The Dendrimer Clinic

26 Oct

“There is no other medical institution like us on the entire planet,” boasted Dr. Ward Thorn, the president of the new hospital. “We alone are the pioneers in advanced nano-medicine, although there are forces hostile to our innovations among those still buried in the past.”

The lanky, red-haired physician-administrator surveyed his audience of wealthy potential contributors, speculating about how much money he would be able to squeeze out of each of them.

“Biochemistry has reached the point where dendrimers can now serve as the center of medical therapeutics,” Ward continued. “Here, in our newly-opened facility, nano-particles will be the core of our treatment. We promise our patients unprecedented cures and improvements. But our needs for resources and new personnel are ever-increasing. All of you now have the opportunity to join and support our crusade for revolutionary change in application of science to human health.

“If you please, I shall now guide this group through our research, production, and assembly building so that all of you can see for yourself how we at this clinic are pioneers in previously unexplored regions of medicine.

The doctor thanked his audience of two dozen millionaires, then stepped forward to give each of them a strong, hearty handshake.

Dr. Thorn led the group through the area where dendrimers that contained conjugated peptides and sacharides were produced. He named the artificial enzymes, recombined proteins, molecular probes, and liposomes involved in the nanoparticle delivery systems involved.

“Do not forget, all these dendrimers are less than a billionth of a meter in size,” he declared with a proud grin. “It is possible to use a dendrimer as both a drug carrier and as an important part of the treatment given. We call that combination therapy.”

Ward then took the potential benefactors into the section where dendrimers of higher, complex proteins were being fabricated behind air-tight glass walls.

“Here we synthesize simple amino acids and proteins into long chains that can lock into and remove dangerous pathogens. Our dendrimers are capable of further self-assembly into much higher order structures, some the same size as ordinary proteins, but others larger. These act as blocking agents or artificial antibodies. We call them aptamers.

“We produce here what are really man-made proteins that can be chemically directed to specific body sites to deliver drugs and repair infected cells. It is possible for us to target particular viruses or bacteria.

“Because these protein dendrimers can diagnose, prescribe, and fight so many diseases, I have come to call them my molecule-sized machines,” said Ward, giving a slight laugh.

“Now, we shall enter our research laboratory where you shall observe some startling innovations in the process of development.”

As Ward advanced into a different sector of the long building, a small, spare man with snow white hair stepped up to him.

“This fellow is our Director of Research, and his name is Dr. John Palva. I shall let him explain the kind of projects that he and his staff are at present working on,” smiled the president of the Dendrimer Clinic.

The research scientist started to speak in a high, scratchy tone.

“In our department, we are constructing many-sided dendrimers that have the ability to self-assemble in a variety of shapes and configurations. It can repel in one direction, while attracting on other sides. This makes it very flexible and versatile. There can be different reactions on different sides.

“The dendrimers can develop into tubes, disks, or bubble vesicles. They have become nano-sized machines that can deal with cancers, tumors, inflammatory diseases and conditions, and serve as instantaneous sensors of health problems at their very beginning.

“Our plans are to provide the Clinic, in the near future, with mechanical biobots on the molecular scale. The hope is that these can become effective anti-aging systems within the human body.”

Ward and John exchanged smiles as the former started to lead the group of visitors back the way they had come through the laboratories.

Dr. Alfred Stern had always been more of a political physician than a successful practitioner with a large roster of improving, contented patients.

His social skills inside the politics of organized medicine had elevated him to the powerful position of president of the physician’s professional association, first at the local level, then on a regional scale, and finally for the entire country.

An imposing, intimidating giant with coal black hair and crystalline eyes, few persons ever dared oppose this man of power in direct confrontation. His authority seemed granite-like and unquestionable to almost everyone.

The Dendrimer Clinic and its president, Dr. Ward Thorn, easily became a problem and obstacle for this titan at the top of the medical hierarchy.

Dr. Stern did not hide his fiery anger or deep animus against the pioneering innovators in nano-medicine.

“They are going too fast and taking unjustified risks,” he told colleagues who were members of his personal clique. “Medicine has never changed radically overnight the way that Ward Thorn and his gang of followers think it can. I am ready to put a brake on how they operate in this den of molecular medicine.”

When the news reached him that biobots were already being implanted inside seriously ill patients at the Dendrimer Clinic, Alfred Stern took direct, immediate action. He phoned the head of the medical association’s ethics enforcement committee and spelled out what he wanted done by this national site of regulation and governance.

“Charges against Thorn and his cohorts are in order,” stated Alfred in a stentorian tone. “There must be no delay whatever. These radicals must learn that our profession is an organized one, and that they don’t have a free hand to play around with the public however they get a whim to do

“Your committee must schedule investigation and hearings on the placing of biobots inside human bodies. There can be no ethical justification for such intrusion and violation of personal rights.

“I am determined to end the dangerous practices of this medical adventurist as soon as possible.”

Wheels started to turn at once.

Paper and electronic mass media headlined the call for closing and outlawing the use of nano-medical biobots at the Dendrimer Clinic. Taped interviews with Alfred Stern at the center appeared throughout the country. Merciless indictments of Ward Thorn drew the attention of the public. They became ever sharper in severity.

President Thorn had few outlets or opportunities to reply to these attacks and accusations. “It is nothing but unsubstantiated slander,” he said over and over, through a multiple of channels. But no one appeared to be hearing him.

Stern succeeded in winning the involvement of the nation’s Department of Public Health. His plan was to have that bureaucracy obtain a court order condemning and shutting down the Clinic as an unregulated, uncontrolled danger to health and wellbeing. The survival of the new area of nano-medicine was now about to be closed off and destroyed, Ward feared. Biobots able to act as molecular self-assemblers were going to be banned, putting an end to an entire world of possible innovation.

How were the public health officials going to deal with the accusations made in the complaint addressed to them by organized medicine’s professional union?

It was risky for them to take any authoritative action on their own. The reply sent to the medical association was indefinite and ambiguous. Since the questions surrounding the Dendrimer Clinic and its biobot mechanisms were so complicated and new, it had become necessary for the Department of Public Health to hold a court-like inquiry into the future operation of the hospital and its research laboratories.

The government bureaucracy decided to send a panel of its public health experts to hold hearings on the premises of the Clinic. When he received the notice of this by electronic mail, Ward immediately summoned Dr. Palva to his office.

The pair had to coordinate and compose a credible defense of self-assembling biobots and their use in overcoming problems of human health.

“What arguments can we present to convince those investigating and judging us that our advanced dendrimers pose no danger of any sort to individual privacy or freedom? How are we going to frame the question so that the decision falls in our favor and Alfred Stern fails in his goal of shutting us down?” Ward stared at the research chief seated opposite him.

The scientist with the glowing white hair paused in deep thought for a short while before offering his solution.

“We will have to maintain strict control over the definitions that we use. They must be identical ones, and no one can stray off from them.

“My idea is this: that you and I practice together the replies that each of us will make to the same question. If we coordinate our answers so that they are identical, there will be no gaps or openings that our enemy can exploit.”

Ward furrowed his brow with lines of intense thought.

“Yes, we will present our case to the panel in a united, coordinated manner. That’s the only way for us to win and survive.

“Let’s get to work right now, John,” he said with determination.

The official panel of five members was seated in the Clinic conference chamber behind a long, somewhat elevated table. There were three men and two women, all of them possessing unquestionable qualifications in either public health or bio-medical ethics. The chairman first stated the nature of the question that they were to investigate, then decide on.

“Are self-assembling dendrimers that operate as molecular mechanisms with independent capacities, termed biobots, a permissible means of therapeutic treatment upon human patients?” announced the chairman, a large, elderly physician with a long history studying and judging problems of medical ethics.

“Or has the Dendrimer Clinic strayed over the line of what should be permitted in the field of nano-medical intervention in the human body?”

Ward Thorn sat beside Dr. Palva, facing the table of professional judges of his institution’s future possibilities.

From the rear of the packed conference room, Alfred Stern stepped forward, prepared to make the case against the Clinic by claiming that it was causing invasive intrusion into the life systems of the people coming there seeking cure and alleviation, robbing them of freedom and self-determination.

The accuser sat down in a separated chair for witnesses that faced the panel of five experts on medical ethics. Behind his back sat a crowded room, most of them people connected to the Dendrimer Clinic in some way.

“It is very simple to describe the major offenses committed here, within the walls of this so-called clinic. The permanent and complete transformation of the bodies of human beings into machines that bio-specialists have planned is unethical and also an offense against all medical codes ever written in mankind’s long history.

“To make irreversible changes in the operation of the physiology, chemistry, and molecular systems of patients has never been part of the medical mode of operation. Who are we, physicians and therapists, to alter the original nature of organic functioning within those whom we treat? Where is the license that allows such radical transformation of central biological processes? No one can point out any such legal or moral authorization, either material or intellectual, for no such thing exists.

“There is no justification for the drastic interventions made here, the assaults upon individual autonomy. What is going on? Is the final goal of this clinic to remake humans into predetermined, preplanned machines, composed of an infinite number of nano-sized molecular mechanisms? Is that the conscious or unconscious aim of those involved in this devilish project: to make our future one of preprogrammed monsters?”

The chairman of the investigating committee thanked the head of organized medicine and dismissed him from the proceedings. “After a pause for fifteen minutes, we shall resume our proceedings with questioning of the president of the clinic in which we are now in,” the chief judge of the ethics charges announced to the assembled audience.

“What do you intend to say in defense?” asked John Palva of Ward. “How will you counter the false charges made by that ignorant reactionary?”

The two stood together in conversation out in the hall leading to the conference room being used by the public health panel.

Ward gave the research scientist an uncertain, worried look. “I have thought endlessly over what argument I should make. The possibilities seem many. But in the end, I was unable to make or hold to any firm decision.

“My decisions will have to be made in the course of presenting ideas, and thus they will have to be unpredictable. Nothing is determinable ahead of the moment of speaking. My head is already packed with words and sentences. I myself will have to wait in order to hear what finally emerges out of my mouth, John.”

The latter gazed with sympathetic emotion at his boss. “Whatever I can do to help you, that I promise I will do,” he said in a shaken voice.

“You now have the opportunity to answer the charges that have been presented before us earlier, Dr. Thorn. The floor is yours,” said the chairman of the investigation committee.

Ward decided to rise from his chair and speak from a standing position.

“It is difficult to deal with accusations against an enterprise as new and unprecedented as the molecular biobots developed here at the Dendrimer Clinic. The dimensions of recent developments and breakthroughs are breathtaking. But allow me to make a simple, clear analogy. A biobot is similar and analogous to the entire body of a human being. It resembles in form and operation an entire body system with all its subsystems. Similar types of operation go on at both levels, but there is complexity in both types of systems.

“I am not saying that molecular dendrimers are as complicated and multifaceted as a human is, but there are amazing similarities. An advanced biobot possesses many aspects of general physiology and biochemical processes basic to our overall bodies. In other words, everything that our new dendrimers are capable of can also be found to go on in an entire body system.

“As a result of this reflection of human biological patterns that are general in the new biobots, these constructed nano-medical units must be acceptable under our medical code of ethics. It is the natural structures and frameworks of our biology that justify our using analogous nano-organisms for the sake of cure and therapy.” Ward paused and looked at the chairman of the panel. “That is my main argument in favor of continuance of our dendrimer program here at the Clinic.”

Ward, sensing that there was no more he could say, turned around in preparation to withdraw, when he caught sight of the door to the conference room opening and Dr. Palva entering through it.

All eyes focused on the research director, for someone seemed to be following him into the chamber. And as he moved further toward the front, a second and a third person came along as if in single file. The surprising aspect of this sight was that all of the people behind John Palva were men and women dressed in patient’s gowns, the uniforms of the ill and ailing.

When the research scientist reached where Ward was standing, he whispered a message to the perplexed head of the Clinic.

“I decided to bring some patients with biobots in here so that they can give testimony on their condition.”

Ward at once understood the opportunity that the surprise appearances presented to him.

“Mr. Chairman, I beg that this committee allow some of the persons who have been treated with molecular biobots explain what their experiences have been. I am certain that would clarify many matters that trouble you and have not yet been resolved.”

This plea from Ward Thorn was discussed among the panel members in private whispers for several seconds. An agreement swiftly formed and was announced by the chairman.

“Go ahead, then. More chairs must be brought in so that these individuals can sit down, and then we shall ask each of them, one-by-one, how they happen to feel with biobots floating around inside them.”

The next five minutes consisted of testimony of persons with the new, advanced dendrimers within their bodies.

Ward and the creator of the biobots found chairs in the back of the room next to each other.

As the last of the patients finished answering questions from members of the committee, John Palva turned to the president of the Clinic and asked him a question.

“How do you think we’ve done?” he whispered.

“Our patients made a better argument than even I did,” said Ward with a confident grin. “Who can doubt what they are telling about how their biobots have affected them?”

Once the testimony ended, the committee talked informally a little while, then the chairman announced that the charges against the Dendrimer Clinic were summarily dismissed.

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