AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: progress

Bioelectronic Medicine is Moving Fast, Artificial Nerve Regeneration to the Rescue!


Researchers at both Washington University School of Medicine and Northwestern have just made a discovery that has huge potential for future patients of nerve damage. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Bell’s palsy, Cerebral palsy, and many other illnesses regarding the nervous system/ nerves are one step closer to having a cure! Beyond chemistry and drugs, scientists are now using technology to find a cure using the first ever development of bioelectronic medicine. A device, ” The size of a dime and the thickness of a sheet of paper,” is implanted in the body to “speed nerve regeneration and improve the healing of a damaged nerve”.

This device, which is currently nameless, is powered wirelessly by a “transmitter outside the body that acts much like a cellphone-charging mat”. It is very thin and works by winding around a directly injured nerve(precisely where needed). After the device has engulfed the injured nerves, it delivers electrical pulses. These pulses accelerate wound healing and reproduce nerves. Doctors/ patients using this device have the ability to control the times which pulses are sent. Around two weeks after the device is injected, it naturally absorbs into the body not harmfully.

Image result for nerves

The device has yet to be tested on humans. Recent discoveries have been based on observations on rats with injured sciatic nerves. These nerves in rats send signals throughout the legs to control muscles in feet and legs as well as hamstring muscles. To perform the study, scientist spent ten weeks monitoring rats’ recovery while providing pulses one hour per day for one, three, six, or no days at all a week. After a little more than three months, researchers concluded that “any electrical stimulation was better than none at all at helping the rats recover muscle mass and muscle strength”, and the device accelerated the regrowth of nerves. They also concluded that “the more days of electrical stimulation the rats received, the more quickly and thoroughly they recovered nerve signaling and muscle strength”. Overall, no side effects of the device and its reabsorption were found.

Overall, this discovery can do great things for the human population. Making it extremely convenient, this device after put on can possibly replace pharmaceutical treatments for a variety of medical conditions in humans

Researchers are currently continuing to study this device to see what is most effective in animals similar to humans. They are evaluating the effectiveness of the devices different sizes,  duration, and fabrication.

Crispr-Cas9: Coming to a Theater Near You

This sequel to GATTACA is to be released shortly, and this time, they’re transcending the movie screen and bringing the experience to reality!

Crispr-Cas9 is a fairly recent DNA-editing technique that has been developed, and allows for extremely easy and precise gene editing, a development said to be at least on par with PCR for bio engineering. In many ways, this is great. Now biologists won’t have to spend the time nor undergo the difficulty of creating variant DNA through old methods, meaning that all these cool genetic breakthroughs should be happening at an unprecedented pace! The problem is, it may be going too fast for humans to wrap their head around.

Similar to the ethical questions raised by the film GATTACA, countries and scientists are debating what regulations should be put on this new and powerful tool. With Crispr-Cas9, the possibility to genetically modify humans becomes a very real option to consider. Scientists could remove DNA sequences which lead to defects and diseases such as albinism and Huntington’s Disease. Or anything else, really.

(The miracle protein)

The main point of Crispr-Cas9 is not necessarily the ability it gives to scientists to easily modify DNA, but the increased rate at which we can understand what specific sequences of DNA do by altering them. Not only are we more able to modify DNA, we are now able to figure it out at breakneck speed.


Where it gets complex is, as always, how humans deal with it. Some people, such as Mark Leach, whose daughter has down-syndrome, believes that children with disabilities not only are still able to live rich lives, but also teach others to be more compassionate. Although debating if I would choose to let my child have down-syndrome or not for that reason seems like an absurd consideration, and most likely a coping mechanism, the point still stands that some people are uneasy with fixing genetic-related problems because “they wouldn’t be the same person.” (That’s the point!)

People are really afraid of change, aren’t they?


However, for those on the more lethal/completely disabling part of the genetic spectrum, the answer is more than clear.  Charles Sabine, the brother of the renown British lawyer John Sabine, who both have Huntington’s Disease at varying stages, says “If there was a room somewhere where someone said, ‘Look, you can go in there and have your DNA changed,’ I would be there breaking the door down.” Similarly, Matt Wilsey, a parent of a child with a terminal genetic illness, is awestruck at the ridiculousness of the situation: “As a parent with an incredibly sick child, what are we supposed to do — sit by on the sidelines while my child dies?” The oddity of the situation is, we have the capability to start figuring out how to solve these genetic issues with a very effective and efficient technique, it’s just that humans are riding the brakes, trying to slow down the almost inexorable progress of the freight train that is Crispr-Cas9. The irony is that many are afraid with tampering with the “sanctity” of human embryos. I would agree, except that humans defile it all the time. Birth defects, genetic diseases, miscarriages, etc. Of course, this is not intentional, but the parents have the largest hand in these outcomes, as they provide all the material,genetic and otherwise, to create the embryo, fetus, and eventually child. We are already making horrible mistakes with human embryo’s that cripple or kill the resulting child through the natural birth process. Personally, I would go off of this to say we should at least learn from this, so we could eventually progress far enough to prevent these things from ever happening, but I only ask all of the readers to keep this in mind: Nature (very badly) screws up too.


(The process Cas9 facilitates)

I’m not saying that we should be careless with this new and potentially dangerous or aberrant-spawning technology, but I think it’s time that humans come to terms with the fact that their world, and their lives, are entering a new era of existence. For millennia, structured humans have lived in a world where the outside world is the only thing we can manipulate, but now the very structure and formation of ourselves as well. I understand that such a change from a thousands-year-running viewpoint can be hard to make. We’ve never had to think about these things before as a species, because it wasn’t understood and out of our reach. It is daunting. It is terrifying. Only because it is unknown. But how are we to learn, to benefit, from this great potential, if we are too afraid to explore it? I understand that like any form of potential, it can go either way, but this is a great new time of possibilities that simply won’t go away, but reemerge constantly.

I think it’s time we gathered the courage to face it.

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