share your thoughts and ideas about other interesting methodologies with great translational potential!

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