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Stem Cell Research

| by Victor Cherubim

( May 16, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Stem Cell Research is in the forefront of regenerative medicine. Imagine your blood cells being turned into muscles or your skin cells into brain cells or perhaps, a new liver could be made from your bone marrow. Better still; imagine your fat changing into muscle. We cannot thank the researchers for these amazing discoveries. New Nerve, Muscle or even Insulin producing cells to treat or even cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and Diabetes are now possible.

Money v Medicine

Takeovers are the flavour of the month in UK. The battle between Pfizer (USA) and AstraZeneca (UK & Sweden) is on. The gloves are off in this game between two giants in medicine. Innovative Research particularly in regenerative medicine has been forced into limelight in money v. medicine.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has made approaches to AstraZeneca about a £60 billion takeover offer, but AstraZeneca so far has shown no interest in doing a deal. Pfizer has steam rolled into London days ago, attending a House of Commons Business Committee “briefing”. The media reported that MP’s attacked Pfizer chiefs for a “lot of sales talk, but short of facts”. Pfizer’s record of buying foreign firms and closing them gave “no confidence” over assurances on AstraZeneca’s future. Reports state a merger would slow drug development, contested by Pfizer as misguided. The sum total of this and any takeover is that jobs are at stake. But will money talk? Pfizer boss has admitted to looming job cuts and its share price we are told has tumbled.

Public Interest in Stem Cell research

With so much at stake the issue is the right to information and the right to continue research which is drawing public attention. This field is a comparatively new scientific research and like any research takes time. It involves replacing damaged body parts by transplanting cells into the body plus using stem cells.

“Stem cells are found in both embryos and in adults. In an embryo, a stem cell can turn into any type of cell, in an adult, the role of the stem cell is to repair and replace damaged cells”.

Microbiology the forerunner of Stem Cell research

The discoveries of microbiology were possible due to the invention of the microscope in 1595. A new world opened to observe some of the smallest living organisms and see a structure inside a cell.I can remember the first lessons in Biology at College, the study of the single cell “amoeba,” less than 1mm.long. The single cell carried out many different functions to keep the organism alive. It served to take in and digest food, take in oxygen and produce waste material. However, most organisms are multi cellular with each type of cell specialised to carry out a particular function. This cell specialisation unravelled the secret of the nucleus and the membrane that surrounded it. With the development of the Electron Microscope in the 1930’s, it magnified the structure of the cell 10,000 times. Today, some Electron Microscopes can magnify an object more than a million times. Scientists are better for it.

The Human Body

There are billions of cells in the human body, but they are not all the same. Each type of cell is designed to carry out a particular job. The three most important types of cells in regenerative medicine are liver cells, red blood cells and nerve cells.

“The liver is an important organ, which has many jobs to do. For example, it controls the amount of glucose in the blood. It also processes toxic substances, eg. drugs and alcohol. Blood is made up of cells and liquid called plasma. There are two main types of blood cells floating in the plasma, red, and white. Most of these cells are made in the bone marrow. The red blood cells are called “haemoglobin”. As blood flows through the lungs, the haemoglobin inside the red blood cells picks up oxygen and carries it to the cells”. The Human Body also has a network of nerve cells that crisscross the body, carrying information to and from the brain.”

Stem Cells in cancerous growth on mice was discovered in 1953 by Roy Stevens. He studied the tumour under the microscope. He called them embryonic cells, but they would later become known as stem cells. In 1973 two researchers, Gail Martin and Martin Evans and Matthew Kaufman, working in Cambridge, found a way of getting the tumour stem cells to turn into other types of cell. “By changing the medium in which the cells were growing, they could either make them divide and produce more stem cells, or they could make them change into different specialised cells, such as muscle, bone, nerve and skin cells”.

It was then that scientists realised that these cells could be very useful. They could help repair the human body. At the same time, other scientists working in the new field of regenerative medicine and human organ transplants were successful in their own fields.

Med City, London

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, and possibly a contender for a future Tory party leadership race, has on April 8, 2014 launched a major new initiative backed by some of the country’s senior academics and business people that will transform London’s Imperial College & with Oxford and Cambridge Universities ‘Life Sciences sector, into a “world beating power cluster”. This will be called Med City. This will create jobs, attract investment and help spur discovery, of new treatments to tackle disease.

Sri Lanka, in my opinion, can easily become the hub for Auyvedic medicine with a little help from Sri Lankans abroad.