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I was inspired by Dead Space which had cloned organ banks for transplants due to mining accidents. I honestly found this idea intriguing so what I'm wondering would it be practical or do better alternatives exist?

The "clone" would be a rapidly growing organism that takes the appearance of a bloated infant. The organisms have been cloned to not feel pain and if possible be virtually brain dead. All in all they would be basically a big sack of organs that, due to the human genetics used, takes the vague shape of an infant.

The process would be simple: a patient in need of an organ would either be put in cryo if it's a critical organ or simply wait a few days to weeks while the organ is being grown. Once the operation is complete, the rest of the organs are frozen and used for other transplants.

Would this be a practical/feasible organism or am I looking in the wrong direction?

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    $\begingroup$ Various groups are working on organ printing today, which is certainly a much more efficient process than growing a whole human, not to mention sidestepping all the ethical problems. There are a number of unsolved technical issues, though. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jun 2 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ "A bladder has been cultured by Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A jawbone has been cultured at Columbia University, a lung has been cultured at Yale. A beating rat heart has been cultured by Doris Taylor at the University of Minnesota. An artificial kidney has been cultured by H. David Humes at the University of Michigan." (Wikipedia, s.v. Organ culture) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 2 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP none of these are secretory organs, their internal structure is fairly simple. basically they are just shapes of identical cells. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 2 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ (1) wait a few days to weeks while the organ is being grown if you can grow a clone that fast, there's no better way, but that's awfully fast (and IMO unrealistic). You could grow armies that way. (2) appearance of a bloated baby this is also unrealistic. Adult bodies need adult organs. (3) Is this a reality-check question? If so, your system needs to be better developed first (but it is intriguing). $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 2 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ China operates a living organ bank right now, it's called their prison system... $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jun 3 at 3:42
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It would be more practical with nonhuman donors. This is xenotransplantation.xenotransplant schematic

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/xenotransplantation-can-pigs-save-human-lives/

Human donor babies raise ethical concerns. Also practical concerns: humans grow up so slowly and are so dependent. Pigs grow up fast and a lot of the work of growing up large numbers of piglets to adulthood has been industrialized because we like pork.

A genetically engineered pig can feed itself and fend for itself. When its organs are needed the rest can be meat.


This is strictly coming at it from a practical viewpoint. For the tone of your fiction you may be digging the bloated baby / DeadSpace / H.R.Giger horror scifi angle. You could riff on pigs and keep it weird by making bioengineered aliens. Perhaps the aliens have no rejection barrier and can be genetically forced to grow multiple organs like tumors all over their bodies to maximize yield per alien. Other organs can be grown on these aliens as well depending on what your purposes are and how hard your NC-17 rating is going to be.

I can imagine halfway through the story that the (not unexpected) twist is aliens growing human brains. The more unexpected twist is aliens growing several human brains, and other things...

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    $\begingroup$ Humans growing a curly tail.... There could be fads in curly parts. +1 $\endgroup$ – 011358 smell Jun 2 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Willik So basicall a monstrosity of a pig with human organs is what I'm now imagining. I dig it. $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Jun 2 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @CelestialDragonEmperor the idea has popped up before... Oryx and Crake had pigoons, Chasm City had hyperpigs (and those are just the first two off the top of my head). Add those to your reading list! $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jun 2 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ For some reason I started wondering about cybernetic additions alongside pig organs. And then went down a ship of Theseus rabbit hole. If you have all body parts eventually replaced with a mix of cybernetic ones and pig ones, are you now a robotised pig with a human mind? $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jun 3 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with this is you are still limited by how fast you can grow a pig (or whatever animal you use), which is quite slow compared to printing an organ. creating humanized animals is also a horribly invitation for disease. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 3 at 20:42
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There is a far better way.

Really if the can age an organ form infant to adult in a few weeks then they can just start the clone from a single cell in a similar length of time. Or more realistically just grow an individual organ without anything else. Being able to rapidly grow one organ is easier than rapidly growing an entire body of organs.

But most likely making an organ will proceed like this.

  1. A bio-printer prints a non-cellular matrix matching the correct organs extra-cellular matrix complete with signalling proteins. That's not a cell printer BTW but a biological molecule printer.

  2. Another machine fills it with un differentiated or partially differentiated stem cells, which respond to the tags forming the correct cellular layout. Ideally this would be a cell printer. likely both machines would be working at the same time with the latter slightly behind the former.

  3. differentiating cell produce a working organ likely with some trimming and testing steps before implantation.

The entire process would likely only take a few days and have little waste, we are getting close to this today, I expect to see it in use within the next few decades.

source 1

source 2

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  • $\begingroup$ Growing an individual organism from a single cell (or cluster of cells) is likely to be extremely difficult to impractical due to the way that so much development depends on interaction with the development of other organs. I suspect it would be simpler to grow a whole person or print an organ instead. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jun 2 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime the key word is IF if they can grow an entire aorgansims in a lab AND mature an entire organism in weeks growing an entire organism from scratch as needed is not much harder. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 2 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Huh, that was supposed to say "growing an individual organ". I was trying to say that printing and whole-organism growing would likely be easier than growing a single organ in isolation. Growing anything large enough in the timeframe that the OP posited sounds dubious, however. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jun 2 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime quite the opposite growing an organism is hard, a single organs has vastly fewer tissues and is a vastly simpler structure. An organ can be almost entirely printed with the right technology quickly while an entire organisms can only grow at the rate of its slowest tissue. Making a wheel is vastly easier than making a car. As for feasibility it is entirely possible with the right technology you just need very good genetic manipulation and to supply nutrients at a vastly higher rate than organisms can do without aid. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 3 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Both my comments say that printing is easier than growing an individual organ, which may be impossible. Nothing I said is "quite the opposite" of your statement. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jun 3 at 20:55
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Yes With an If, No With a But

Other answers have suggested that live, fast-growing, barely conscious, human infant clones are not worth doing, because there are better methods which are less ethically fraught, better targeted to the required need, and less wasteful of resources.

Speaking practically, however, yes it could be done. But from a story-telling perspective, you might want to explain why it's done this way. You might have to explain that scientific advancement is at this very specific level where they can clone entire humans but [choose to?] not clone individual organs or use donor animals. (I don't know if one is "easier" than the other.)

Let's Do This

Maybe you could say your society is better at other bio-sciences than genetics. E.g., Maybe the "clones" are actually twins, created at the parents' request (or by the State, or by their employer) by splitting the "original" zygote into one or more separate zygotes, and one grows normally while the other(s) is harvested and given the "clone treatment." Maybe the fast-growth is done using synthetic hormones instead of gene-manipulation. Maybe the insensitivity to pain and low brain activity is done by lobotomy on the fetus, or chemically induced partial-coma.

Don't Look Here

On the other hand, your audience might not question the premise. E.g., on Star Trek TNG, Lt. Cmdr. Data cannot use contractions. He just can not. Trekkies ask why but then just figure "Oh it's complicated" and move on (or keep ranting till they die lonely). But if you're going to explore all the dilemmas that arise from your particular type of organ bank, audiences may wonder why we are doing it this way instead of all the other better ways suggested in the other answers.

But you might side-step the sci-fi dilemmas by re-directing attention to more legal and philosophical problems. E.g., is the clone property of the patent holder who invented the cloning process? Why would parents or individuals permit clones or even care? Etc.

But then we're back to where we've started: what issues are highlighted by these clones, which haven't already been explored by androids, replicants, zombies, sentient AI, and yes, clones? I'm not saying there aren't any such issues, I'm just saying that if you're going to set up a highly specific premise, then it should ideally be for a good specific reason. So, from a story telling perspective, it's hard to tell how practical this would be.

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  • $\begingroup$ my idea was that you could use the other organs and biomass you didn't use for regular donors. Overall I thought it'd be more useful to have extra organs that others can use then making individual ones. Judging by the answers I might have to try and adopt both systems $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Jun 2 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @CelestialDragonEmperor Sounds cool. In “Cloud Atlas” they used dead clones to feed the cloned “fabricants” servant class. $\endgroup$ – Xplodotron Jun 3 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ You should read "Spares", by Michael Marshall Smith $\endgroup$ – Ben Jun 3 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ ...or watch The Island (imdb.com/title/tt0399201). $\endgroup$ – Matthew Jun 3 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ (On a tangent, I've heard that Data was programmed to be unable to use contractions, to make him "less human". Note the problems with Lore.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Jun 3 at 16:36
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The impractical part is that you would need to grow an entire human being (or all the pieces of one in a single unit) just to get one organ.

A patient in need of an organ would either be put in cryo if it's a critical organ or simply wait a few days to weeks while the organ is being grown. Once the operation is complete the rest of the organs are frozen and used for other transplants.

Why grow an organ to order (requiring the patient to wait for days or weeks and possibly die or deteriorate..."cryo" is not foolproof) if you can just pull a ready-made organ out of the freezer instead?

If it's necessary to customize each organ, then who will use the extra frozen ones?

It doesn't make any sense. Either patients use "off the shelf" organs (with perhaps a waiting period for rare histologies) or everyone gets a custom one.

You'd be better off finding a way to grow single organs. Ethically it's a much better alternative (and probably easier than ensuring your "bloated baby" isn't a real person with rights). If not single organs, then perhaps organs in natural groups. Like heart and lungs or kidneys and bladder.

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Some yes, some no.

There are alternative pathways laid out below:

If you're going to grow a clone for replacement parts, you need stem cells.

These can be found in one of a few ways:

  • Day 2 or 3 after egg fertilization (prior to implantation and cell differentiation), a few cells would be shaved off and preserved. Unless you have some kind of nano-search tech, the egg will be hard to find and get at this stage. Would be tough to do now with a high failure rate of re-implantation.

  • The Placenta and umbilicus at birth. We can do this now.

  • The epithelial cells (ie cheek cells in the mouth taken by swab) taken from the adult. These will need to be specially treated to bring them back from cheek cells to stem cells (known as induced Pluripotency). We can do this now, the downside is that the cells would be old (think Dolly the sheep, dying of old age before her time). We are working on this and are confident of a manifest solution within a few years.

Then you have a few ways of growing the person/replacement organs.

  • Surrogacy, a human accepts an embryo, brings it to term. We can do this now — it takes 9 months, and the baby still has its full brain function. Lobotomy would be required and body maintenance. Presumably an option for the rich. The major organs would not be capable of sustaining adult life until at least two years after birth - kidney function of neonate is 14% of adult's, liver function even less than that, heart too small etc..

  • An artificial womb brings the embryo to term, the baby is disconnected and lobotomized. We can't do this, except to reproduce a few cells in a flask.

  • Genetic engineering to prevent higher functions from developing, Anencephaly is known, and life support could maybe be provided. We can't produce this condition yet and causes are disputed, give it a few years of research though.

  • A scaffold is made/printed (as per other answers, impregnated with appropriate growth factors) then colonized with cells. We can do this now with very simple structures - skin, blood vessels smooth muscle like bladder, single nerves (note: not nerve bundles). We're working on kidneys, pancreas, liver, these are decades away. Heart muscle presents its own problems regarding electrical waves that we've not solved yet.

So as the OP will see, the answer is some yes, some no. The OP is free to figure out how future research will find solutions.

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