In the last century, the average life expectancy has radically increased, with an average person now living for a little over 150 years. This has largely been a result of a number of major medical advances that have led to an ever-increasing understanding of the way the human body works, and how to best combat the natural ravages that time inflicts upon it. While many in the medical field would like to point to their own specialty as the leading factor in the improvement of the human experience, in truth it is a combination of disciplines that have worked together to make this possible.
Viruses and bacteria will forever be a threat. As fast as a vaccine can be found, the virus or bacteria in question mutates and begins the cycle anew. For centuries, this was the way it was and there was no end in sight – at least not until the advent of smart vaccines.
Smart vaccines have the ability to follow the mutation of the virus they have been tailored to combat. As the cause of the disease mutates, the smart vaccine adapts itself to the mutation, extending its capability to fight off infection. Someone immunized with a smart vaccine is largely immune for several decades, regardless of any mutation the disease may undergo.
Smart vaccines are not perfect, however. While they can adapt to mutations, they generally can only do so if the vaccine is no more than two generations behind the mutation of the infection. Anything more of a gap often means the vaccine will not recognize the virus or bacteria and will not be able to provide the body the protection it needs. Boosters can minimize this limitation and hospital stores are regularly updated anytime a new mutation is discovered.
A second weakness of these vaccines lies in their vulnerability to previous generations of the disease. While they can keep up with the ever-changing nature of the infection, they eventually lose the ability to counter early generations of the same infection. However, this limitation is generally not a problem as it is rare for an old generation of the infection to reappear in the general population.
In days of old, if a person’s organ failed, either from disease or simply due to age, there were only two options: install an artificial version or find a donor with a compatible spare. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee that the body would accept either and, in the case of a donor organ, one often had to wait until the donor had died. Today, a third and infinitely superior option exists.
Using technology derived from rapid-prototyping, organs that are exact duplicates of a patient’s own can literally be printed in biological 3D. The technology works in two steps. First, a biopsy of the organ in question is taken from the patient. The genetic structure of the organ is then inserted into a special organic liquid called bioreplicant gel. This gel absorbs and takes on the same genetic building blocks as the patient, ensuring that it is completely compatible and reduces the chance of the organ being rejected to zero. The organ in question is then scanned by highly sensitive and precise scanners, building a three-dimensional model. Doctors can then look for any imperfections in the organ and correct them. Once this is complete, the model is fed into a highly specialized rapid prototype printer. The printer builds the organ using the bioreplicant gel, one layer at a time. When complete, an organ that is an exact duplicate of the patient’s own is ready to be surgically inserted. The entire process, sans the surgery itself, takes less than 72 hours. The only organ that is unable to be recreatedin this manner is the brain, which is far too complex for such a procedure to work.
The capability of a lizard to grow a new tail after his old one has been severed or for a crab to replace a missing limb that was torn off by another predator has long fascinated medical researchers. However, it took decades of research before a true understanding of the workings behind those capabilities was obtained.
The long hard work has paid off, however, and today it is possible, with significant help, for a victim of an accident or other trauma to replace a lost limb. Regenerative therapy, as the discipline of regrowing lost limbs has come to be known, is not a perfect science and there are some for whom the therapy simply is not effective. Even for those on whom it does work, the process is long and can require dozens of visits to the hospital. The raw severed stub is submerged in a special bath that stimulates the cells to slowly start to replace those that are missing. In time, the missing limb is slowly regenerated. Early versions of this therapy required the patient to stay in the hospital throughout the process – something that can take upwards of a year to complete. For many, it was simply not a realistic option, as not many can afford to stay out of work for that kind of time. Today, the end of the stub is sealed in a small portable container, generally referred to as a tub, that contains the regenerative bath, as well as the circulation and filtration systems necessary for the procedure to be successful. Every week, this tub is checked and adjusted by the supervising doctor to ensure the process is proceeding correctly.
As with all biomedical technology, regenerative therapy has its limits. The candidate limb cannot have been allowed to begin its own healing process. The human body is not programmed to regenerate its limbs, and once the stub begins to heal the cells needed for the process are replaced and the cellular memory required is lost. The stub also cannot have been cauterized by any means – the severed end must be raw.
For the patient, the regenerative process is always accompanied by some level of constant pain as the nerves are live. The regenerative bath does reduce this to a manageable level but, due to limitations in the process, cannot completely negate it. Live active nerves are a necessary part of the regeneration if the new limb is to be fully functional.
Cybernetics and Bionics
Regenerative limb therapy is not always an option. In some circumstances, for example the military or isolated mining outposts, having an individual incapacitated for up to a year is a neither realistic nor desirable option. Prosthetic replacement is thus a high tech medical alternative.
Cybernetic surgery takes only a matter of hours, and recovery times are in the nature of only a few weeks, rather than the many months necessary for regeneration therapies.
Cyber replacement comes in a variety of ‘grades’:
Baseline: They have few aesthetic graces (although some artists have used them as a canvas to great effect), and are designed primarily for functionality. These have a great deal in common with robotic limbs. Because of the differences between natural and artificial materials, these limbs can be made quite small/thin or “skeletonized” (such that they have the appearance of a — rather thick — skeleton or framework) which makes the limb handy for fitting into tight spaces.
Non-skeletonized limbs take up more-or-less the same amount of space as a normal limb, and are generally seen as less threatening by society. Baseline cyberlimbs of either type can attach gear relatively simply to the exterior. Many pirates (for example) attach weapons to the outside of their cyberlimbs, which has come to be known as a “Pirate Holster” thanks to action viddies.
Faux Cyberlimbs: These cyberlimbs are able to mimic natural arms and legs in form as well as function, as their general construction matches that of existing limbs (or designed using aesthetic anatomy programs).
The outer covering of the faux limb consists of organic skin, synthetically grown and matched in DNA to the chromer so that it can be seamlessly grafted to the rest of the body. Inside, a variety of subcomponents heat the skin, provide it with a pulse and other “lifelike” elements. Together, these make the limb reasonably undetectable by a simple visual check. Some alternatives use a realistic looking synthiskin.
Eyes are still not perfected to be completely undtectable to the practiced observer, but nevertheless modern cyber eyes are pretty inconspicuous.
Oversized Cyberlimbs: Reserved for specialised military uses, particular atheletes or the mentally unbalanced, these have larger than normal frames, are highly conspicuous, and have enhanced abilities. The wearer typically needs additional reinforcement to accomodate them.
Bionics and Biotech: the growth of biotech equivalents and ‘improved biotech’ blending biotech with cybernetics, is not currently available on the mass market. There is little doubt that some of the larger companies are busily developing such technologies however, and no doubt prototypes do exist.