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Who wants to live forever?

Posted 22/11/2011 by sevans

Can we live forever?’ was the question posed by Subhash Anand, presenting his talk on ‘Nonwoven fabrics in healthcare and medical devices’ at SCI headquarters in Belgrave Square, London, last week. The answer it would seem is quite possibly, as Anand,  professor of technical textiles at the University of Bolton, UK, went on to outline examples of how researchers have already been able to recreate a welter of new body parts in the laboratory, including new bladders, ears, tracheas and even a living, beating human heart. ‘It’s already being done,’ Anand enthused. What is more progress of the technology from the lab to the clinic is ‘only years away, not decades,’ he contends – remarking how advances in the preparation of polymer-based scaffolds are helping to bring us closer to the day when we might keep spare body parts in the fridge at home, ready for use whenever they are needed.

Anand’s own contribution to the field has been to create speciality medical materials from nonwoven textiles  – fabrics made from continuous filaments or from staple fibre webs strengthened by bonding – with the ideal combination of properties, for example, for producing artificial alternatives to blood vessels. Nonwovens have high porosity that allows permeation and growth of cells in vitro and in vivo, Anand remarked, which also explains their increasing usefulness as a substrate for three-dimensional tissue engineering to make, for example, chondrocytes, endocrine cells and as patches to cover large areas of injured tissue. The group is interested too in making nanofibres, useful for tissue engineering and wound care as well as for filters and membranes, by an electrospinning process that also allows them to impart functionality via various additives and fillers.

But as the lively discussion that followed Anand’s presentation highlighted, being able to recreate ourselves in the laboratory is only one part of the story. The other question we should ask is not just whether we can live forever, but would we really want to?  With world population currently expected to hit the 9bn mark by 2050, questions are already being asked about the strains this will put on the planet’s increasingly over-stretched resources. Did anyone, I wonder, take into account the impact of all these new medical advances on longevity when making these projections about future demographics?

Cath O’Driscoll – Deputy editor

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  • Peter Hambleton said:
    24/11/2011 05:09

    A cracking good title for the blog report, shame the lecture didn't use it.

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