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What If You Treated Your Kidney Disease With A Genetically Engineered “Dialysis Sheep”?

In Revital Cohen’s art, “service animal” takes on a whole new meaning.

What If You Treated Your Kidney Disease With A Genetically Engineered “Dialysis Sheep”?

Medical devices are among the subtlest, trickiest design problems to solve: we only encounter them when we’re frightened or sick, and they often look like science fiction torture machines. But what if an assistive device, like a respirator or a dialysis machine, were cuddleable — and alive itself?

That’s the freakily ingenious idea behind Revital Cohen’s “Life Support” concept, which pushes the idea of “assistance animals” (like seeing-eye dogs) to its logical limits, imagining a day when domesticated creatures literally become medical devices.


We already use pig heart valves to patch up human tickers; Cohen just moves the goalposts back a bit further. “Could a transgenic animal function as a whole mechanism and not simply supply the parts?” she asks in her artist’s statement.

Think about it from a user experience perspective: having a pig heart beating away inside your ribcage sounds like a crime against nature, but using a retired Greyhound on a treadmill as your “ventilator” seems kind of cute. You could form an emotional bond with your “device” in ways that would never be possible with just a big beige box. The dog would benefit, too, writes Cohen: “A greyhound brought up in racing kennels usually suffers from separation anxiety after retirement. As an assistance dog, it is constantly connected to its owner by a trache tube and is never left alone.”



As you might guess, Cohen hasn’t actually constructed a working “respirator dog” or “dialysis ewe” — yet. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she couldn’t do so. “The prototypes I make are purely conceptual, however the designs are always thoroughly calculated and based on real technological capabilities, which means they could hypothetically be made to work,” Cohen tells Co.Design. “Since my projects aspire to make people think, a non-working model does the job.”

Indeed. I’m thinking, What happens when that greyhound needs to go outside to do his business? Even if a future of genetically engineered assistance animals does come to pass, I’d want to keep one of those old-fashioned beige boxes on hand just in case.

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.