Season 3, Post 41: Pigs and cats
Two totally unrelated stories caught our eye over the past week. Beyond the (somewhat tenuous) unifying theme of animals, they both speak to the power of progress.
Begin with the more serious. Consider that 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one (source here). Good news then that there is now a potential solution at hand. Xenotransplantation – or animal-to-human transplants – has been discussed for many years. Practical and ethical concerns have held back developments in the field. However, for the first time, a patient in the US was successfully given a pig’s kidney. The operation took place at the New York University Langone Health medical centre and saw surgeons connect the donor pig kidney to the blood vessels of a brain-dead human (watch this video for more).
Working with pigs make sense since humans share 98% of their DNA with these animals. Beyond many choosing to eat this animal (a marked contrast, say, to primates, which have also been considered as a source for transplants), pig heart valves have been used successfully in humans for decades. Furthermore, the blood thinner heparin is derived from pig intestines, while pig skin grafts are sometimes used to treat burns. The kidney operation took two hours and the patient was monitored carefully over the following days to check to see if the organ would function normally. Although the findings have yet to be peer-reviewed or published, this progress is encouraging. Several biotech companies (including United Therapeutics, the source for the pig kidney) have already begun projects to develop suitable pig organs for transplants.
From the sublime to the somewhat more banal, could robotic cats help ease worker shortages? Much has been written elsewhere about ‘the Great Resignation’ and the fact that applicants for jobs in the hospitality industry especially are proving hard to fill. Fear not then, since Japanese fast-food chain Skylark Holdings believes it has a solution. The company has recently placed an order for 2,000 Bella Bots (made by Pudu Robotics). The robots can operate 24-7, are capable of carrying food for up to four people on an in-built tray and can also remove the dishes when customers have finished eating. They also have the added benefit of minimising human contact, thereby helping to keep diners safe. We have long made the case for more service robots and believe the pandemic may serve as an additional catalyst. Why these robots have faces resembling cats remains to be seen, at least in the opinion of your author…
27 October 2021
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
Alex Gunz, Fund Manager
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