Where are the Complex Artificial Organs?

Where are the complex, functional artificial body parts - the artifical eyes, hearts, lungs and so forth? The state of the art here is still pretty primitive when it comes to matching the utility of your present biological apparatus, even when those organs are at the end of their rope. To pick one example, this is where artificial hearts stand, more or less - anything that has worked its way through the FDA process is a generation behind what is presently in the labs:

Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first totally implanted artificial heart for patients with advanced heart failure in both of the heart's pumping chambers. The device is intended for patients who are not eligible for a heart transplant and whose life expectancy without the device is only a month.

In other words, you can expect to do somewhat - but not greatly - better than a run of a month or so with one of these devices. No doubt the prospects would be better for someone less terminally damaged, but still. Compare that with the sort of early results obtained from regenerative medicine; it looks to me as though the prospects for biological repair are brighter than those for artificial organs - at least for the decade ahead.

Artificial replacements for portions of the eye are much the same state: the early functioning technologies are fairly crude in comparison to results from early regenerative medicine.

The marketplace for research funding appears to have come to much the same conclusion in these years of advancing stem cell science; resources devoted to regenerative medicine outweigh resources for the development of complex artificial organs.

Some small improvement is far better than nothing at all if you benefit from any of these technologies, but they are all steps on the road - even if one path seems shorter than the the other, at least until the first way station. In the long run, this will look like a tortoise and hare sort of race. Eventually we will be able to build artificial organs and bodies far more impressive, capable, adaptable, inexpensive and useful than our present biology. That much is written on the wall, even if everyone argues over the timelines. "Eventually" is not next year or next decade, however, and the pressing problems of aging and degeneration must be meaningfully addressed in the here and now - or else those of us reading this now won't be around to see "eventually."

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