Biotech Missteps: Would You Prefer a Synthetic Implant or One From A Human Cadaver?


Yahoo is reporting on a Lancet study of a new spinal surgery “breakthough” today – the use of a spinal disk transplant from a cadaver by Chinese doctors.  One step forward, two giant leaps backwards.  The move towards cadaveric implants in a era of evolving synthetic disks is a move in the wrong direction.  Reasons follow the details of the news.

Study Details First

Chinese surgeons are reporting long-term success with the first use of transplanted spinal discs to relieve back pain.  Spinal discs from human donors were transplanted five years ago into five patients with chronic back pain caused by disc degeneration, physicians at the University of Hong Kong and the Naval General Hospital in Bejing said.  As reported in the March 24 issue of The Lancet, the five-year follow-up found an improvement in symptoms, no signs of immune rejection and only mild degeneration of the transplanted discs.

Why This is a Step in the Wrong Direction

There is a huge movement in biomedicine to move away from products derived from humns, cadavers, and animals and move towards synthetics.  The reasons are many and profoundly important.  Anything derived from a human source has biological variability- that is the implants are all as different as we are from each other.  This variability leads to unpredictable outcomes.  A huge step away from this happened in my field of infertility with our major drugs – gonadotropins.  These for decades were extracted from the urine of cloistered menopausal nuns and when they became more scarce grandmothers in the Netherlands.  Millions of gallons of urine was processed to extract the hormones.  Unfortunately the spectre of contamination, infection, and variability between lots not to mention the cost and logistical issue of manufacture have led to replacement to a great extent with pure forms of the hormone quietly created in the laboratory.  No human extractions, no variability, no contamination, and pure consistant results.  Sorry to the nuns. 

Next, there have been horrific recent scandals regarding horrific and dangerous procurement (Mastromarino case) of cadaveric tissue or selling stolen body parts for medical use without consent and there is great concern about the methodology potentially used in China where organs are harvested and sold from executed prisoners.  

There are now synthetic spinal disks approved for use. 

I don’t know about you but I’ll take a synthetic cyborg implant over a cadaver anyday.  More exciting is the idea I keep shouting about- that in the near future synthetic implants will outperform natural human abilities anyway and enhance performance.  Read about that idea here and here!

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