Worlds of David Darling > Children's
Encyclopedia of Science > Could You Ever Live Forever? > 3. New Parts
COULD YOU EVER LIVE FOREVER?
a book in the Could You Ever? series by David Darling
3. New Parts for Old
When part of the human body breaks down or wears out completely, an operation
may be a patient's only hope of recovery. Today, life-saving operations
can replace such organs as the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Healthy organs
can be taken from someone who has just died and given to a living person.
In addition, artificial devices have been developed to take the place of
missing limbs, diseased arteries, burned skin, and other damaged body parts.
|Heart transplant surgery requires a skilled
team of surgeons, and medical technicians to operate life-support
Many people now have the chance to live longer, healthier lives because
of organ transplants. In 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first
such operation in South Africa. He transplanted the healthy heart of a 25-year-old
woman (the donor), who had just died, into the body of a 55-year-old man
(the recipient). The first heart transplant patient survived for 18 days.
Since then, thousands of transplant operations have been carried out all
over the world with increasing success. A number of patients are alive today,
15 years or more after receiving their new hearts.
Following a transplant, the recipient faces a serious danger. His or her
immune system may treat the new organ as if it were an invader. This is
known as rejection. In an effort to avoid rejection, doctors carefully match
the blood and tissue type of the recipient to those of the donor. The best
chance of an exact match occurs when the donor and recipient are closely
related. For this reason, it is common for a kidney donor to be the brother,
sister, or parent of someone whose own kidneys have failed. The donor can
continue to lead a healthy life because his or her remaining kidney can
take over most of the work of the missing one.
Various machines enable patients to survive both before and after a transplant
operation. These machines take the place of one or more organs that are
not working properly.
|A young patient waits to have an X-ray picture
taken by an X-ray machine
During heart transplants and other major operations on the heart, the patient
is connected to a heart-lung machine. Blood from the patient's main arteries
and veins is sent through the machine. While surgeons replace or repair
the heart, the machine takes the place of the heart and lungs. It removes
waste carbon dioxide gas from the blood, and adds fresh oxygen, which is
vital to all living cells. Then it pumps blood back into the body.
Another piece of equipment, known as a kidney dialysis machine, does the
work of of a human kidney. This organ cleans the blood of various wastes.
A patient whose own kidneys have failed must be connected to a dialysis
machine for about two hours every few days. Then, if a suitable donor is
found, the patient may receive one or a pair of new, healthy kidneys.
In addition to life-support machines, doctors can use a range of advanced
equipment for finding out what is wrong with a patient. Such equipment can
help doctors discover a disease in its early stages, when the chances of
treating it successfully are higher. In this way, new medical technology
helps extend the life of many people.
X-ray machines have been available for many years as a tool for looking
inside the body. X-rays pass easily through soft body parts, such as skin
and flesh. But they do not pass through bone. On a photographic film placed
on the other side of the patient from the X-ray beam, bones and dense tissue
appear as shadows. By injecting a patient with special dyes that absorb
X-rays, doctors can also use this method to study diseased organs and disorders
of the blood system.
In recent years, other ways of probing the human body have been developed.
Some of these use a combination of a moving X-ray beam with a computer.
In this way, doctors are able to create a three-dimensional picture of a
particular area of the body. Other advanced scanners employ a powerful magnetic
field or beams of high-energy particles to study soft body parts in close
detail. With such equipment, doctors can identify and treat many diseases
at a very early stage.
|Operations without Cuts
Doctors will soon be able to perform operations on the heart and other
organs of the body. Already a device called an endoscope can be inserted
through a small opening in a vein (often in a leg) and pushed through
until it reaches the area of concern.
|Within an endoscope are tiny bundles of optic
fibers, tubes, and wires
The endoscope is a long, flexible tube. Bundles of special glass fibers,
called optic fibers, pass through the tube. One bundle carries a beam
of light that brightens the area around the tip of endoscope. Another
bundle carries back pictures taken by a tiny television camera. These
pictures are shown on a screen in the operating room so that the surgeon
has a clear view from inside the patient's body. Other tubes and wires,
passing along the length of the endoscope, control instruments at
the tip. These allow small samples of tissues to be collected for
testing. Jets of air and water can also be sent through to the tip.
In the future, it will be possible to perform operations using tiny
surgical instruments fixed to the tip of an endoscope. In addition,
small replacement parts, such as artificial heart valves, will be
sent along the endoscope and fitted into place. These parts will be
folded up to pass easily through the narrow tube. Then they will be
opened in the correct position. In this way, major operations that
once put a patient's life at risk will be carried out quickly while
the patient is still awake. As a result, many people will live longer
and healthier lives.
|Using an endoscope, a surgeon observes a cancerous
growth in the body and removes a sample for testing
Spare Part Surgery
Hearts, lungs, kidneys, and livers have all been successfully transplanted
from one person to another. But what happens if a suitable donor is not
|Older people with arthritis often have painful
and swollen hip joints. In this case, an artificial hip joint can
replace the damaged natural one. A stainless steel "head" is fitted
to the end of the thigh bone. The head moves smoothly in a plastic
cup joined to the hip bone.
Until a donor is found, the patient may use one of the life-saving machines
just described. But these machines are expensive, and there are not enough
for everyone who needs them. In the future, the best solution may be to
give patients artificial organs.
Human-made body parts are already common. Many old people, for example,
are fitted with artificial hip joints. These replace natural joints that
have been damaged by disease. The operation involves removing the socket
of the hip joint and replacing it with a sturdy plastic cup. Meanwhile,
the head of the thigh bone is removed and replaced with a smooth metal ball.
This ball is attached to a long stem. The stem is then fixed into a hole
drilled into the rest of the thigh bone.
Artificial legs, arms, hands, and feet have also been developed. These are
designed to make many of the movements of real limbs. Normally, tiny electrical
signals in the upper parts of the limb trigger muscle movements in the lower
part. When a person has lost all or part of a limb, though, these signals
can be picked up and used to control an artificial replacement. The signals
travel down tiny wires to small motors that make each of the artificial
joints work. An artificial hand can be fitted that will allow a person to
write normally, pick up a delicate object without breaking it, or seize
something with a strong grip. Currently, researchers are working on an improved
hand. It will have pressure sensitive electronic devices in the fingertips
to give the wearer a sense of touch.
A human-made hand that is less than perfect is better than no hand at all.
But a human-made organ, such as an artificial heart or kidney, has to work
almost as well as the real one, or it is useless. Natural organs are complex
structures. Yet, they are also tough and long-lasting. In an average lifetime,
for instance, the heart beats faultlessly about 40 million times without
Replacing an organ such as the heart with a human-made copy, then, is extremely
hard. The first person to receive an artificial heart was a 61-year-old
dentist, Dr. Barney Clark. The operation took place at the Utah Medical
Center, Salt Lake City, in 1982. Clark's new heart, known as a Jarvik-7,
kept him alive for 112 days after the operation. Surgeons placed the new
heart in Clark's chest. But in order for it to work, it had to be constantly
supplied with compressed air from a large pump at the patient's bedside.
In 1990, officials decided that operations of this type would stop until
an improved artificial heart could be developed.
|Dr. Barney Clark and the artificial
heart he received
Future artificial hearts and other organs will be much smaller and more
reliable than early devices such as the Jarvik-7. They may be controlled
by tiny computers that can gather information from various parts of the
body. This information would allow the computers to measure how well the
artificial organ was performing. They could make immediate adjustments if
needed. For example, a computer attached to an artificial heart could change
the rate at which the heart beats to match the amount of blood needed by
the body. It might check to see that there is no buildup of fatty substances
in the main arteries leading from the heart. Finally, if it did find anything
wrong, it could send radio warning signals to a device outside the body.
In the future, it may be possible to replace large sections of the human
body so that people become part human, part machine. Today, that may sound
frightening and unpleasant. But if the new artificial parts help us to live
happily for much longer, will anyone object? Already, millions of people
have artificial limbs, joints, and devices called pacemakers to help their
hearts beat regularly. Many more wear false teeth, braces, hearing aids,
and glasses. Some even have their faces altered by plastic surgery. So,
is it far-fetched to imagine that someday there will be people whose bodies
are more than half machine?
Still, replacing natural body parts may not be the easiest way to help people
live longer. In the end, more success is likely to come from understanding
why we age and how we can stop or slow the aging process.