Tag Archives: plastic surgery

Hedy Lamarr documentary

It was the tech community which brought Hedy Lamarr’s scientific and technical accomplishments to light in the 1990s. The movie actress was better known for other aspects of her work and life.

She was the first actress to portray an orgasm on screen, the movie was Ecstasy (in English), the year was 1933; and, Hedy Lamarr was 18 years-old. Shortly after the film was released, Lamarr, of Jewish descent, married Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy Austrian with ties to fascist regimes led by Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. A controlling and jealous man, she eventually escaped Mandl in the middle of the night with all the jewels she could pack on her person.

That’s just the prelude for a documentary celebrating the extraordinary Lamarr. ‘Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story’ (directed and written by Alexandra Dean) has been making its way around the festival circuit for the last several months. I saw it at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) in October 2017 and the house was packed.

(If you missed it on the festival circuit, don’t worry. It’s being broadcast by most, if not all PBS stations, on May 18, 2018 as part of the American Masters series.)

*ETA video clips May 18, 2018 at 0945 hours PDT*

Over the last few decades there’s been a major reevaluation of Lamarr’s place in history. She was dangerous not just for her beauty (bombshell) but also in the way that people who aren’t easily categorized are always dangerous.

Before she did her ground-breaking work as an inventor and after her dramatic middle-of-the-night escape, Lamarr made her way to London* where she sought out Louis B. Mayer in 1937 and turned down his offer of a contract at MGM. Not enough money. Instead, she booked passage n a ship bound for New York City which was also carrying Louis B. Mayer and his wife. By the time they landed, Lamarr had gotten a contract that she was happy with and a brand-new name. Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler effectively became Hedy Lamarr for the rest of her life.

Lamarr’s famous quote: “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid,” provides an interesting juxtaposition with her role (along with avant-garde musician and composer George Antheil) in developing a technology that laid the basis for secure Wi-Fi, GPS (global positioning system), and Bluetooth. Or as some of us think of it, life in the 21st century.

She claimed to have advised Howard Hughes on the design for the of his airplanes; she was inspired by the wings on birds and fins on fish. She created a tablet that when reconstituted with water became a carbonated drink (according to Lamarr, it was not very tasty). There was also her influence in the field of plastic surgery. Those incisions that are in hard-to-see places? That was at Hedy Lamarr’s suggestion.

Her inventions spanned electrical engineering (telecommunications), bio-inspired engineering and physics (airplane wings), chemistry (the drink tablets), and plastic surgery. That’s an extraordinary range and there’s more. She created her own movie production company in 1945/46* (it was a failure) and was instrumental in designing a resort (she was never fairly recompensed for that).

She suffered throughout her life in various ways.The US government shafted her and George Antheil by politely refusing their invention in 1942. To be fair, it would have been difficult to use with the technology available at the time but somebody must have recognized its potential. At some point in the 1950s the US Navy developed the technology (without informing either inventor or compensating them as had been their deal).

There was more, her achievements were ignored or, worse, attributed to anyone except her the better part of her life; the Hollywood factory is not kind to older actresses, especially those of Lamarr’s generation; and she made serious mistakes.

Ironically, one of those mistakes involved plastic surgery. It’s hard to know what the effect will be on television but in the movie house, there was a big gasp when some footage from her last years was shown. She’s not monstrous but after an hour or more of footage from her ‘glamorous’ years, it’s a bit of a shock. If you can see past the effects of some ‘bad’ plastic surgery, you’ll find a woman who despite everything kept on. She never gave up and there’s a kind of beauty in that act which is indelible in a way that her physical beauty could never hope to be.

The documentary is fascinating not only for what it includes but for what it doesn’t. You’d think she’d never had a woman friend in her life but according to J. E. Smyth’s 2018 book ‘Nobody’s Girl Friday; The Women Who Ran Hollywood’, she and Bette Davis were good friends. There’s also mention of her poverty but none of her late life litigiousness and the $3M estate she left when she died in 2000.*** At a guess, having learned from the debacle with the US Navy (she could have sued but didn’t realize she had the right), she litigated her way into some financial health. As for the ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘Me Too’ movements which have formed since the Hollywood sex scandals of 2017 – ????, one can only imagine what Lamarr’s stories might have been.

If you have the time, see the documentary. Lamarr was a helluva dame.

*’Paris’ corrected to ‘London’ and ‘1945’ changed to 1945/46′ on on May 21, 2018 after watching the PBS broadcast of the documentary on May 18, 2018.

.***ETA May 21, 2018: See the Hedy Lamarr Wikipedia entry for more about her estate and other details of her life.***

Making 3D patches for the brain

They’re not ready to start patching any brains yet but the research seems promising. From an April 1, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

Damage to neural tissue is typically permanent and causes lasting disability in patients, but a new approach has recently been discovered that holds incredible potential to reconstruct neural tissue at high resolution in three dimensions. Research recently published in the Journal of Neural Engineering demonstrated a method for embedding scaffolding of patterned nanofibers within three-dimensional (3D) hydrogel structures, and it was shown that neurite outgrowth from neurons in the hydrogel followed the nanofiber scaffolding by tracking directly along the nanofibers, particularly when the nanofibers were coated with a type of cell adhesion molecule called laminin. It was also shown that the coated nanofibers significantly enhanced the length of growing neurites, and that the type of hydrogel could significantly affect the extent to which the neurites tracked the nanofibers.

A March 31, 2015 Institute of Neural Regeneration & Tissue Engineering press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the thinking underlying this research and future research plans,

“Neural stem cells hold incredible potential for restoring damaged cells in the nervous system, and 3D reconstruction of neural tissue is essential for replicating the complex anatomical structure and function of the brain and spinal cord,” said Dr. McMurtrey, author of the study and director of the research institute that led this work. “So it was thought that the combination of induced neuronal cells with micropatterned biomaterials might enable unique advantages in 3D cultures, and this research showed that not only can neuronal cells be cultured in 3D conformations, but the direction and pattern of neurite outgrowth can be guided and controlled using relatively simple combinations of structural cues and biochemical signaling factors.”

The next step will be replicating more complex structures using a patient’s own induced stem cells to reconstruct damaged or diseased sites in the nervous system. These 3D reconstructions can then be used to implant into the damaged areas of neural tissue to help reconstruct specific neuroanatomical structures and integrate with the proper neural circuitry in order to restore function. Successful restoration of function would require training of the new neural circuitry over time, but by selecting the proper neurons and forming them into native architecture, implanted neural stem cells would have a much higher chance of providing successful outcomes. The scaffolding and hydrogel materials are biocompatible and biodegradable, and the hydrogels can also help to maintain the microstructure of implanted cells and prevent them from washing away in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

McMurtrey also noted that by making these site-specific reconstructions of neural tissue, not only can neural architecture be rebuilt, but researchers can also make models for studying disease mechanisms and developmental processes just by using skin cells that are induced into pluripotent stem cells and into neurons from patients with a variety of diseases and conditions. “The 3D constructs enable a realistic replication of the innate cellular environment and also enable study of diseased human neurons without needing to biopsy neurons from affected patients and without needing to make animal models that can fail to replicate the full array of features seen in humans,” said McMurtrey.

The ability to engineer neural tissue from stem cells and biomaterials holds great potential for regenerative medicine. The combination of stem cells, functionalized hydrogel architecture, and patterned and functionalized nanofiber scaffolding enables the formation of unique 3D tissue constructs, and these engineered constructs offer important applications in brain and spinal cord tissue that has been damaged by trauma, stroke, or degeneration. In particular, this work may one day help in the restoration of functional neuroanatomical pathways and structures at sites of spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, tumor resection, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases of Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Patterned and functionalized nanofiber scaffolds in three-dimensional hydrogel constructs enhance neurite outgrowth and directional control by Richard McMurtrey (Journal of Neural Engineering Volume 11 Number 6) 2014 J. J. Neural Eng. 11 066009 doi:10.1088/1741-2560/11/6/066009

This paper is open access.

A little unusually for me, here’s the abstract for the paper,

Objective. Neural tissue engineering holds incredible potential to restore functional capabilities to damaged neural tissue. It was hypothesized that patterned and functionalized nanofiber scaffolds could control neurite direction and enhance neurite outgrowth. Approach. A method of creating aligned electrospun nanofibers was implemented and fiber characteristics were analyzed using environmental scanning electron microscopy. Nanofibers were composed of polycaprolactone (PCL) polymer, PCL mixed with gelatin, or PCL with a laminin coating. Three-dimensional hydrogels were then integrated with embedded aligned nanofibers to support neuronal cell cultures. Microscopic images were captured at high-resolution in single and multi-focal planes with eGFP-expressing neuronal SH-SY5Y cells in a fluorescent channel and nanofiber scaffolding in another channel. Neuronal morphology and neurite tracking of nanofibers were then analyzed in detail. Main results. Aligned nanofibers were shown to enable significant control over the direction of neurite outgrowth in both two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) neuronal cultures. Laminin-functionalized nanofibers in 3D hyaluronic acid (HA) hydrogels enabled significant alignment of neurites with nanofibers, enabled significant neurite tracking of nanofibers, and significantly increased the distance over which neurites could extend. Specifically, the average length of neurites per cell in 3D HA constructs with laminin-functionalized nanofibers increased by 66% compared to the same laminin fibers on 2D laminin surfaces, increased by 59% compared to 2D laminin-coated surface without fibers, and increased by 1052% compared to HA constructs without fibers. Laminin functionalization of fibers also doubled average neurite length over plain PCL fibers in the same 3D HA constructs. In addition, neurites also demonstrated tracking directly along the fibers, with 66% of neurite lengths directly tracking laminin-coated fibers in 3D HA constructs, which was a 65% relative increase in neurite tracking compared to plain PCL fibers in the same 3D HA constructs and a 213% relative increase over laminin-coated fibers on 2D laminin-coated surfaces. Significance. This work demonstrates the ability to create unique 3D neural tissue constructs using a combined system of hydrogel and nanofiber scaffolding. Importantly, patterned and biofunctionalized nanofiber scaffolds that can control direction and increase length of neurite outgrowth in three-dimensions hold much potential for neural tissue engineering. This approach offers advancements in the development of implantable neural tissue constructs that enable control of neural development and reproduction of neuroanatomical pathways, with the ultimate goal being the achievement of functional neural regeneration.

I have a few comments, this work was performed in vitro and I imagine it will be several years before it is attempted in human clinical trials. As well, the ethics issues raised by this work are interesting. While the doctors are talking about repairs to injured tissues, it’s only a matter of time until someone tries to improve on the brain or human enhancement. After all, modern plastic surgery was developed as a form of repair for soldiers and others who were disfigured. These days, much of the practice is concerned with preserving youth or enhancing someone’s looks. Not altogether coincidentally, I wrote about the second volume of a report from the US Presidential Bioethics Commission in my April 2, 2015 post titled: Gray Matters volume 2: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued March 2015 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission.

Finally, you can find out more about the Institute of Neural Regeneration & Tissue Engineering here.