Hotel Artemis: prints of thieves
Image credit: Clearwater, Landmark Media
Despite a backdrop of uncontrolled capitalism, civil unrest and lawlessness, medical innovations will have come on leaps and bounds in the next decade according to ‘Hotel Artemis’. A gunshot-riddled internal organ stops becoming such a big issue when you can just print out another one.
Let’s face it, there is not much point in going on. If we are to believe the film industry’s depiction of the future there is not a great deal to commend it. Something unpleasant invariably rises to the top – a dictator, an authoritarian state, an out-of-control capitalist corporation, intelligent machines, aliens - it’s a list that doesn’t include a laid-back dude wearing sandals who just wants everyone to have a really great time.
In ‘Hotel Artemis’ the backdrop is provided by Clearwater, a company that will not provide water to the masses unless they pay for it, and consequently Los Angeles has descended into riot. Presumably during a dry spell. This really does little more than provide an atmospheric setting and the feeling that outside is not a safe place to be, although I believe many parts of the City of Angels already fall into this category.
The action all happens in Hotel Artemis, a private hospital with a difference, which is this: only fully paid-up criminals can use its services. Owing to the clientele’s express desire to maintain a low profile, the hospital’s very existence is unknown to most and little more than a myth to others.
However, if you are an insider, and you are hampered by a variety of occupational stab wounds, bullet holes or other life-threatening ailments, you can check in to Hotel Artemis and the Nurse (Jodie Foster) will use a selection of high-tech widgets to fix you up and send you on your wicked way.
These widgets include scanners that can instantly analyse the body for injury, blood types and body functions; large syringes that seem to either instantly remove pain or consciousness depending on what the Nurse wants to happen at that instant; and sprays that instantly heal bullet holes and other minor abrasions. These sprays dispense ‘nanites’ (nanomachines), which are tiny mechanisms measured in nanometeres that can scuttle around mending things.
Strangely, the Nurse also accessorises with a stethoscope around her neck, which seems unnecessary for someone who can press a button to provide an entire body analysis. In the same way that those of us in the engineering profession will always be pictured wearing hard hats, maybe even in the future medics will always have to sport their stethoscope if we are going to take them seriously.
One of the technologies employed at Hotel Artemis is 3D printing of organs, specifically in this case the printing of the hero’s brother’s liver. Could this be a reality by the year 2028, when this film is set? It’s not as improbable as it may sound.
We all know the liver packs up when we have been hitting the liquor too hard. But it also filters the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. According to website webmd.com, “the liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolises drugs. As it does so, the liver secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines. The liver also makes proteins important for blood clotting and other functions.” That sounds quite a complicated bit of kit to make on a machine that these days is mainly employed to make three-inch models of the Eiffel Tower.
But progress is definitely under way. Many scientists around the globe are working on different approaches to creating manufactured additions to the human body. A company in Sweden, Cellink, has opened up the bio-printing industry by offering bio-inks and printers in a package, thereby facilitating an accessible basis for printing human tissue for universities and other medical research facilities everywhere, rather than each institution having to develop its own bio-inks.
Another breakthrough comes from Newcastle University, which in June this year printed a human cornea for the first time. Corneas are transplantable organs that can help restore eyesight to an estimated 15 million people worldwide, although there are never enough corneas available. Professor Che Connon of Newcastle University thinks that clinical trials of 3D-printed corneas could be as close as five years away as, compared to other organs, they are a relatively simple structure.
Moreover, he believes that there is a fundamental philosophy in his team’s approach that could be the key: “Others are trying to print every single fine structure of tissue or organ down to nanoscopic resolution, which is the top-down approach. We have taken a different approach, a bottom-up approach, which means that we arrange cells in a 3D matrix, give them the correct physical and biochemical cues and then they will spontaneously arrange themselves in the correct structure.”
It is an approach driven by biology rather than engineering, which provides a fundamental understanding of what is trying to be created. Connon continues: “In principle it could work for all organs because of the approach we are taking, namely creating a simple version of tissue and allowing those cells to reorganise themselves and create a functional tissue post transplantation.”
This is often referred to as in-situ tissue engineering, effectively providing the materials for the body to simulate a natural repair. It makes sense using this philosophy that such transplants would be more successful as they encourage the body to accept the part, rather than reject it.
The liver is complex, but compared to the heart or lungs it is relatively simple and fairly homogeneous, so is likely to be a fairly early candidate for 3D-printing treatment. However, if corneas are only just entering the fray by 2028, the timeframe for ‘Hotel Artemis’, it will still be a bit soon for 3D-printed livers.
A spin-out company from Newcastle University, Atelerix, has developed a gel that can keep cells alive at room temperature and, according to Connon, who happens to be a co-founder of Atelerix, that could be an enabling technology for bio-printing: “I like to imagine a doctor’s surgery with a 3D printer in the corner and a row of different inks for different cells, so when someone comes in and wants a piece of skin printed they just take the bio ink off the shelf and put it in the printer. That technology, in the case of the storage, is already in existence.”
In many ways this was the scenario in ‘Hotel Artemis’, but there is another aspect of the film’s premise that also strikes a chord. Hotel Artemis exists because the bad guys, the ones who had money, would pay anything to get themselves fixed up. In the years to come people with failing organs will pump whatever money they have into finding solutions to their life-threatening problems. Selling your house so you could afford a new vital organ is something most people would do. Such is our desire to survive as individuals, this is an area of medical science that is ultimately bound to succeed. Possibly not by 2028, but it is already down the path of getting there.
Hotel Artemis is in cinemas from 20 July