Catneys: The Final Frontier

It’s been a long and emotional journey forming the final concepts for my digital artifact. I’m sticking with cat kidneys, and if anything, the stress of almost losing my best friend has really put into focus the need for this development. In this blog, I explore my own personal experience, as well as some of the ethical issues surrounding 3D printed organs.

Want to know more?

There are some great articles featuring the ethics of 3D printed organs for human patients:

To follow the story so far check out:

Further Reading:

 

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Catneys: What Went Wrong

I feel like I’ve got to start with a disclaimer. I’m not a biologist, or a vet, or trained in zoology. I have a degree in chemistry, which to be honest isn’t that helpful here. Alas, scientific thinking is- I’d like to think- pretty universal. So stick with me as I struggle through complex terminology and journal articles that bend my mind, while I try to break it down for you as simply and as accurately as I can.

That being said, we’re still not up to making kidneys yet. We’ll get there eventually. At the moment we’re going to explore why kidneys decide to fail when they do. You don’t need replacements if your organs still work. That would be nice.

First, let’s be clear. There are two main kinds of kidney failure: acute and chronic.

Acute kidney failure most often occurs when a cat eats something toxic. This can be anything from household chemicals, human medications, and even lilies (pro tip: if you have cats don’t keep lilies in your house). It can also be caused by a variety of other reasons, including:

  • the cat being bitten by ticks or snakes
  • bacterial infections of the kidney
  • Clotting disorders
  • Ureteral or urethral obstruction
  • Heart failure

Which is grim stuff. Lucky for us, acute kidney failure is which more straightforward to treat. It’s usually handled by keeping the cat affected on fluids to circulate the toxins as quickly as possible, for anywhere between one and four days. Cats can quite often pull through this to be happy, healthy felines.

Chronic kidney failure is a more insidious character. Chronic kidney failure involves functional kidney tissue slowly being replaced by scar tissue, which reduces the kidneys ability to function over time. It is, as a result, irreversible.

It takes a really long time for cats with chronic kidney failure to start showing visible symptoms. As a result, determining why the kidneys fail is often really hard. There are a few main causes that can often contribute though, which include:

  • Birth defects
  • Chronic bacterial infection of the kidneys
  • High blood pressure
  • Immune system diseases
  • Acute kidney disease can also lead to damage that causes chronic kidney failure

Sadly, all of these things are pretty hard to avoid. There is building evidence to suggest that dry food might also contribute to the high level of kidney failure in household cats.

I know Chelsea had chronic kidney failure, and sadly, even if we had caught it earlier, there was very little we could do.

So which one almost killed Tiger? The answer is both. One of his kidneys was suffering chronic kidney failure, which is why he only has one that’s operational current. The second suffered a block in the ureter, which is one of the common causes of acute kidney failure. He never liked to make things simple.

Now we get to the take-home message: why replacement kidneys are so important!

As I’ve already said, there is little they can do for cats suffering chronic kidney failure except for making them comfortable on their way out. Which is heartbreaking. It’s also one of the lead causes of death amongst household cats. If a transplant was an option, especially for cases such as Chelsea’s, where she was only 8 years old, we could have had many more happy years with her by our side.

At the moment, we flush Tiger’s kidneys every second night with an IV drip, which helps a little bit but is really just delaying the inevitable.

So while printing cat kidneys seems like a long shot, it’s worth exploring, at any rate.

Bullshit or Nah: An Exploration.

Before I introduce my game, I feel like I should offer some context. I love science. Really, really love it. As a result, one of my pet hates is popular myths that people think are true, that are really a load of bologna (and Thomas Edison). So, when it was time for me to make a game for DIGC310, I wanted to make one that helped people learn, but in a way that was highly enjoyable.

With that in mind, I present to you:

Bullshit or Nah?

The idea of the game is very simple. In essences, it’s all about guessing whether the facts you’re presented with, no matter how convincing, are true or not.

How is this done?
Originally the design was that you had a board on which to move piece, some cards, little tokens, and a dice. On your turn you are asked a question, and you have to guess whether it’s bullshit or fact. If you get it right, you move forward, if you get it wrong you stay where you are.

The prototype board and game pieces

On your turn, you are asked a question by the player next to you, and you have to guess whether it’s bullshit or fact. If you get it right, you move forward (however many spaces you roll), if you get it wrong you stay where you are.

Some examples of the cards, and questions featured on them

When pitching this idea, the response seemed mostly positive. It’s meant to be a light-hearted game, and the university group that I was pitching it to matched my target demographic perfectly (I’m aiming for people 18+ of any gender). Despite the encouraging feedback, I could feel that something was missing, or out of place.

After much soul-searching, trying to design the finer mechanics of the game, and some feedback from the master of games, I decided to ditch the board (and the beautiful pieces) altogether. This reduces the materiality of the game, which means the game will be cheaper to produce, and will hopefully encourage more people to buy it should it ever make it to retail (going from say, a $50 board game to a $30 card game). Removing the board game element will also help distinguish the game from Smart Arse (which, admittedly, I took inspiration from) that features similar themes. This, however, makes it possible that the game will evolve to be too similar to Fact or Crap.

To help simulate the player interaction I wanted from this game, I also felt I needed to add an element of confrontation to encourage both in-game and general chatter between the players. I’m hoping that this game will have a Cards Against Humanity edge to it, which has always been a fantastic tool to help people loosen up at any social gathering.

 

Hopefully Bullshit or Nah? will have just as fun, but maybe less inappropriate themes then Cards Against Humanity

But how am I going to do that?

The new game design will feature only cards. On these cards, there will be two “facts”. One will be true, and one will be false. On their turn, a player will draw a card and read out one of the two “facts”. The remaining players will then have to decide whether what the player read out was true or false. If the group guesses wrong the player gets to keep the card, and the game continues until someone has 5 cards.

Unfortunately, the game is yet to be playtested, however, I expect constant improvements to be made through the play-testing process. I’m also hoping to improve on the name of the game.

All in all, I’m hoping that my game will come together nicely. I think it’s important to note that I’m not expecting people to become professors from playing. I’m not convinced that board games can help make people smarter. This is mostly because there aren’t a lot of studies in the area. Most of the research investigating intelligence and board games focuses on children, and even then they can’t decide if chess makes kids smarter, or if smart kids just happen to like chess.

In saying that, I’m not trying to make a study tool that you could use at University. I’m hoping that this game will help people think critically, but there’s no real way to judge how well my game achieves that. I don’t think many people play testing are going to let me conduct a long-term study on their critical evaluation skills, and I don’t think I’d get it put through an ethics board either.

As this is so, most of my focus will be on whether the game is fun, and the facts are in fact correct. I’ll just have to hope people learn something on the way too.

Got some burning facts you want the world to know, or some myths you want to bust? Comment below!

Catneys: The Saga Continues

On Thursday I drove to my coastal home of Newcastle to say goodbye to my long-time family cat Tiger. I had lost his sister Chelsea to the same thing that was killing him, kidney failure, just 8 months before. It was a hard pill to swallow. I’m not very good at expressing grief, but the thought of being a crazy cat lady with no cats choked me up. Fate is a cruel mistress.

 

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Chelsea (right) and Tiger (left) ready for Christmas (2015)

 

Tiger is something special. He’s a lazy, fluffy ball of love. He has the calmest temperament of any animal I’ve ever meant. People who don’t like cats like him.

 

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What a special man

 

I writing this because I’m not really sure what else I can do. Also, I’ve missed two weeks of class and I feel like I’ve really missed out on adding my opinion to things. I started the cat kidney project to come to terms with my cat passing away. I guess mostly to confirm in my own mind that putting her down was the right thing to do. That there was no hope with a cat with non-functional kidneys.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s not all doom and gloom. I’m here to tell you, and believe me, I can hardly comprehend it myself, but Tiger has gotten better(ish). One of his kidneys has failed completely. It’s gone. Well, not gone, it’s still very much in his body, but it’s pretty much useless. The other kidney was both the problem and the savior.

In the process of explaining how it is that Tigs is sitting next to me right now, I’m going to learn you a little bit about cat kidneys.

Let’s begin:

 

kidney

Cat Kidney

Above we can see a kidney. The kidney’s main job in the blood is to filter out a nasty compound call urea and keep the levels of salts and water in the blood balanced.

When you lose this ability, urea builds up in the body and becomes toxic. Which is, obviously, not good. If you’re a person and your kidneys have decided to take a holiday, you can undergo dialysis, which basically works as an “external kidney”. Your blood is circulated out of your body, into a big fancy machine which balances salts, water and harmful toxins, then pumped back into your body. Dialysis is sometimes painful, can lead to scarring from the needle marks, is expensive and time-consuming. We could do it for cats (probably) but dialysis is usually used when waiting for a donor kidney, which isn’t usually an option for cats.

Anyway, I digress. I’m not really sure what exactly caused the failure of Chelsea or Tiger’s kidneys. The vets suspect, being from the same liter, that there might be genetic factors. No use talking about what we can’t help.

Let’s talk about the good stuff. Tiger had a build up of minerals in his ureter, in his functional kidney. This tube is extremely fine, and unfortunately, inoperable. So it looked like his bloodwork was going to fall off the wagon, toxins would build up, and we could either choose to let him slowly be poisoned by his own metabolic processes, or put him down ourselves. Which, all things considered, is a shitty decision to have to make.

Which brings me to Thursday. I drove up, came in for a pat with Tigs, and waited for the vet’s word. On Friday, by some grace of god, Tiger had cleared the blockage in ureter, and the levels of urea in his blood began to drop.

I’m not saying we’re out of the woods yet. He’s still sick, and weak. There is still a partial blockage in his ureter, which could become a full blockage again at any time. If it means I’ve gotten even just one more day of him by my side though, I guess all the pain is worth it.

 

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He’s even got a cool new haircut