"Frankenstein" organs proposed for human enhancement

Xavier Symons
23 Nov 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Much ink has been spilt in debates about human-animal hybrids. Many ethicists argue from a shared intuition of repugnance that we should not create chimeras. But what about creating hybrid organs to enhance the functioning of the human body? Do arguments about chimeras still apply?

This question is increasingly relevant with the rapid development of synthetic biology.

Using 3D printing, A British artist has produced prototypes of "frankenstein-esque hybrid organs" that could hypothetically solve a variety of serious human health problems. Agatha Haines from the Royal College of Art 3D-printed organs utilizing advantageous features of rattlesnakes, leeches, and electric eels.

Using the electrolyte cells from an electric eel, Haines created an 'organic defibrillator' (she dubbed it Electrostabilis Cardium). If this hybrid organ recognized signs of cardiac failure, it could deliver a shock of 600 volts to restart the heart.

Another organ, featuring muscles from a rattlesnake, could be implanted into patients with cystic fibrosis to release mucus from their respiratory system and dispel it through their digestive system.

Her work is on display at a the Grow Your Own: Life After Nature exhibition at Trinity College, Dublin.

There is an extensive literature on the ethics of transplanting organs between humans and other animals. The creation of bespoke hybrid organs has received less attention.