The human body has always been an incredible machine, from the grand feats of strength and athleticism it can accomplish down to the fine details of each vein, nerve, and cell. But the way we think about the body has changed over time, as has our level of understanding of it.
In Nina Tandon’s view, there have been two different phases of knowledge here. “For so much of human history, medicine was about letting the body come to rest, because there was an assumed proportionality attributed to the body,” she said.
Then, around the turn of the last century, we started developing interchangeable parts (whether from donors, or made of plastic or metal), and thinking of our bodies a bit more like machines. “We’re each made out of 206 bones held together by 360 joints,” Tandon said. “But many of us are more than that. By the time we go through this lifetime, 70 percent of us will be living with parts of our body that we weren’t born with.”
If that percentage seems high—it did to me—consider all the things that count as ‘parts’ of our bodies that are artificial: Dental implants. Pacemakers. IUDs. Joint replacements.
Now, though, we’re moving into a third phase of bodily knowledge. “We are an ecosystem of cellular beings, trillions of cells,” Tandon said. “We finally realized that man is a modular system, and cells are the pixels in this world.”
Tandon is co-founder and CEO of EpiBone, a company working on custom-growing bones using patients’ own stem cells. In a talk at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine in San Diego this week, Tandon shared some of her company’s work and her insights into regenerative medicine, a field with tremendous promise for improving human well-being.
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