Category Archives: Science

Mini Lab Livers!

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Researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center used human liver cells to create walnut sized human livers. The group presented the abstract,, “The Use of Whole Organ Decellularization for the Bioengineering of a Human Vascularized Liver,” on October 31 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. If successful, these bio-engineered livers could be a solution to the shortage of donor livers, help treat liver disease, help test drug safety and could be the ground work for growing other organs.

Can I get a hell yeah for whole organ bio-engineering?

This research is without a doubt in its infancy, but is still very promising. The livers function like real livers, but only in a lab setting. The next step is to transplant the livers into an animal model.

These 2 articles (here and here) go into detail about the process used to grow the livers. Briefly, the scientists used a mild detergent to remove all the cells of a ferret liver until only the collagen support structure remained, a process termed decellularization. Again, the two articles above explain the full process.

Go Science!

 

 

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Stem Cells Hit The Fan

The field of stem cell research has seen a lot of progress this year. It’s hard to keep up with all the announcements and publications.  Thirty years from now, some more saps are going to have a hard time choosing who gets the Nobel Prize.

On May 4, 2010, University of Georgia introduced the world to 4 pigs (out of 34). Yes, pigs! No, not Babe. Much cooler! They discovered a way to incorporate induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS; capable of becoming any cell type) into embryos that would grow into a pigs. What?!?!?! I smell Nobel Prize. They have some kinks to work out, but all in all a phenomenal progression in the field of stem cell research. Read about their accomplishment here and here.

In September, a research team at National Cheng Kung University, published the results of another amazing study. This research team used stem cell therapy to reduce cardiac muscle cell damage and form new cardiovascular vessels in pigs. Go pigs! The researchers did stress they were unable to regenerate heart tissue. You know what I say to that? “Don’t be so hard on yourselves researchers. It took Harry Potter and friends 7 books to defeat You-Know-Who. You will do it, eventually.” You can read about this here.

 

University of Georgia's Homegrown Pigs. image via onlineathens.com

 

In July, researchers from Russia (collaborating with a team from Harvard) released their findings. This group used a 2 step process in which they first removed the plaque from arteries and then inserted stem cells to promote healing of those arteries. Can you guess the animal model? Yep, pigs! The news article for this group is here.

Three days ago, the Geron Corporatin announced that they had started the first human clinical trial involving embryonic stem cells at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. HAZAA! Currently, they have enrolled 1 person, but the study will have a total of 10 people with spinal cord injuries.  For the record this is a Phase I Clinical Trail, which means the study is primarily concerned with safety.  If you are so inclined, read about this here and here. USA Today, had a Q&A session with a stem cell expert from Johns Hopkins University. It is very informative and gives information that the news articles do not delve into.

 

President Obama signs the executive order on stem cell policy. image via cnn.com

The last point I will touch on is the repeal of the meta-ban on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. So back story: Obama signed an executive order in 2009 overturning Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Scientists rejoiced! Then, in August, US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that funding from the federal government should be suspended while the court decides if federal funding is legal. Researchers entered a state of scientific depression. But an appeals court overruled that decision and now funding continues until the court reaches a final decision. Scientists aren’t sure how to feel and are seeking therapy. Read about it!

There was too much progress for one post! I will highlight other achievements in the field of stem cells in a later post.

Eye on the “Test-Tube Baby” Prize

image via cnn.com

Today, Dr. Robert Edwards won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  Dr. Edwards along with colleague, Patrick Steptoe, successfully created human embryos outside the body. Genius! This technique birthed the term test-tube baby, which is a misleading term. The procedure takes place in a petri dish, not a test tube.  IVF was a major breakthrough for couples unable to conceive and has given many infertile couples a little bundle of joy. The NY Times featured an article on Dr. Edwards and IVF. Enjoy!

Congratulations Dr. Robert Edwards for giving the world IVF.

The Vaccine Debate: Getting Answers

Anyone who follows the vaccine debate knows that, publicly, only two sides are ever presented. You’re either pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine. You’re either think there’s nothing wrong with vaccines or vaccines cause all childhood complications. You’re either completely misinformed or you’re all-knowing. The couple shouting out the “toxins” in vaccines, the doctor calling people delusional and crazy makes for great television; it gets ratings. But it doesn’t help anyone looking for real answers.

The autism/vaccine debate started in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield and his group published a study in Lancet, which is a highly reputable journal. Lancet retracted the study in February. When the announcement was made, my initial reaction was “Didn’t that already happen?” The study had been shunned in the scientific community long before the retraction. There was some subterfuge on Wakefield’s end as well as a poor study design. But since then several studies have come out showing there is not a correlation between autism and vaccines. This is a major part of the vaccine debate, but isn’t the focus of this post.

For some parents, it isn’t the autism issue that concerns them, but it’s ingredients they have heard about or the number of vaccines given at one time. I am not a parent, but I am an older sister. I am also a scientist/researcher. When it’s vaccination time for my siblings, my parents call me with questions and I answer as best I can. If I can’t answer, I research the topic and find the answer. This brings me to my next point. If you have concerns about vaccines or any topic for that fact, the #1 thing you can do is educate yourself. Don’t just accept what you hear about vaccines because there is a lot of misinformation and plenty of places to get it.

1. Do not watch TV specials

2. Do not get information from celebrities; they have no credentials

3. Do not use the first website that pops up; they are usually biased

Do a pubmed or Google scholar search. Find peer reviewed articles. Talk to an expert if one is available. Not into chemistry, immunology, or any other –ology? Then have someone do it for you. Put an ad on craigslist; there are tons of graduate students looking to make an extra buck. Tell them exactly what you want to know and they’ll find it; they are experts at finding obscure information.

Here are some questions I think can be useful for parents to research or ask a pediatrician.

1. What kind of vaccine is it? Is it attenuated? Inactivated? Just a single protein?

2. What do those things in #1 mean?

3. What are the general risks for a particular vaccine? What are the most common complications? Is there anything we
can do to help prevent them?

4. Do you offer alternative or modified shot schedules?

5. If you have concerns then talk to your child’s doctor. He may not tell you what you want to hear, but at least
he/she is listening and can give you information.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a step in a direction leading to answers.