Researchers develop ‘Heart in a box’ device to keep the heart alive for transplant even after it stopped beating in its original body
Transplant surgeons in UK and Australia have already started using a novel device known as“Heart in a box” which helps to “reanimate” heart from people who have died recently and then transplant them in other people thus saving their lives.
In other words, it means the device is able to bring a ‘dead heart’ back to life even after it stopped beating in its original body.
Well, for people who are waiting in a long queue for heart transplant this can be “great news”.
However, to what extent is this transplant ethical, is a big question! One one hand we declare the original owner of the heart “dead” since it stopped working and now the same heart is revived and transplanted into some other recipient whose life is being saved by this organ.
According the MIT Technology Review report the so called “heart in a box” device was developed by Massachusetts-based company, Transmedics. The device has already been used in almost 15 transplants in the UK and Australia; however it is awaiting regulatory approval in the US.
Let us try to understand the process which is currently used for heart transplants:
In the present scenario, a person awaiting heart transplant can have the heart of a vegetative or a brain dead patient, with prior consent from the patient’s family members. Right now, the heart of a deceased person is considered to be too damaged and hence cannot be used for transplantation.
The two major categories of death defined by transplant surgeons are: People can become vegetative or brain dead. Secondly, the heart and the blood flow both stop; this is also termed as “circulatory death” and in such a death by the time the heart stops it is completely deprived of oxygen and the muscles too are dying. The heart of such a person is totally damaged and it is also known as Ischemia.
In general, the heart of a vegetative person is cooled down, when the person is still alive, so that it stops gently and then it is extracted and transported in a casket which has been cooled down to 4°C.
Currently, this same procedure is being used for transplanting most of the organs. It is estimated that around 180 heart transplantation occurs in US using this technique every year, however this is not enough because the demand for heart transplant is very high.
According to Antonio Regalado at MIT Technology Review: “In the US about 2,400 heart transplants occur each year, a figure that has remained essentially unchanged for 20 years”.
Concept of “Heart in a box” technology by Transmedics:
The novel device designed by Massachusetts-based company, Transmedics, keeps the“extracted heart” warm instead of cooling it to 4°C.
This “heart in a box” device is a sterile chamber which has been fitted on a wheeled cart that has the provision of oxygen supply.
The extracted ‘dead’ heart is placed in this chamber and then clamped on to tubing that continuously supplies oxygen, blood and other essential nutrients as per the requirement of the heart.
The creators of this device explain that it is due to the unique design of the device which helps to revive the dead heart and keep it alive and functional for a longer time outside the body.
While speaking to Chanelle Berlin at Al-Jazeera, the head of University of California, Los Angeles’ heart and lung transplant program, Abbas Ardehali said: “A human organ has never been kept alive outside of a human body until this machine became a clinical reality. It makes intuitive sense to a layperson to say, ‘Instead of having my heart on ice, I want it to be warm. I want it to be beating.’”
This awesome innovation definitely comes with a huge price tag of US $250,000 for one device which is too expensive.
Medical ethicists have raised questions as to how long do the surgeons need to wait before removing the heart which has stopped working and considered to be dead? There are other ethical questions such as if the dead heart can be put into the machine and revived, then why not put it back in the original owner.
Robert Truog, Harvard ethicist clearly says that a person who is declared dead is dead.
He also told Regaldo: “How can you say it’s irreversible, when the circulatory function is restored in a different body? We tend to overlook that because we want to transplant these organs.”
He further adds: “My argument is that they are not dead, but also that it doesn’t matter. They are dying and it’s permissible to use their organs. The question is whether they are being harmed, and I would say they are not.”
However, Truog also added that this is entirely the call of the family, if they want to give the heart of their family member to some other needy person.
According to the report of MIT Technology Review, earlier this year, surgeons at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New South Wales have reported using the Transmedics device in three cases wherein successful heart transplants were carried out. These surgeons have mentioned that they waited for less than 2 minutes before they removed it from the patient and within 20 minutes they attached the dead heart to the Transmedics rig where it was supplied with oxygenated blood and electrolytes and it started beating again.
Stephen Large, a surgeon at Papworth Hospital in the United Kingdom, has already used the system successfully in eight heart transplants and believes that hearts of dead donors is too damaged to be use in absence of such a novel device. He says: “The device is vital. The heart gets an absolutely essential infusion of blood to restore its energy.”
With the high-tech age the technology for revival and preservation of the vital organs is becoming more sophisticated, so it is quite interesting to understand to what extent is it ethical to declare a patient dead just on the basis of a heart that stopped beating and then within minutes extract if from the original owner and revive it just to be used by some other needful person!
Mind-controlled Wheelchair Developed
US scientists have developed a machine that enables people to navigate a robotic wheelchair through their thoughts.
“In some severely disabled people, even blinking is not possible,” said Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University.
“For them, using a wheelchair or device controlled by non-invasive measures like an EEG (a device that monitors brain waves through electrodes on the scalp) may not be sufficient,” he said.
“We show clearly that if you have intracranial implants, you get better control of a wheelchair than with non-invasive devices,” he added.
The researchers used a computer to monitor brain signals from a rhesus macaque. They recorded signals from hundreds of neurons in two regions of the monkeys’ brains that were involved in movement and sensation.
During experiments, described in a recent issue of the online journal Scientific Reports, as the animals thought about moving toward their goal, in this case, a bowl containing fresh grapes, computers translated their brain activity into real-time operation of a wheelchair.
As the monkeys learned to control the wheelchair just by thinking, they became more efficient at navigating toward the grapes and completed the trials faster, Nicolelis said.
In addition to observing brain signals that corresponded to translational and rotational movement, the researchers also discovered that primates’ brain signals showed signs that they were contemplating their distance to the bowl of grapes.
“This was not a signal that was present in the beginning of the training, but something that emerged as an effect of the monkeys becoming proficient in this task,” Nicolelis said.
“This was a surprise. It demonstrates the brain’s enormous flexibility to assimilate a device, in this case a wheelchair, and that device’s spatial relationships to the surrounding world,” he added.
The team now hopes to expand the experiment by recording more neuronal signals to continue to increase the accuracy and fidelity of the primate BMI before seeking trials for an implanted device in humans, Nicolelis said.
NASA and Arx Pax have entered a Space Act agreement To Build A Magnetic Tractor Beam
A Californian hoverboard company Arx Pax announced that it has entered into a Space Act Agreement withNASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) which aims to build real life hover engines for space by using the MFA technology.
Arx Pax, LLC, a Silicon Valley start-up firm was in news last year due to the invention and patenting of MFA (Magnetic Field Architecture) technology.
In November, Arx Pax had unveiled their semi-functional Hendo Hoverboard which worked on the MFA technology and it was just a platform used by the company to showcase their novel MFA technology to the world.
Fiona MacDonald at Science Alert writes: It means “Arx Pax have managed to create magnetic fields that can levitate an object up off a special metallic surface below.”
The basic aim of this NASA-Arx Pax partnership has been explained in the official website Arx Pax: “The purpose of the collaboration is to use Arx Pax’s MFA to create micro-satellite capture devices that can manipulate and couple satellites from a distance. This can be achieved by using a magnetic tether between the objects.”
Hence in a way this partnership will land into building a real-life magnetic ‘tractor beam’.
Maddie Stone at Gizmodo writes: “The Hendo Hoverboard was on some levels a success, but it was no Back to the Future. The thing only worked on a special metallic surface, it made loud, screechy noises, and its battery life was pretty bad,” which not an ideal device.
Arx Pax believes that this novel MFA technology can also find its application in various other fields such as building levitating homes which can withstand earthquake thus protecting people from natural disasters and now the technology would pave its way into space as well.
During a press release it was explained that: “Arx Pax and NASA will work together to design a device with the ability to attract one object to another from a distance. The device will draw as well as repel satellites at the same time, meaning it will hold a satellite at a distance and won’t allow it to move away or toward the capture device. This will enable the capability to capture and possibly manipulate micro-satellites or other objects without making physical contact with them.”
Significance of Space Act Agreement:
Greg Henderson, founder and CEO of Arx Pax told Gizmodo that currently they are targeting ‘CubeSats’ which are the tiny satellites that NASA plans to send for exploring distant planets in the near future.
Thus, we can see that the Space Act Agreement will help in better co-ordination and link up of the satellites which in a way will prove beneficial for the monitoring systems at Earth and also assist in better space exploration.
Working of MFA Technology:
Arx Pax’s Magnetic Field Architecture: The Hendo Hoverboard utilizes electromagnetic energy for its working. Here, two downward facing disc shaped ‘hover engines’ are used which induces an opposing magnetic field in the material below it. This ultimately results in repulsion of the magnetic fields which leads to levitation of the source of electromagnetic energy i.e. the ‘hover engine’.
The partnership between NASA and Arx Pax intends to use the same interacting magnetic fields to attract the distant objects in space.
With MFA technology electromagnetic energy can be transmitted in much productive and powerful way.
Hendo hoverboard is similar to maglev train technology with the only difference being a maglev train requires track to stay balances whereas Hendo hoverboard is able to move in multiple directions.
Well, this project seems to be very much promising and it will help researchers to study the climate of other planets as well as even explore the surface of an asteroid because with this technology NASA can get a coordinated team of satellites to work simultaneously on a mission.
If things fall in place, the ‘fans’ of Star Trek and Star Wars, who get excited when they see the tractor beams drawing in enemy spacecrafts might get to see IRL magnetic tractor beams.
But wait! as of now we have meager details of this project and also it seems a long way before the real-life tractor beams becomes a reality.
Henderson wrote in an email that, “The collaboration is evolving and the project is a work in process. We will share more information as we hit specific joint development milestones.”
Wild Inflatable Space Elevator Idea Could Lift People 12 Miles Up
Space enthusiasts and sci-fi fans, rejoice: The space elevator may be one step closer to reality.
A Canadian space company was recently awarded a patent for a space elevator that would reach about 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface.
Although space elevators have been considered a theoretical technology, they have been billed as a cheaper alternative to rocket launches, especially when it comes to sending heavy objects or people into space.
According to Thoth Technology Inc., the company that was awarded the patent, the U.S. patent allows for an elevator that would be 30 percent cheaper than the fuel required by a conventional rocket. Also, the system would be fully reusable, further reducing costs, the company said.
“Astronauts would ascend to 20 km by electrical elevator,” inventor Brendan Quine said in a statement. “From the top of the tower, space planes will launch in a single stage to orbit, returning to the top of the tower for refueling and reflight.”
Space transportation options will increase if other companies contribute to the effort of developing alternatives to traditional rockets, noted Thoth CEO Caroline Roberts. For instance, SpaceX is testing self-landing rockets, and the company has made several attempts at landing a version of its Falcon 9 rocket on a sea barge drone, in a move that SpaceX says will eventually decrease launch costs.
“Landing on a barge at sea level is a great demonstration,” Roberts said, “but landing at 12 miles above sea level will make spaceflight more like taking a passenger jet.”
On the product page, Thoth said it is an original equipment manufacturer of “miniaturized payloads for space and UAV platforms.” The company flew a greenhouse-gas sensor called Argus IR aboard the CanX-2 microsatellite in 2008.
Thoth Technology is also working on several missions still in the development phase, such as the Northern Light lander concept for Mars and an Extrasolar Spectroscopy of Planets mission that would probe for elements in the atmospheres of alien planets.
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