Friday, January 22, 2010

Waking the Dead

Not that I am one to talk about slacking on one's blogging, but I find it hard to believe I actually beat ZephOmega to this one, so allow me to gloat with a slight chortle, as I bring you another installment "Why It's Officially the Future" before he does. Folks, we are moving ever closer to becoming Borg, as scientists have begun using machines for the purpose of waking the dead:

Surgeons made cadavers blink with artificial muscles, experiments that could in the future help restore the ability of thousands of patients with facial paralysis to open and close their eyes on their own.

If that weren't cool enough, let's remember that medicine in general already has two methods for fixing the condition of being unable to blink.

Without lubrication from the blinking lid, the eye can develop ulcers and the person can eventually go blind. Currently, eyelid paralysis is treated by one of two approaches. One is to transfer a muscle from the leg into face. However, this option requires six to 10 hours of surgery, creates a wound that can impair the body elsewhere, and is not always suitable for elderly or medically fragile patients.

"I would estimate under 100 of those are done in the United States every year," said researcher Craig Senders, an otolaryngologist at the University of California at Davis. The other treatment involves suturing a small gold weight inside the eyelid, which helps close the eye with the aid of gravity. Although such therapy is successful in more than 90 percent of patients, the resulting blink is slower than normal and cannot be synchronized with the opposite eye, and some patients also have a hard time keeping the weighted lid closed when lying down to sleep.

In the United States, roughly 3,000 to 5,000 patients undergo this surgery every year.

Now, though I did beat ZephOmega to this information, I'm certainly not him in that I don't look at stuff like this for the sake of it being interesting. So while it does happen to be cool as hell, I've got to be the one to point out that this is the kind of stuff that comes out of our current, capitalistic healthcare system.

"But...but...the people that figured this out are scientists at UC Davis, a public university. That's not part of your precious capitalism at all!"

Forgive me for bogarting Glenn Beck's Arguing with Idiots format, but it's very useful. Yes, those are public monies funding research at a public university. But that's not what makes this a capitalist discovery. What makes this discovery part of our successful capitalist way of doing things, is that somebody somewhere figured this out, and now it is available for others to put to good use. It is the same logic behind the infamous short essay, "I, Pencil," that outlines the enormously complex process by which a pencil is assembled and brought to you in the store for pocket change.

What also makes this part of our successful capitalist way of doing things is that, if you might imagine for a moment a government panel of some sort in charge of directing research & development looking over some eager scientist's application for funds to begin work on this artificial muscle project, what would be the panel's impetus to even approve the application? They would look at the fact that there are already two ways to solve this problem, and that the number of cases in total is fairly low per year on the whole, and would decide that funding to begin this research is not economically viable for the system.

Instead, we have a system where somebody somewhere, in this case UC Davis, decided that it was worth the expense to have their staff research this problem and create an even better solution than already existed. Yes, it was a public university using public funds. However, the decision was made in an effort to improve not only medicine, but the image of the university as well. This is the rational self interest by which capitalism drives innovation, even when public money is involved. No consideration to the health of the entire system was given because none needed to be. Only if our health system is ever centralized under governmental authority will we see innovation such as this disappear.


  1. I've been busy on other writing gigs, sorry. But this is somewhat ofn. Making cadavers wiggle around with over-stimulation of the nervous system has been around for ages.
    The ability to interpret and mimic the natural nerve impulses in order to control prosthesis is the real grail here, and I'm afraid it isn't officially the future until then.

  2. You're trying to downplay this? They're making people blink with artificial muscles!

  3. Many of the healthcare researchers are looking for something else entirely when they find these cures and inventions,you'd be surprised.

    It is unbelievable how much time and money is spent at public and private schools researching Cancer. Grants, loans, etc. Think how quickly that would be cured if all reseachers ran their information thru NIH. We'd be done looking and applauding each baby step. The rest of the research money could be spent on the cure. Like polio. Shots when you are kids, and the disease becomes something from the old days.

    Movable parts orthopeadics or otherwise are awesome, became more prevelant with kids coming home from wars we don't need to be in.

  4. Good point, kathleen, but let's remember that the centralization of information flow does not necessitate the centralization of the system as a whole.