Stem Cells or Cyborgs 2nd Edition

Posted by Ralph | 10:05 PM

Back in September of 2006 I wrote an article on the topics of stem cells versus cyborg technology and how they can, and are being applied to people with SCI and other disabilities. Since then there have been many advancements in both stem cell research and cybernetic technology.

In Stem Cell advancements: Chronic wounds like decubitis ulcers "bedsores" are a major problem for people with spinal cord injuries. I had one on my tailbone for 16 months that I got while I was in the hospital, Christopher Reeves died from one, and they are bad news. Here's the good news. "Thailand’s National Innovation Agency chief Supachai Lorlowhakarn declared that they have experimented with a new stem cell therapy extracted from the patients own blood on chronic wounds on the feet of several diabetes patients, aged from 50 to 72 and it was a success. In addition to the patient’s blood, stem cells may also be extracted from his bone marrow."

The stem cell treatment of wounds of diabetes patients, which costs about (US$5,880) per patient, can save a large sum of money, compared to perhaps $33,000 in conventional treatment for a leg wound. The money isn't half of the problem, I know from my own personal experience laying down and being out of action, missing work... etc, all add up to a much greater overall cost in "quality of life" terms.

As reported by "More than 90% of amputations performed in the United States are due to circulatory complications of diabetes. Sixty to eighty percent of these operations involve the legs." The are currently 350,000 amputees living in the U.S. with 135,000 more occuring every year. The number of spinal cord injury survivors in the U.S. is approximately 400,000 with 10 to 11,000 new injuries that could be helped this research In fact the total number is staggering, betweeen the SCI and amputee populations close to a million Americans could see benefits from this research.

Another really amazing stem cell therapy treatment has been performed in Cuba: "Cuba carried out for the first time a central nervous system stem cell transplant in a fully paraplegic 32-year patient, who is satisfactorily recovering just three months after having undergone surgery.

Neurosurgeon at the Cira Garcia Hospital, Dr. Amado Delgado Gómez, said the patient is already recovering leg movement and can walk assisted by a mechanical device known as orthotics. Dr. Delgado pointed out that this experience will be further extended to several hospitals throughout the island, despite the high cost of this technology, which exceeds $60.000 U.S. dollars.

I still believe that cyborg tech is much cooler and less contested ethically than stem cells. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Ibot has made an awesome pneumatic bionic arm. Unlike traditional prosthetics, which come in a limited variety, Kamen designed his arm to fit the person. It’s proportionate to the patient. By scanning the other arm the team is able to recreate that arm on the other side. The most amazing aspect is the idea of using stem-cell research to create a small implant, which would allow the user to not only have complete control but also to feel. By combining the disciplines of prosthetics/orthotics AND stem cell tech is a phenomonal leap forward in mobilizing people with disabilities.

My favorite piece of technology is the HAL 5 Exoskeleton, it's basically a wearable frame of motors, gears and batteries that detect, and amplify nervous system output with myo-electric sensors - biofeedback equipment and gives the wearer a potential ten fold increase in strength. The price, $42,000 is comparable to some of the more extravagant Tilt/Recline and Space power wheelchairs, the Ibot is $29,000 and it's a great chair, but... you can WALK in HAL.

My personal hope is that by combining the promising stem cell technique of Dr.Gomez and some therapy at the hospital, myself and many others could replace the orthotics and prosthetics and go straight to HAL.

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