Monday, 24 September 2012

ZOMBIES!!! (Part the last)

Today is the last part of my three-part mini-series on the risk of zombification. Hopefully the preceding articles will have given you something to think about, put you mind at ease regarding one of the greatest fears of our time, and entertained you a little bit. On Wednesday I'll be getting down to the serious business of survival.

SCENARIO 3: Stem cell experimentation effects.

Stem cells are non-specialised, self-renewable cell types found either in bone marrow, lipid cells and blood, as well as in feotal material (including the umbilical cord). As well as being harvested (primarily from the bone marrow source) the cells can now also be synthetically produced in laboratory conditions, and then "trained" as specialist cells.
The advantage of stem cells, and the attribute which has led them to be so widely used in medicinal procedures is two-fold. Firstly, their ability to reproduce without specializing (giving a slew of "Blank slate" cells which can be used for which ever task is required) and their ability to specialise into almost any kind of cell as necessary.
The following is a list of experimental or developing treatments which, should they advance suficiently, could give rise to traits common in "zombies":

-Regrowth of dead brain cells caused by strokes and head trauma, as well as diseases such as Parkinson's/Altzheimer's.
-Treatment of paralytic spinal cord injury.
-Regrowth/Enhancement of ocular and aural tissues.
-Alteration of personality to correct birth defects and learning disabilities
-Increased wound healing capabilities.

The most worrying of these in the "Ahh Zombies" line of thought is the ability of scientists to grow or regenerate brain stem tissues. The brain stem is responsible not only for motor function, but also sleep patterns, hunger, the heart-rate and breathing. As can be seen from the case of Mike the Chicken[1] in the late 40's, an animal can live for a substantial amount of time with only the brain stem intact, as long as food and water can be provided for nutrients, and the Carotid artery can be sealed off to prevent the subject bleeding to death.

Risk: As yet, it is unlikely that stem cell procedures are advanced enough to be able to cause a zombie style outbreak. Furthermore those procedures which are currently being developed would be prohibitively expensive to effect a sufficient percentage of the population to pose a threat. Also, as the treatments are highly regulated and focussed on specific conditions, there is little chance of run-away eperimentation.
Will it Zombies? No.
Total Risk: 1/5

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