Growing New Livers in a Lab #livertransplant

Assembly and Function of a Bioengineered Human Liver for Transplantation Generated Solely from
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

That’s the fancy title of a new report by Kazuki Takeishi and other scientists who have successfully created miniature human livers from stem cells and put them into mice. I won’t get into the details, mostly because I don’t understand them, but here’s a picture:

A picture is worth a 1000 liver transplants.

You can read the very technical research paper here on Growing Mini Livers

About 17,000 people are currently waiting for a liver transplant in the United States. This number greatly exceeds the amount of available, donated by deceased donors. Meanwhile, organ transplants can be prohibitively expensive. In 2017, patients receiving a liver transplant were billed an estimated $812,500. That includes pre and post-op care as well as immunosuppressant drugs to keep people’s bodies from rejecting the transplanted organ.

I am one of those liver transplant recipients. My donor passed away on May 12th 2020, and in the early hours of May 13th, my dying liver was removed and replaced with the donor’s healthy liver in an operation that lasted about 4 hours. That was exactly three weeks ago, but I could have been much more unlucky. Each year an estimated 2000 people die while on the national transplant list…there are just not enough donated livers to keep up with demand. And you can’t live without a functioning liver…it is one of the most important organs and supports over 500 key body functions.

While the science isn’t quite ready for prime-time, scientists expect that within 10 years, liver donations will be a thing of the past.

You can read a much less science-y version of the story here: Lab Grown Human Mini Livers

The Voicemail I Desperately Needed. #livertransplant

As I write this, I consider myself very fortunate. I was diagnosed with End-Stage Liver Disease in October of 2019 and spent the past six months in and out of the hospital, in the ICU having life-extending procedures and taking drugs to keep my damaged liver from completely shutting down. I was officially placed on the National Donor list in late February, a list with 16000+ other transplant candidates and a list in which 2000+ hopefuls sadly pass away before finding the right organ.

So I waited, battling the symptoms that made me weak and sick, draining fluid from my abdomen and chest cavities, suffering periodic life-threatening ammonia spikes that could cause me to become unconscious without warning, drops in hemoglobin, anemia, kidney failure, internal bleeding…The symptoms kept getting worse and tested my resolve many times.

But then at about 10:30 pm, Vanessa, my Liver Transplant Coordinator left me this message:

I was beside myself and shaking with this news. I was scared, but this was what I was waiting for. My buddy Jack came and picked me up and we drove to Advent and checked into pre-op (called the “Rapid In/Out” or “RIO:” department. Shower, Chest X-Ray, Blood tests, Covid-test, wait, wait, wait.

Around 7am the surgeon came in and said they were looking at a noon-ish time for surgery. He said he had not seen the donor liver yet but he needed to see it before they brought me in to make sure it was viable.

Noon turned into 2pm. 2pm turned into 4pm. At 4 pm a nurse came in and I did the final prep for surgery. Compression socks, hair net, enema…at about 4:50 the surgeon came in and, in a very somber tone said that he had finally seen the donor liver and it was not viable. It was “too fatty” and he couldn’t transplant it.

Devastation. I was SO ready and this just felt like the wind was taken out of my sails. I went back home in a daze and slept. I barely got out of bed the next couple of days. I was in a daze, but I knew this was a possibility. And so again I waited.

Fortunately I only had to wait a few days and I got another call. On Wednesday, May 13th I had liver transplant surgery. I went under about 12:30 am and woke up about 8 hours later in the post-transplant ICU. In less than 24 hours I was in a normal recovery room and eating solid foods.

Post Liver Transplant Surgery with my sister Cara

With 48 hours I was standing and walking with a walker and within 5 days I was discharged from the hospital, walking out on my own two feet. It was amazing and my recovery has been quite smooth. My transplant surgeon has already reduced some of my meds and, after a couple weeks of staying with my parents, I am happy to be back in my own home and sleeping in my own bed.

I have a weekly blood test and visit with my doctor, but so far all my lab results have been good. I’m eating well and all of the symptoms of my disease have disappeared. I have a new life!

On Civil Disobedience

Back in the summer of 2011 I was head of marketing for a start-up called Tropo. Our team was geographically spread around the globe, but I mostly worked out of a small office on 3rd floor of a building right on the corner of Market and 2nd Street in downtown San Francisco. We had a lovely view of Market Street and I would often find myself gazing at the crowds passing by below while working on a press release, company blog entry or planning our next tech event.

One afternoon I noticed what, at first I thought was a parade heading north up Market Street towards the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building. Drums were pounding, people were chanting…I looked a little closer and noticed some were carrying signs but I could’t make out what the signs said. It certainly wasn’t a parade…and I quickly realized it was some sort of protest. Ah! but protesting what?

Since I had moved to San Francisco a year earlier I noticed three things that San Franciscans love: Getting dressed in costumes, Parades, and Protests. Sometimes all three at the same time. This particular group kinda had costumes…some of them were wearing Guy Fawkes masks, some had a cyber-punk/steampunk look…but it it was less of a parade and more of a moving crowd. The crowd stopped right across the street and circled around a Chase Bank retail location on the ground floor. I grabbed my camera and went out to investigate.

As I approached I could see some of the signs, “We are the 99%”. “Tax the Rich”, and others. Some of the protestors had entered the bank and I could see them through the window with signs, holding hands and sitting cross-legged on the floor. The crowd outside of the bank was peaceful, but clearly they were protesting something…but what?

That was my very first introduction to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The police arrived, the protestors started walking further down the street to the Federal Reserve Bank building. I was taking pictures and video, mesmerized by this protest that had seemingly popped up from nowhere. The protest turned into a sit-in. Tents were erected. A small community of protestors took up residence outside of of the Federal building, and later around the Embarcadero. Police would periodically come in and clean all the “occupiers” out by destroying their tents, pepper spray, and mass arrests. I attended protests in San Francisco and Oakland, and because my job required a lot of travel that summer, I attended Occupy Protests in NYC, Seattle, Austin, Orlando, Miami, London, Berlin and Paris. It was a global protest of the have-nots vs. the haves and stretched on for months.

Now we’re seeing a different kind of protest movement. 2020 has proven to be a difficult year. Personally, I was battling liver disease and desperately needed a transplant to live (something that thankfully happened on May 13th!). But while I was busy with my own health issues and generally thinking “things couldn’t get worse”, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. Quarantines, stay-at-home-orders, curfews, and conflicting information from scientists, doctors and politicians cause a general sense of chaos and frustration.

DENVER, CO – MAY 30: Protestors line up against police during a protest after the killing of George Floyd Ð the Minneapolis man, who was killed by an officer, while being detained Ð in downtown Denver on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Thousands gathered to protest as police enforced an 8 p.m. citywide curfew. As officers advanced, protestors began throwing objects as officers returned non-lethal fire into the crowd. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

And just as it seemed we were emerging from the worst of the pandemic, as armed Trump supporters took to the streets to protest state lockdown orders and demand access to salons and golf courses, a few racially-charged incidents happened.

The first was the killing of an unarmed black man named Ahmoud Arbery was killed by three white men in Georgia. The second was a story of a woman named Amy Cooper who falsely reported to police that a black man, Christian Cooper, had threatened her in Central Park. While no one was physically hurt, the incident, caught on video by Christian Cooper, served as a reality check for anyone who still believed that systemic racism didn’t exist anymore. Amy Cooper was willing to lie and wield her “white privilege” to hurt another human being simply by pointing out his skin color, with full knowledge that she would likely get away with it.

Which led to the real spark: The brutal murder of George Floyd under the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

Within days, what started as peaceful protests in Minneapolis broke out into violence. Protests spread to other cities…within a week there were peaceful and violent protests in almost every major city in the United States and some international cities as well. Donald Trump flamed the fans of the fire with his (now anticipated) divisive rhetoric, causing more civil unrest. We are still in the midst of seeing this whole thing grow with no peace in sight, and no strong leadership to quell the anger and frustration.

What will happen next? Trump made an announcement today to tell local mayors and governors to stop the violence or he will use the military to do it for them. In the meantime, protests continue across the country with many cities enforcing overnight curfews.

Civil Disobedience is as American as, well, America. Perhaps Trevor Noah says it best.

Canon Turns it to Eleven

It’s been a long time coming, but Canon just released the beta version of their newest software, allowing your computer to see a Canon EOS camera to be natively recognized as a webcam device. This was possible before, but required extra video capture cards and degraded quality over HDMI. I have been a big fan of Canon cameras for a very long time but always lamented on why they didn’t use the built-in USB port to directly connect to a USB port on your camera. Harris Heller does a great job explaining the newest features in this Youtube Video

The Zen of Alan Watts

I love listening to (and reading) Alan Watts. His unique perspective on the Universe and humanity’s role as part of this thing we call “life” has altered my views on several subjects…from the meta to the mundane. Here is a recent recording of one of his lectures…I hope you’re ready 🙂

You can learn more about Alan Watts at the Alan Watts Organization and Alan Watts on Wikipedia.