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Igor-style human, animal parts assembly on horizon

Kit-form Lurch servants/monkey butlers for all

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Topflight Mancunian scientists believe they will soon pioneer an improved technique for splicing together human nerves. This could offer a range of benefits, not least the ability to assemble huge, powerful bodies out of miscellaneous human parts and implanted brains harvested from condemned criminal maniacs.

It seems that a team let by Dr Paul Kingham at the University of Manchester have found that they can grow nerve tissue using stem cells extracted from fat. They plan to join up nerve endings with a tube made of "biodegradable polymer" inside which their new cultured nerve tissue can grow, so creating a functioning nerve pathway. Once the nerve is strong enough, the tube will gradually dissolve away.

Dr Kingham and his colleagues are playing down the Frankensteinian aspects of their research for some reason, preferring to focus on relatively humdrum stuff like reattaching severed limbs to their original owners.

"The current repair method — a patient donating their own nerve graft to span the gap at the injury site — is far from optimal," explains Kingham's boss Professor Giorgio Terenghi, who dubbed the new process "Tissue engineering".

The prof said that Kingham's plan "promises a great improvement... The patient will not be able to tell that they had ever 'lost' their limb and will be able carry on exactly as they did before."

But it seems quite clear that the splicing technique could also be used to attach someone else's limb, or perhaps other parts.

"This work will also help to develop a similar surgical approach for organ transplant, to give full functional recuperation to the transplanted tissue," said Kingham. He also thought he might be able to cure certain kinds of male impotence.

This could allow secretive government boffins bent on infiltrating wacky terrorist cells to swap people's living faces over, as in the film Face Off. Ultimately, assuming a suitably large stock of legs, arms, giblets, brains in bubbling jars etc., it ought to be feasible to custom-build complete Lurch-style butlers or other handy menials to order.

Apparently the nerve-culturing caper has already been tried out with animals, raising the spectre of various chimerical creatures being put together out of random parts; or perhaps the addition of useful bits and pieces to humans. More adventurous ploys such as placing the brains of interesting, useful or valuable dead people in giant apes, boxing kangaroos and the like also spring to mind. Indeed, the long-sought monkey butler could finally be at hand.

The University press people seem intent on fuelling this type of lurid media speculation, chuntering on enthusiastically in their release about "bionic" techniques which can bring "limbs and organs back to life".

This would seem to suggest that one wouldn't need living donors to supply fresh parts for one's terrifying squad of kit-form henchmen - or to replace one's own severed, broken or carelessly mislaid limbs or other sundry vitals - which is comforting. It would be possible to get most of the needful materials in classic old-school style, by digging up graveyards; though the Manchester PRs do seem to imply that only "limbs and organs" can be reanimated.

Presumably one's trusty hunchbacked assistant will still need to make the traditional midnight raid on the local Brain Depository* as depicted in the Mel Brooks classic Young Frankenstein.

Life imitates art, again. ®

*After 5pm please slip brains through hole in door.

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