Woody Allen's 1973 sci-fi comedy The Sleeper is set in a futuristic police-state whose leaders set about resurrecting their dead dictator from his only remaining body-part – his nose. Two hundred years from now, when the plot is set, this could turn into science-fact thanks to stem cell technology, now taking its baby-steps. To date, bioengineers have succeeded in re-growing tissues from kidneys, lungs, arteries, bone, skin, and now, contracting heart muscle fibres (shown). To do this they deposited stem cells on a chip lined with a protein mimicking the natural heart environment, prompting the cells to form heart tissue. And to demonstrate the usefulness of this technique for cheap and risk-free trialling of future gene therapies, they introduced a faulty gene into the cells causing Barth syndrome – a condition that weakens heart contractions – which they 'cured' by re-introducing a healthy gene that restored the contractions to full strength.
Written by Tristan Farrow
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