Friday, May 16, 2008


I am always disturbed when a modern poet still uses the heart as the organ from which love emanates, as a metaphor for love. It shows me that the poet knows nothing about neuroscience and probably wants to remain ignorant of it. All feeling issues from the brain. A long time ago, however, when I was a graduate student in English at Southern Illinois University, I was mightily troubled when some nameless critic pointed out that the arts were in decline because the real area of poetic inspiration was now science, and all genius had gone the way of science, leaving only clods like me, I concluded, to hold up poetry and fiction.

An article in Newsweek this week (May 19, 2008) by Anne Underwood, dips into some interesting medical advancements that tell me that we are drawing ever closer to Ray Kurzweil's world (The Singularity Is Near) when humans may not be humans as we now understand humans. What can we make of the idea that Anthony Atala is growing organs for animals already? Doesn’t that sort of medical project sound like what Kurzweil is talking about in his book? And what about the poor poet in his study? As for myself, the battle between art and science is dead. I’m thoroughly inspired by evolutionary psychology, and when I do try to put together one of my itsy-bitsy haiku or senryu, I do try to remember that nothing goes on in the heart but a lot of pumping of blood. Thus. . . my haiku which I entered into this blog not too many weeks ago:

If someone tells you
I love you with all my heart,
they hold back a lot.

The following are three longish snippets from Anne’s article. Thank you, Anne. My heart goes out to you!

Dr. Jorg Gerlach at the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine is isolating patients' own skin stem cells from a small patch of healthy skin. Then, using a specially, developed skin-cell gun, he sprays them onto the wounded area in a fine mist. Over a period of two to six weeks, the cells grow into functional skin, including dermis, epidermis and blood vessels. There is little scarring, and because Gerlach includes the patient's own pigment cells in the mix, the new skin looks natural. In one pilot study, he treated eight patients in Germany with good results….

To build a nose, they [Robert Langer at MIT and Joseph Vacanti at Harvard] will create a nose-shaped scaffold, made of biocompatible, biodegradable materials, then seed it with the patient's own cells and nurture it in a chamber called a bioreactor that mimics conditions in the body. Weeks later, when cells have multiplied to form tissues, the nose will be surgically implanted; over the ensuing months, the scaffold will dissolve and be resorbed into the body. Using these same basic techniques, Atala [Anthony Atala at Wake Forest University] has created organs, including small kidneys that filter liquid and produce urine in the lab. When implanted in animals, the kidneys grow to full size and continue to work. “We start, and the body takes over,” he says….

Newall Washburn at Carnegie Mellon University is working on special gels to help tamp down inflammation at the site of a deep wound, allowing skin to regenerate without scarring. Dr. Charles Sfeir at the McGowan Institute is developing a powder containing bone proteins, growth factors and biodegradable cement that can be mixed with water in the operating room and molded to the shape of missing bone. Atala has created nerves that conduct impulses—at least in mice….

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