3-D bioprinting; What to like?

Very excited to have been busy working with colleagues on a newish but related venture writing about 3D bioprinting.  It fits with the 3Rs that I am working with (repair, replace and regenerate) when it comes to technoscience and the human body.  Niki Vermeulen, Tirion Seymour and I wrote an article with Alan FaulknerJones and Will Su (both biomedical engineers) on some of the pros and cons of 3D bioprinting – you can find the article here http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2017/03/20/medethics-2015-103347.  The blog begins:

Picture this: It is twenty years’ from now and , one of your organs has stopped functioning properly or even at all. You will not need to wait in the long line of the human organ transplant list however. Instead, you can have an organ ready made for you. Bespoke design and ready to use. Who would not want this as a future scenario? While 3D printing is working with inorganic materials, the intention of bioprinting is to work with organic materials (including living cells) to create structures approximating body parts. These new forms of printing, should they be fully realised, will, it is argued, have the same revolutionary and democratising effect as book printing in their applicability to regenerative medicine and industry. Individually designed biological structures or body parts will become as available as text in modern literate societies. Not only would it make organs widely available to those who need them, but 3D printing organs would also resolve entrenched ethical problems ranging from eliminating the market in human organs and avoiding recipient rejection to averting human or non-human animal organs. Therefore, long-term 3D bioprinting has the potential to be a ‘game-changer’, no longer necessitating the need for living or deceased human donation as human organs would be printed on demand.

Read more at: http://blogs.bmj.com/medical-ethics/2017/03/21/so-what-is-not-to-like-about-3d-bioprinting/#more-3141.

GUEST BLOG!!! Adjusting To New Technology – By Rebekah Wolkind

Rebekah Wolkind, a post graduate student here at the UoE has written a blog for Diabetes UK about here experiences living with an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring and has allowed me to reproduce her blog here!  Thank you Rebekah!!



While watching Charlie Brooker’s sweep of the year, I was made aware of ‘Naked Attraction’ an absurdly premised programme whereby individuals choose a date based only on seeing their suitors naked. Shamefully curious I looked it up and was begrudgingly hooked in. I was struck by one thing in particular; these people were so very very naked.

I’m not just stating the obvious here. For those of us who use a pump and CGM this level of nakedness isn’t possible. Perhaps it occurs in brief moments in between set changes, but most of the time by body is hooked up, wired in.

What struck me further, were the strong feelings of sadness and jealousy it brought up in me.  Perhaps I have not come as far as I thought in accepting my condition, I thought.

I shifted from daily injections to a pump about two years ago, and have recently started to use the freestyle Libre. When I was on injections, I was more able to keep up the façade of normality. I kept my pens and meter in my bag, and I tested in private around people who didn’t know.  I never had to break through the shame and sadness of having a body that doesn’t function; in fact the invisibility of the illness fed that sense of shame by allowing me to maintain secrecy.

My pump and freestyle Libre provide a much better representation of what it’s like to live with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes cannot be put in a bag. Its shot through my body and mind every moment of every day. It’s the constant calculations of carbs, boluses and corrections, the relentless worry of going low with all the entailing symptoms and anxieties of future complications from going high. It’s an exhausting and ever present condition.

But after 8 long years of all the above and two years with a pump, my self-image is of someone with a pump-less, CGM-less, healthy body. And every time I realise that’s not true, my heart breaks a little.

The reality is with the advent of new technology; many people are now living a cyborg life. Cochlea implants; robotic prosthetics, even the common contraceptive implant arguably falls under this category.

During my undergraduate degree, I studied Donna Harraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”, which predicts a future of blurred boundaries between human and machine. Reading this made being a cyborg feel a lot cooler than it had done previously. But I still have a long way to go in accepting that being part machine is a legitimate way of being human, a legitimate body to have and in fact (as Harraway predicted) an increasingly normal body to have.

There are practical adjustments to being attached to machinery too. At night I sleep with my pump next to me, and when I get up to go to the bathroom in the night, or the next morning, I often forget, stand up, and sometimes pull the cannula out. My pump alarms at various times if there is a low reservoir, low battery or an error. People often assume it’s a phone and this can be awkward when I am in a no-phone zone (in the cinema, in a lecture, in a meeting).

It also adds an extra variable into the already complex realm of diabetes care. If my blood sugar is unexpectedly high, I have to think about all the normal things –  possible illness, miscalculation, hormones – but also whether my pump has failed me. The machine could be broken, the cannula could have kinked or the wire could have bubbles in it. Once my pump entirely failed me when I was living in a foreign country and difficulty in getting a new one cleared through customs meant I was back on injections for almost a month (a hard transition to make).

So these machines fall short of fulfilling the reliability and independence of true bodily organs. They break, they are sometimes mistaken, and ultimately, I still have to tell them what to do. However, they do make me radically more equipped to deal with my diabetes, and to live a normal life.

The pump allows me huge flexibility with regards to reducing my background insulin for exercise or increasing for illness or stress (or a multitude of other reasons). I have different insulin to carbohydrate ratios for different times of day and the pump will calculate my doses for me accordingly. The pump goes down to 0.001 units of insulin compared to the measly 0.5 increments when injecting. In fact, when I have gone back onto injections I’ve realised just how rudimentary it is in comparison.

My new Freestyle Libre allows me to see. I can get second by second updates on my blood sugar. It also tells me the direction so that I’ll know if I’m going up, down or flat (and to various gradients). It means I’m not stabbing in the dark with my doses. It gives me the confidence to go into a meeting with my blood sugars at 4, but know that I’m actually heading up.

Most of all, the visibility of the pump and the freestyle Libre are pushing me to surrender more deeply to the fact that I have a chronic and debilitating condition. I can’t avoid it or pretend not to have it.   This is a painful experience, but it is ultimately very liberating and puts me on the path to a deeper acceptance.

My only wish now is that funding makes these technologies more readily available to all.

Stop the press! Everyday Cyborgs in the Sunday newspapers….

Monday 23 January 2017

It’s true!  Yesterday the Sunday Herald ran a full-page spread about cyborgs and artificial intelligence “The rise of Homo Technicians: half human and half machine” and in the piece, there is a mention of the ‘everyday cyborg’.  I get quoted as saying:  “We shouldn’t be afraid of the cyborg,” says Dr Gill Haddow of the University of Edinburgh. “The fear that we get from the term comes from fictional representations, but the everyday cyborg is actually already all around us.” Haddow has been working on a Wellcome Trust funded project on what she describes as the “everyday cyborg”, people who are already living with a cybernetic device attached to their hearts called the implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD). She predicts that in the not so distant future almost all of us will have some implant”.

Obviously, the fame has not changed me.  I am still the same person.  On a serious note its just fantastic that the research got a nod (as well as the funders).  I hope it inspires other folks to become interested in the everyday and mundane lives of cyborgs.  On that note, off up the road to the Chrystal Macmillan Building to give a  STIS seminar on ‘the becoming of the everyday cyborg’.


A Night at the Flicks: Production/Project Review Meeting: In-Valid You/th.

Last night we had our production/project review meeting (as it says in the title:). To say this was an important step in the project is a total understatement. It was time to take stock, for the young people to present their ideas, and to start whittling down and thinking about what ideas and themes we can actually take forward. It was an amazing night, the young people presented their ideas, including sound ideas and images that had been uploaded to their Pinterest accounts. Pizza was obviously included (thanks to Kate!). Some photos from the proceedings below:

So next steps? We need to decide on what narratives we are going to go forward with.  Want to see the options using the 5 step approach that Sean taught? See below for talent, creativity, and sheer genius. Too much for one blog probably…

  1. The WINGS: Story Breakdown
  • Ava stands in a quiet forest observing the nature and looking out for birds that fly by and sit on trees.
  • Ava looks through books in a library in search for something specific. She finds a book on animal/human hybrids and scans through it before leaving. Back home, she goes through an old shoebox in her room which contains feathers and pictures she has taken of her back covered in marks and feathers. She compares her images to the one in the book.
  • Struggling to deal with her condition, Ava tries to ignore it, continuing to cut out the feathers that grow from her. She walks through streets trying to fit in, however she feels as if everyone is staring at her and judging her.
  • Nightmare animation sequence – people judging, reacting to seeing her back. Feathers grow everywhere and consume her.
  • In need of escape, Ava goes back to the forest. She finds peace and solitude from everything and everyone. She continues to watch the birds in the sky before taking off her coat revealing small feathered wings coming out of her shoulder blades, Birds start to circle around her. Ava embraces this, smiles and begins to levitate off the ground.

Style/Vision: The forest stuff should feel relaxing, whilst the busy environment should be made to feel chaotic. Camera work will help enforce this. Use of warm but limited palette for library scene/ nightmare scene – emulating the atmosphere of dishevelled, dusty, aged and antiqued. During nightmare sequence, colour palette turns progressively cooler as the birds become more aggressive.

Animation plans: Nightmare sequence where illustrations of birds from sketchbook / antique ornithology book begin to creep up protagonists arms and become progressively more aggressive. Close up of feather pushing through “flesh”. Support for wing prop build. Stop-mo could support wing movement.

Sound plans: Playing with environmental sounds: Juxtaposing peaceful nature sounds in the forest with busy chaotic noises in the town. Used to show where Ava feels most comfortable.

2. HUMINAL Story Breakdown:

  1. A girl is obsessed with animals. This is told through the posters and décor in her room, her clothing and cat ear headband she wears constantly.
  2. She (somehow?) ends up drinking a potion that changes her, that mixes in with her DNA (ends up being compatible with the potion – shown through animation). She wakes up and notices her body and senses gradually change. She is becoming a Humanal – cat type.
  3. The girl tries to go to school and act as nothing has changed. She looks up at the reception TV to notice a news report on “Humanals”. The headteacher of the school is interviewed. She speaks about how Humanals are outcasts and should be banished from society. The girl then notices other people in the school look part animal too. One of them gets bullied by a bunch of horrible students. The head teacher passes and just laughs.
  4. After school, the bullies notice the girl has cat ears underneath her hat. They chase her around the school until they can no longer find her. The girl waits until everyone has left the school before leaving herself. As she gets to the gates she hears screams coming from one of the classrooms with smoke escaping from the window. The girl runs up to find the head teacher trapped in the room. She and a bunch of other “Humanals” who arrived at the scene use their individual human like powers to save the head teacher.
  5. New news report talking about how Humanals saved the day and how there is a place for them after all. The head teacher reiterates this. Next day in school everybody has animal like the costume and other attire to show that “Humanals” are cool and accepted. The girl meets up with her friends who wear cat headbands to match her cat ears.

Animation: 1) Transition from human to Huminal (stop motion elements, enhanced in post) 2) Showing hidden powers of Huminals (improved vision and hearing) 3) Infomercial showing Huminal cellular “mutation” (news report scene)

Sound: School ambience; crowds, school bells etc. Animal noises, Sounds of potion travelling down and through the body.


3. MECHANICAL HEART Story Breakdown:

  1. A doctor’s wife lies on a makeshift operating table. She looks extremely unwell and close to dying. The doctor seems to be carrying out some weird procedure on her, which reveals parts of her that look inhuman. The wife then seems to look more peaceful. The Doctor takes a deep breath before cuddling her.
  2. Next day the Doctor carried out some final tests on his wife. A couple of hours later she leaves the theatre space and comes through to the living room, looking lifelike and well. The doctor smiles. He enjoys her company again.
  3. As much as the Doctor enjoys having his wife around again, he begins to see she is not the same person. She is emotionless and doesn’t have the same personality as she used to. Lifeless.
  4. The doctor is yet again left feeling sad and empty, feeling guilty for experimenting with his wife. He contemplates letting her go. He eventually asks her to go down the stairs to the operating theatre to carry out a simple “fix” on her.
  5. The wife lies on the operating theatre. The doctor hovers over her, struggling to go through with the task. As he is about to do it the wife tells her she loves him, however, the Doctor knows that the words aren’t enough. He kisses her on the forehead and switches of the support attached to her head (?). He leans over clenches her tight and says he loves her too.


4. THE BIONIC BUS DRIVER Story Breakdown:

  • A story set in Edinburgh. A man (20-29yrs) is dreaming about being a bus driver (dream sequence). Jump cut to the sudden shock of the accident sequence. Man loses his legs.
  • He can’t get any job but holds still has a dream of being a bus driver. He’s mocked for even attending an interview for this but a chance encounter with an old school friend changes his luck.
  • The friend is a successful surgeon and with the help of “infomercial” style video clips convinces the man to undergo transformative surgery to create mechanical legs
  • The man undergoes surgery that we see through an animation sequence showing cellular division, the mechanical meeting biological etc.
  • The man realises that his new legs are far superior to “human” legs and actually make him the most incredible driver ever.

Animation: Infomercial-style animation showing how “bionic” limb will improve lifestyle and increase productivity (cut-out and hand-drawn).  Surgery sequence can be shown through a time-lapse montage of biological elements (petri dish under a microscope) and similar cut-out elements as per infomercial. Dream sequence of being a bus driver

Sound: At beginning no music, focus on dialogue. All sounds should be bespoke. Organic fused with mechanical sounds. At the point where the character becomes successful introduce “cheesy” music (the 80’s).


  • An advert reveals how this global technology company have created a super computer that functions and was grown biologically as opposed to mechanically, and how it will change the face of the earth.
  • We see the computer for itself, skin and veins grow from it, looking like something from an old 50’s B movie. We see it operate in action. Suddenly the lab is breached and a bunch of activists burst in, faces covered with balaclavas. They enter the room and see the machine for itself.
  • They have a debate about the ethics behind it and if they should shut it down.
  • Activists try to interact but fail and realise it is just a machine
  • They leave but we realise that the computer registers fear.

 Style/Vision: Propaganda type film. Selling us something that looks to be world changing but in reality is bleaker than that. Dystopian feel to it. Could be played with contrasting colours or composition.

Animation: Slick infomercial style sequence selling the super computer (refs. Apple product launches). The sequence will focus on how biological elements mutate into electronic elements but retain their “organic” look and feel (cut out?). Support for prop building: Creation of Biological Computer prop through the use of silicone so it retains a clinical and other-worldly feel whilst also appearing flesh-like. Familiar yet alien. Veins seen pulsing below silicone flesh (use of LED threads). Possible enhancements through animation.“Fear” text appearing on screen in final scene

Sound: The computer shouldn’t make electronic noises, it’s noises should sound organic, human-like. It’s operating sound could be bones cracking or breathing. Retro 80’s soundtrack with a modern twist, if possible. Grunge, metallic sounds vs organic: Bones etc.

6. STRIPPED ANDROID Story Breakdown

1 – A group of robots, who look identical to humans, are carrying out the tasks they have been designed to do. This takes place in a very clinical white lab. Scientists stand behind the scenes analysing and taking note.

2 – The robots are made to watch a series of clips to analyse. As the images become graphic one robot starts to become distressed to the point where they can no longer look at the imagery. Perhaps they have done sort of fit or attempt to walk out the room?

3 – The scientists are confused by the reaction of the robot as are the other robots that observe, emotionless. However, things continue as normal and another task has been issued.

4 – The robot presents its research to the scientists who are shocked and annoyed by the result. Intimidated by the robot’s ability to emote and outsmart, they tie down the robot and lock it in a prison-like room.

5 – The robot is quizzed about his research and how he feels. He gives a heartfelt monologue about him being able to feel etc. The scientists react by hitting the switch and killing the robot. The lifeless body remains seated on the chair. The only sign of movement comes from a single tear that slowly runs down the robot’s face.

Style/Vision: The camera movement will be slow and mostly locked off to create a mundane and unsettling atmosphere. It must look very clinical also, with a plain setting.

Animation: Use animation to show how the robot physically digests all the information given. Perhaps animate the character’s body slightly to make it look slightly different from a human body. Also need to animate a tear that drips down the face at the end.

Sound: Synth music to give it a classic sci-fi sound but used in a way where it creates emotion too.


So I think it is all just amazing but what do the young people and others think?

“The project is fantastic! – The project is about biomedical and technology to improve the health of people. Before I join this project I was previously involved with Pulse which was a great success. In this project, I learned more about the defibrillators and mechanics for the body. I also get to development my creative idea: humanal a breed of half human and half animal. They are all unique and have animal powers. I have developed my skills for making animation, sound design, story writing, working with fancy cameras and directing. During the project, I team up with amazing professionals and people who have a passion for the project. We worked together as a team to experiment and create something amazing from a stimulus. It is heart-warming to see young people, youth workers, artists and scientist working together.” (Annie, In-Valid You/th young person). 

“What an absolutely fantastic meeting last night.  I was really overwhelmed by the quality of the stories, and even more importantly, the way the young people presented them, owned them and believed in them.  They were all so unique, demonstrating that they had all been inspired in different ways. What a journey” (Ali, Youth Development Group Worker). 

Ali’s right.  But it wouldn’t be happening without everyone being committed and spending their Thursday evenings thinking all things, animal, mechanical and human.  And in 2017 it is about making the film. Can’t wait!!!






It might be cold… but Helen Cowdy is on fire.

So Helen is currently working on an animation sequence with Ross roughly called ‘Everyday Cyborgs in Five Parts’ (it’s still a title being played around with). The parts reference was to do with the Cartesian body being easily replaced, repaired or even regenerated (more of 3-D bioprinting in blogs to come). And it was a story in five stages (pre-Cyborg; cyborgisation process; acclimatisation; shocks; life post-shock). The story is an amalgamation from lots of different narratives from everyday ICD cyborgs some related by them, some not. The three characters are entirely fictional (Dan, Flo and Shane) and the animation is also an interpretation of the amalgamation (if that follows!).  It also draws on some of the material that I am working on in an article about ‘Biomedical Nemesis’. But here is the first view of an early storyboard:




Some early films from In-Valid You/th

31st October 2016

After a few weeks away at conferences and stuff I was back with the young people on Thursday. The animation training is going brilliantly and I think everyone is finding it totally inspiring. Here’s a clip showcasing some early ideas with some early music experiments:


And for those of us (OK – me) who think animation is all lux and creation – here’s a photo of Claudine and her shopping trolley that she uses to bring the mountains of stuff each week.

Next week is back to Sean and some go-tos with the script. Time to go back to the narrative and the script…


Animating In-Valid You/th

Thursday 6 October

Last night I spent another couple of fantastic couple of hours hanging out with some of the young people on the In-Valid You/th project.  Claudine and Cameron had set up some brilliant stop-motion and other sites around the room.  It was a really nice way for everyone to get hands-on and its interesting to see how ideas can come from discovering techniques as well as conceptual engagement.  I took some photos but I am really excited that some of the early animations might also make it way here on this blog – more about that next week.  As you can tell from the photos below we had a lot of fun too (if anyone is wondering what Claudine is doing on the floor she was volunteering for the ‘human skateboard‘).  I learned a lot about animation techniques with objects and stop-motion artists such as PES and his Oscar nominated short Fresh Guacamole film!  Also an early influence on him was Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer.  We really liked his film called ‘Food‘ as a way of playing around with stop-motion and plasticine!  This is surely what its all about!!

Maggie’s Story on at Wellcome Collection

October 2016

Was great to see Maggie’s Story being shown at the Wellcome Collections Medicine Now gallery over the summer.  The project was called ‘Medicine, What Now?’ and the aim was to bring the gallery up to date with some contemporary science and medicine and along with some other films and images, Maggies Story was being shown on one of the interactives.  Photos are not great I know!  I didn’t have Ross with me!  But it was still thrilling to see the film out for general public viewing.  Unfortunately, it was not possible to really know what people thought of it and how many folks viewed it but, for me, it was just so exciting for it to be there.  Job done.

A Story Made-up about EC in parts

So the fantastic Ross Ziegelmeier and Helen Cowley have been working hard on the next animation and sent me some images – they are great! I need to get the script finished – its very loosely based on the interviews that were done with the ICD participants bringing together different voices to make 3 main characters: Here’s some early thoughts

“A Story Made-Up about everyday cyborg bodies in parts”.

Characters: some ideas about the collage of the EC – a body/person as composite parts that could draw upon who they were, what they did, where they live – their identity is therefore literally inscribed on their body. 


October 2016: and some more ideas from Helen!