Work towards artificial organs provides good competition for the young field of tissue engineering - scientists in both fields are moving closer to viable replacement organs; I would expect to see interesting product lines on the medical market from both fields in 2016. I recently noted research into artificial skin at the Longevity Meme, and here is an article to match on developing better materials for artificial bone:
For the past several years, Tomsia and colleagues have worked to fabricate artificial bone that is more bone than artificial, meaning it adapts to changing physiological conditions and meshes with surrounding tissue over time. In contrast, today's artificial joints are made from metal alloys and ceramics that often trigger inflammation and immune responses, or may require corrective surgery after only a few years. The need for better biomaterials is further underscored by the growing demand for artificial joints. More than 150,000 hip replacement and nearly 300,000 knee replacements were performed in 2000, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. These numbers are expected to swell in the future as baby boomers age.
Because of the pressing need for longer-lasting artificial bone, researchers like Tomsia have developed materials that take their cue from nature. In this case, Tomsia and colleagues turned to the ocean. When seawater freezes, crystals of pure ice form layers, while impurities such as salt and microorganisms are expelled from the forming ice and entrapped in channels between the ice crystals. The result is a layered structure that roughly resembles nacre's wafer-like construction.
To me, the near-future area of most interest is the blending of prosthetics and artifical replacements with tissue engineering and stem cell medicine. Scientists are heading towards hybrid technologies that take the best of both worlds - the reliability and range of materials science coupled with biological tools that handle the complexities of growth and structure. From that article on artificial skin:
"This technology is taking us many steps closer to real skin, which is our goal - to make something in the laboratory that is as close as possible to the structure and function of natural skin ... To reach that pinnacle, the skin will need some other, crucial ingredients it doesn't yet contain: pigment cells to restore skin color, and - especially - endothelial cells to form blood vessels that are required to supply the skin with oxygen and vital nutrients. ... Although an ideal artificial skin is still years away, scientists can see real, tangible progress in their efforts to mimic the hugely complex mesh of fibers, sweat glands, hair follicles and blood vessels
Ultimately - within 30 to 40 years, if we keep to to a Kurzweilian timescale - we're going to see the spectrum of artificial replacements far outpace standard issue human biology in terms of cost, performance and reliability. That will certainly be interesting...
Technorati tags: biotechnology