A Novel Bioreactor for Volumetric Muscle Loss; Potential Implications of Genetic Engineering for the LGBTQ+ Community

Creech, Curtis, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Wayland, Kent, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Caliari, Steven, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia

I am a gay man who served a then ungrateful country, forced into “the closet” by a hostile world embodied by “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the murder of a childhood friend at 16, simply because he was gay. I am an Army veteran who served in counterterrorism for nearly 20 years, including six deployments to Afghanistan. My job was to make the world a better place by eliminating those who threatened its freedom. I come from a blue-collar family and returned to school to pursue the dream of becoming an engineer denied to me in my youth. Inspired by family tragedy and military service, seeking agency where I felt powerless before, I have chosen to pursue biomedical engineering in the hopes of making the world a better place by saving lives, instead of taking them.

Volumetric muscle loss (VML) is the permanent reduction or loss of skeletal muscle function due to significant damage caused by trauma, especially common among troops injured in combat. Tissue engineering holds the promise of regenerating skeletal muscle to treat VML. Current strategies have focused on developing muscle tissue inside bioreactors using either mechanical stimulation, pulsatile stretching and relaxation of the tissue, or voltage pulse electrical stimulation, alone. Both have shown increased contractile strength and muscle fiber growth independently, but until now, no studies providing both have been attempted.

My bioreactor design provides programmable electromechanical stimulation to simulate in vitro what occurs in vivo, a nerve fires to tell its muscle to contract. It does this through an Arduino microcontroller which runs a linear actuator stepper motor attached to a series of clamps to hold individual, engineered, skeletal muscle constructs, and provide mechanical stimulation. The Arduino also controls a DC-DC step up converter that provides programmable electrical stimulation from 1.27-55VDC, output via electrodes inside the bioreactor. The design utilizes an LCD touchscreen to allow pertinent variable stimulation parameters to be adjusted: strain, voltage, and pulse durations.

Genetic engineering has humanity at an inflection point. Active genome editing through technologies such as CRISPR have enabled a species to control its own evolution for the first time in our planet’s history. Technological momentum as described by Thomas Hughes suggests that early in a technology’s development, society can shape and control it. As it matures, however, technology tends to shape and control society, more than society does it. If humanity is to prevent unintended consequences, one question it must answer is, “What are the potential implications of genetic engineering for marginalized groups whose traits are influenced or determined by genetics, such as the LGBTQ+ community?” My sociotechnical thesis provides evidence for the genetic influence of LGBTQ+ traits such as sex, gender, and sexual identity and argues that the technological momentum of genetic engineering could lead to unintended adverse consequences, unless careful consideration is given to its effects.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
tissue engineering, skeletal muscle, volumetric muscle loss, bioreactor, genetic engineering, CRISPR, LGBTQ
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