Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have grown the world’s first biolimb. The biolimb that has been developed is that of a rat, from living cells. However, it is believed that the techniques employed may soon be applicable to growth of human limbs for amputees. Currently, the process behind the rat forelimb has been applied to smaller human organs such as hearts and lungs, but not to limbs. The hope is that biolimbs will prove successful replacements for artificial limbs, which lack the mobility and functionality of biolimbs.
Moreover, artificial replacements pose problems of immune response and require immunosuppressant to be administered to the patient, so that their body does not reject them. The first step in the process of biolimb growth is decellularising the donor limb before recellularising it with cells from the recipient. There are still challenges to overcome with the re-cellularisation process, for example ensuring that the recipient’s nerve tissue penetrates into the new limb so that the nervous system can develop.
Medicine applicants may consider the conflict between biolimb developments as an area of academic interest versus that of a realistic clinical endeavour.
Philosophy applicants should question the ethical implications of using donor limbs for transplants and what the counter arguments may entail.
As well as the moral implications, PPE and Economics and Management applicants can reflect on the cost challenges compared to the life-enhancing benefits of such an advancement, given that there are currently 1.5 million amputees in the US alone.