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Archive for the ‘Bioengineering’ Category

Reaching K-12: Stem Cell Awareness Day

September 30th, 2013

This Wednesday, October 2, 2013, is Stem Cell Awareness Day. It’s a day to celebrate stem cells, have discussions of what stem cell research is, and learn about potential benefits and disease treatments using stem cells. If you want to be involved locally in an event for Stem Cell Awareness Day, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has a useful webpage summarizing events that are being organized in California, as well as international events that are taking place for this special day.

K-12

I am celebrating Stem Cell Awareness Day here at All Things Stem Cell by focusing on K-12 educational efforts. It is particularly important to spread awareness of stem cells and understanding of stem cell research to K-12 students to ensure that this extremely promising avenue of research continues to be supported and funded. While it is challenging to create accessible stem cell resources for K-12, there are actually several freely available online, which are explored below.

Science Buddies

Science Buddies, which is a non-profit leader in K-12 science and engineering education (and is the company I enjoy working for as a scientist/writer), offers multiple science fair project ideas related to stem cells (some of which I authored) for the burgeoning stem cell scientist. Here are a few:

California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)

CIRM offers an entire stem cell curriculum at their Stem Cell Education Portal. Five units are available on their website. These units are primarily for high school students taking AP-related courses and early college students. Other resources are also available through the Portal.

Biology Bytes Book

Lastly, I recently published two biology books, and one of them, Biology Bytes: Digestible Essays on Stem Cells and Modern Medicine, serves as a broad introduction to the stem cell field, as well as other areas of modern medicine. The reader should have a general biology background, so it is most suitable for a college biology student, although a student taking related AP courses in high school would also likely find it of interest.

Other Resources

There’s a wide variety of other stem cell resources online that are helpful for exploring and explaining stem cell concepts to a K-12 audience, including this blog’s Visual Stem Cell Glossary. Although some stem cell concepts are truly complex and may be beyond the scope of a K-12 audience, it is never too soon to plant the seed of interest in, inquiry about, and positive support for stem cell research.

Bioengineering, Book, Reprogramming , , , , , ,

“STEM CELL REVOLUTIONS” by Scottish Documentary Institute

July 19th, 2012

STEM CELL REVOLUTIONS” is an informative and engaging documentary recently distributed by the Scottish Documentary Institute. It’s a very useful film to see if you want to learn more about the history of stem cells, and where the clinical, cutting-edge technology is at currently. The documentary gives an overview of international stem cell history, starting with the discovery of stem cells and ending with the newest members of the ever-growing stem cell family. To summarize such a wealth of research, research that has been going on for over half a century, the film tells the story of a few key stem cell discoveries and applications. Each story is described through interviews with stem cell researchers who were directly involved or appeared on the scene later but can knowledgably discuss the event’s impact. The first group of stories is related to adult stem cells (although this is not explicitly stated or explained): the discovery of stem cells during WWII, the amazing rescue of two boys in the early 1980s using stem cell-based skin grafts, and the present-day treatment of blind patients in a stem cell clinic in India. The final group of stories is related to pluripotent stem cells: the discovery of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) in mice in 1981 by Martin Evans (it was a treat to see Evans, who won the Nobel Prize in 2007 for the research he discusses in the film!) and of human ESCs (hESCs) in 1998 by Jamie Thomson, present-day use of hESCs to treat patients with retinal disorders in London (although I shuddered a little when Pete Coffee handled a flask of cells without gloves on!), and the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) by Shinya Yamanaka in 2006.


The science presented in the film is well-explained and even though the focus of the film is on medical breakthroughs accomplished using stem cells, the scientists interviewed do not try to over-hype current stem cell applications. Most helpful in making the technical information accessible are several short, accurate, and intriguing animations (made by Cameron Duguid). During a segment on Yamanaka’s research, one of these animations is particularly useful in explaining how chromatin regulation of gene expression is different in different types of tissues. However, it is repeatedly jarring when the interviews with down-to-earth stem cell scientists, who mostly do not over-hype their research, are bookended by interviews with Margaret Atwood (a writer who is confusingly repeatedly interviewed in a laboratory setting). She makes repeated references to The Fountain of Youth – at odds with the scientists’ messages. Similarly, repeatedly interspersed videos of a topless man doing what looked to be the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira seemed out of place.

Perhaps the only shortcoming of the film, if a bit minor, is that it shies away from getting into some of the nitty-gritty of why iPSCs may be better than hESCs or vice versa, but instead falls back upon the standard argument that hESCs are surrounded by ethical concerns. For a 71-minute-long film, it only makes sense that some issues be simplified, but additional details may have helped viewers better understand this important and hotly-debated topic. Specifically, a lot of the ethical arguments against hESCs are outdated or ill-founded. Probably most importantly, in 2006, Irina Klimanskaya and colleagues found how to isolate hESCs while leaving the donor embryo intact and potentially able to develop normally, weakening the argument against the generation of hESC lines on the grounds that they require the destruction of a potential embryo. Additionally, many researchers use blastocysts that would have been discarded by the in vitro fertilization clinic because the embryos were damaged in some way and would never develop properly. However, a significant strike against using hESCs in treatments, which the film does not touch upon, is the potential for immune rejection. Human iPSCs, on the other hand, are very appealing because they potentially may not have immune rejection problems in treatments, as mentioned in the film. However, human iPSCs are much newer to the stem cell scene and have similarities with cancer cells that researchers should probably better understand before iPSCs are widely used clinically. It is also a little surprising that Jamie Thomson is not mentioned in the human iPSC segment, as his group independently created human iPSCs at the same time as Yamanaka’s group.

The researchers interviewed in the film emphasize the importance of striking a balance between regulation and progress, but then the film seems to not take its own advice and gets bogged down in the regulation of stem cells in the very last segment of the film, when it may have been more useful to focus on the near-future applications of these cells. There’s a surprising focus on the hypothetical ethical arguments that would arise should human iPSCs be made into function eggs and sperm (which has not been done yet, and may not even be possible). However, it may be more useful to first focus on whether human iPSCs can even be successfully used in the clinic before diverting attention to this hypothetical ethical argument, which is much further down the road. It would also have been nice to see a mention of direct reprogramming, the latest stem cell technology that may one day make even iPSCs obsolete.

While there are amazing advances being made with stem cell technology, the film rightly cautions viewers about the dangers of going to a stem cell clinic abroad. A great resource for those considering stem cell treatments abroad is A Closer Look at Stem Cell Treatments, a website made by the reputable International Society for Stem Cell Research.

Overall, “STEM CELL REVOLUTIONS” is a great film for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of stem cells, hear legendary researchers talk about their ground-breaking work and patients talk about how stem cell therapies have changed their lives, and still get a down-to-earth idea of what is realistically being accomplished with these cells.

Bioengineering, Embryonic Stem Cells, Hematopoietic Stem Cells, Reprogramming, Review , , , , ,

Bioengineering Organs and Tissues with Stem Cells: Recent Breakthroughs

October 11th, 2009

While there is great potential for using stem cells in regenerative therapies, there is still a ways to go before it can be considered a proven practice, although recent breakthroughs, and one specific trial in particular, makes it seem much closer. Recently, the first human tissue-engineered organ using stem cells was created and transplanted successfully into a patient. Other tissue regeneration efforts with stem cells have also recently made many breakthroughs, emphasizing the potential of using stem cells in future tissue transplants.

In the first reported instance of using stem cells to bioengineer a functional human organ, Paolo Macchiarini and his research group used a patient’s own stem cells to generate an airway, specifically a bronchus, and successfully grafted it into the patient to replace her damaged bronchus (See Figure 1). Macchiarini’s group bypassed the problem of immune rejection by using the patient’s own stem cells. Additionally, by combining a variety of bioengineering efforts, no synthetic parts were involved in the creation of the organ; it was made entirely of cadaveric and patient-derived tissues (Macchiarini et al., 2008; Hollander et al., 2009).

Caption

Figure 1. In order to create a patient-compatible replacement bronchus, Macchiarini’s group removed and decellularized a trachea from a cadaveric donor, grew cells removed from the patient on the trachea in a bioreactor, and then transplanted the bioengineered airway into the patient, successfully replacing their defective bronchus (Macchiarini et al., 2008).

Read more…

Bioengineering, Mesenchymal Stem Cells , , ,