BBC World News Horizons explores how combination of engineering and medicine is tackling illness and disease
“We are rewriting the book of medicine… Nobody imagined that you could use even your own cells, grow them in the laboratory and put them back in the body.”Professor Dame Polak
In 1995 she received a heart and lung transplant, making her one of the longest surviving patients to have undergone the procedure. Inspired by her transplant, she switched career from pathology to the newly developing field of human tissue engineering – growing organs from cells.
Professor Polak said: “We are rewriting the book of medicine… Nobody imagined that you could use even your own cells, grow them in the laboratory and put them back in the body.”
Professor Polak believes that medicine is on the cusp of a new wave of breakthroughs due to the strong cooperation taking place across different areas of science, engineering and technology.
For example, at the University of Sheffield in the UK, researchers have developed a method that they hope will assist damaged nerves to repair naturally. Using biodegradable synthetic polymers they have built miniature scaffolds which can be implanted into injured patients. The scaffolds contain a chemical that stimulates nerve growth and provide a supporting structure and conduit so that the nerves can be guided across an injury gap. The team hopes that within five to ten years, their approach will significantly increase recovery for patients with peripheral nerve damage.
In the United States, Adam also visits Stanford University in California’s Silicon Valley to meet a team of electrical engineers who are using cell phone technology to develop a new generation of implanted robotic and medical devices. Professor Ada Poon has developed a revolutionary prototype device.
Powered and controlled by radio waves generated outside of the body, the devices are small enough to move through a patient's bloodstream. Researchers hope these miniature chips can eventually be directed to specific organs such as the heart, where they can measure and feedback accurate information on biological functions.
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Broadcasting on Saturday 16 November and Sunday 17 November 2013
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