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Behind the Nobel Prize: the stem cell revolution - The Drum Opinion (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Behind the Nobel Prize: the stem cell revolution - The Drum Opinion (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
While they might not be household names, Gurdon and Yamanaka have helped kick-start an entire new field of regenerative medicine, writes Tim Dean.

 

Regenerative medicine, as they say, is a growth industry. Although it's still in its embryonic stages.

 

Puns aside, many see a not-too-distant future where the ability to grow bespoke cells to replace damaged or diseased tissue is another key tool in our medical kit. One day we might even be able to clone entire organs for transplantation should our original ones fail.

 

That said, one day we may also be able to clone entire humans too, a prospect that is as existentially and ethically troubling as it is scientifically intriguing.

 

The technical and regulatory hurdles to overcome are not insubstantial, and there are still some gnarly ethical issues to manage, but the tremendous therapeutic potential of stem cells means there are many people beavering away to make regenerative medicine a reality.

 

And this vision would have been impossible without the contributions made by two pioneering scientists, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine last week.

 

The first is Sir John Gurdon, who helped overturn some established scientific dogma of his day and in the process opened the door to the possibility of creating stem cells - and cloning whole organisms. Before delving into his key discovery from half a century ago, it's worth stepping back and reflecting on the state of play at the time to reinforce how genuinely revolutionary Gurdon's discovery was.

 

We know that human beings are made up of well over 200 different specialised cell types - everything from skin cells, bone cells, neurons, liver cells, immune cells and so on. Their diversity is truly startling.

 

Yet we all start out as just a single fertilised egg cell: a zygote. Incredibly, we manage to transform from that single cell into a fully developed human being, with all the right specialised cells in all the right places. And at the core of (almost) every one of our 50 trillion-odd cells is a nucleus containing an identical genetic blueprint.

 

It'd be like giving 1,000 workers in a corporation copies of every job description in the company without telling them which one is theirs, and expecting them to spontaneously figure out where they should work. Only scaled up by a few million times.

 

By the 1960s, scientists had already gone a long way towards understanding how a zygote develops into a whole organism. They had also uncovered some of the processes that enable cells to differentiate, transforming from early 'pluripotent' (from the Latin plurimus, meaning 'very many,' and potens, meaning 'having power') stem cells to increasingly more specialised types.

However, a series of experiments from the 1950s indicated that the specialisation process was a one-way street: once a cell had differentiated, it could never be turned back. The experiments looked solid, so that became the dogma and few even thought to question it.

 

In stepped John B Gurdon, who was blessed with two characteristics that make for truly great scientists: a healthy maverick streak; and a reverence for the empirical method.

His Nobel Prize-winning experiment was actually conducted in the late 1950s when he was a graduate student, and wasn't published until 1962 - precisely 50 years ago. He began with the observation that the nucleus of most cells contain the genetic blueprint for the whole organism, and wondered what would happen if you put that blueprint in an appropriate egg cell.

 

So he took egg cells from the frog species, Xenopus laevis, and stripped them of their nucleus. He then took the nucleus from an intestinal cell from an adult frog, and placed it in the enucleated egg. The end result, remarkably enough, was a bunch of wriggling little tadpoles, each one genetically identical to its adult 'parent,' which had donated the intestinal cell.

 

Gurdon had created the world's first clones by means of a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), and in the process had rewritten the textbook on cellular development and differentiation.

 

Gurdon's discovery would eventually lead to the cloning of more complex organisms, including the infamous Dolly the sheep in 1997, and since then a menagerie of other species, including mice, cows, pigs, wolves and African wildcats. It could, in principle, also be used to clone a human, although such an experiment has been outlawed in most countries around the world, including here in Australia.

 

However, it is legal to use SCNT to create new early-stage embryos from human eggs, a process called 'therapeutic cloning'. Embryonic stem cells can then be gathered from the embryo to be used for research or, potentially, therapeutic treatments. There are strict guidelines around how such embryos can be created and how they can be used, but the creation and destruction of human embryonic material causes consternation to many and is an ongoing ethical issue.

 

Thus 1962 proved to be a big year in stem cell biology, for more reasons than one: in that year Gurdon's key paper was published; and Shinya Yamanaka was born.

 

Decades later, in the early 2000s, Yamanaka added another piece to the cellular differentiation puzzle by figuring out how to take fully differentiated adult cells and step them back to an earlier undifferentiated state.

 

Yamanaka and his team discovered that while all cells are built upon the same genetic blueprint, specific 'transcription factors' govern which bits of the blueprint are called upon to direct the cell. By meddling with these transcription factors, he could effectively turn back the clock, transforming adult cells into pluripotent cells - known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

 

Where Gurdon's method required an egg cell, and the harvesting of stem cells from an early stage embryo, one benefit of Yamanaka's approach is that (virtually) any old adult cell would do the trick, thus bypassing one potential ethical and regulatory hurdle in producing stem cells for research or therapeutic applications.

 

Together these two discoveries opened the door to the possibility of producing pluripotent stem cells on demand in order to treat injury or disease. However, we're still a fair way from seeing any stem cell therapies employing either technique become available at our local clinic. Before that happens there are some substantial hurdles to overcome.

 

For one, SCNT might now be a well established process, but it is still rather inefficient: it took 440 attempts to produce Dolly. The process also has a tendency to produce abnormalities in the cloned organism, although the technology is constantly improving. There's also the ethical problem of requiring eggs and the destruction of embryos to harvest stem cells.

 

iPSCs avoid the ethical concerns of SCNT because it uses adult cells and doesn't involve embryos, but it's still a process in its infancy, so to speak. Producing a population of healthy iPSCs is still a tremendous technical challenge, and it appears as though iPSCs are prone to forming tumours. Clearly, more work must be done before iPSCs are ready for the clinic.

 

What iPSCs can be used for right now, though, is gaining a better understanding of disease. Basically, you can take a diseased cell - say a malfunctioning insulin-producing beta cell - and revert it to a pluripotent state. You can then 'recapitulate' the disease and see how it unfolds, hopefully pinpointing where the cell begins to malfunction. You can also use iPSCs for drug development, applying various potentially therapeutic agents to them to see how they respond, all in the lab rather than in the body.

 

A final stage would be to use the process to produce healthy cells, say by growing happy new beta cells, which could be transplanted back into the patient - although even here there are challenges in making sure the new cells aren't rejected by the immune system. Yet, presuming the technical barriers can be overcome, regenerative medicine could radically transform many areas of healthcare.

 

As a rule of thumb (Peace Prizes not withstanding) the Nobel committee doesn't hand out its gongs lightly. It often takes decades for a discovery to be deemed of sufficiently lasting impact to get the nod. In fact, it's a rarity for a researcher to receive a Nobel so soon after publishing their breakthrough research, as has Yamanaka.

 

While they might not be household names, Gurdon and Yamanaka have helped kick-start an entire new field of regenerative medicine. Science being the fickle and unpredictable process it is, it might take a decade or more before stem cell technology translates into real therapeutic benefits, but whether it's us, our children or our grandchildren, we'll owe Gurdon and Yamanaka a great deal of thanks that a Nobel Prize can only partly express.

 

Tim Dean is a science journalist and editor of Australian Life Scientist magazine.

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Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species? | Video on TED.com

TED Talks Throughout human evolution, multiple versions of humans co-existed. Could we be mid-upgrade now?
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Thanks. Great video
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Homepage

National Science Week is an annual celebration of science in Australia, an opportunity to join together to enjoy and explore the wonders and benefits of science.
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So much to see and do!

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‘Hyperbolic metamaterials’ closer to reality | KurzweilAI

‘Hyperbolic metamaterials’ closer to reality | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Hyperbolic metamaterials could bring optical advances including powerful microscopes, quantum computers and high-performance solar cells. The graphic at left
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Means so much - we will be able to "see" more.

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Researchers, Startups Hope One Drop of Blood Could Diagnose All Types of Cancer

Researchers, Startups Hope One Drop of Blood Could Diagnose All Types of Cancer | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it

As genetics reveals the incredible diversity among cancer cells, researchers have largely given up pursuing a silver bullet to cure all types of cancer. Instead, many have begun searching for the next-best thing: a silver bullet test to diagnose all cancers. The test would look for markers of cancer in the patient’s blood, where the process of tumor-making leaves a trail that can often be picked up before tumors are big enough to spot.

 

And early diagnosis makes a big difference in survival rates. When cancer is found in Stage 0, as it’s just getting started, or in Stage 1, it kills only 10 percent of patients, regardless of what type of cancer it is, for the most part. Many of the cancers we know as the deadliest are so known because they are rarely found in earlier stages.

 

 


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6 Wild Quotes From Christopher Hitchens That Will Remind You Why You're An Atheist

6 Wild Quotes From Christopher Hitchens That Will Remind You Why You're An Atheist | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Hitch may have passed on, but his words still ring loud and clear.
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Tony Abbott incorrect on the history of marriage

Tony Abbott incorrect on the history of marriage | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says marriage has always been between a man and a woman, but that's not the case.

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add your insight...

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Infographic: Article Summary Writing Tips

How and Why to add an Article Summary to each Post.Have a look next time you do a search. In addition to seeing the heading, you can also see a few sentences about what is next.This is where you can expand on the heading by giving reasons why people should read on, by enticing readers with some juicy anticipation of what is to come.Can
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Parkwood Golf Club

Parkwood Golf Club - revampedMy husband started playing golf in 2003 when we were living in Fiji for 12 months.When we returned to Australia in October 2004, he joined the Parkwood International Golf Club, not far from where we lived.Over an area of 26 km Gold Coast coastline, there are more than 50 golf clubs of varying length, standard
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A ‘universal smart window’ for instant control of lighting and heat | KurzweilAI

A ‘universal smart window’ for instant control of lighting and heat | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Smart-window glass that can be switched to block heat or light (credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Researchers at the U.S. Department of
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Researchers track facial expressions to improve teaching software | KurzweilAI

Researchers track facial expressions to improve teaching software | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Student workstation with depth camera, skin conductance bracelet, and computer with webcam (credit: Joseph F. Grafsgaard et al.) Research from North
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Potential new target to thwart antibiotic resistance: Viruses in gut confer antibiotic resistance to bacteria

Potential new target to thwart antibiotic resistance: Viruses in gut confer antibiotic resistance to bacteria | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Bacteria in the gut that are under attack by antibiotics have allies no one had anticipated, scientists have found.
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Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy : Sam Harris

Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy : Sam Harris | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape.
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Man gets 3D-printed face

Man gets 3D-printed face | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
When restaurant manager Eric Moger surprised his girlfriend by proposing over Christmas dinner, he could have no idea that less than a year later his life and appearance would be changed beyond recognition.
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G20: Australians bury heads in sand to mock government climate stance - The Guardian

G20: Australians bury heads in sand to mock government climate stance - The Guardian | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Bondi Beach protest highlights Abbott administration’s perceived failure to put climate change on G20 summit agenda
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Those protesters wearing red swimmers are mocking our climate change denier PM Tony Abbott who often wears such 'budgie smugglers' when swimming or riding bikes in public.

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Who is Narendra Modi - India's New Prime Minister?

Who is Narendra Modi - India's New Prime Minister? | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Who is Narendra Modi?

India's election, which was won convincingly by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), revolved around only one male: India's next head of sta
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An interesting man

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Replacing a defective gene with a correct sequence to treat genetic disorders | KurzweilAI

Replacing a defective gene with a correct sequence to treat genetic disorders | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
(Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT) Using a new gene-editing system based on bacterial proteins, MIT researchers have cured mice of a rare liver disorder
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Just amazing!

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Multivitamin and mineral use and breast cancer mortality in older women with invasive breast cancer in the women’s health initiative - Springer

Multivitamin and mineral use and breast cancer mortality in older women with invasive breast cancer in the women’s health initiative - Springer | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it

Postmenopausal women with invasive breast cancer using MVM (multi-vitamins with minerals) had lower breast cancer mortality than non-users. The results suggest a possible role for daily MVM use in attenuating breast cancer mortality in women with invasive breast cancer but the findings require confirmation.


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I love anything from Ray and Terry - they are in the forefront of anti aging research.

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Bees use 'biological autopilot' to land › News in Science (ABC Science)

Bees use 'biological autopilot' to land › News in Science (ABC Science) | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Bees get a perfect touchdown by detecting how fast their landing site 'zooms in' as they approach, new research has found.
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Rise and Shine: 5 Things Uber Successful People Do First Thing

Rise and Shine! Morning time simply became your new best buddy.Love it or despise it, making use of the morning hours prior to work may be the secret to a successful, and healthy, lifestyle. That's right, early rising is a typical quality discovered in numerous CEOs, government officials, and other influential individuals who have the rise and
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Content Marketing the New SEO – Infographic

Another great Content Marketing infographic from Berrie Pelser of Wordpress Hosting SEO.More and more today, business uses great content marketing to attract more readers, shares and likes.Makes sense really.Good content marketing works better in the long term, instead of unreliable black hat SEO which can often be affected by changes
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The Most Astounding Fact – Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Most Astounding Fact – Neil deGrasse Tyson | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it

Time magazine once asked astropysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson 10 questions.

One of those questions asked by a Time reader was “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?”

Neil’s response is very awe-inspiring, especially when brought to life in this video which is a compilation from various sources by Max Schlickenmeyer.

Our knowledge of the universe and where we come from is known more today than at any time in history.

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I get goosebumps whenever I watch this video!

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Any Day Now, Malaria, TB and AIDS will be Dodos.

Any Day Now, Malaria, TB and AIDS will be Dodos.
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Watch the inspiring video and then contact your local member to spread the word.

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BigBrain: an ultra-high-resolution 3D roadmap of the human brain | KurzweilAI

BigBrain: an ultra-high-resolution 3D roadmap of the human brain | KurzweilAI | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
BigBrain (credit: Montreal Neurological Institute and Forschungszentrum Jülich) A landmark three-dimensional (3-D) digital reconstruction of a complete
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Unfrozen mystery: Water reveals a new secret

Unfrozen mystery: Water reveals a new secret | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
Using revolutionary new techniques, a team led by Carnegie's Malcolm Guthrie has made a striking discovery about how ice behaves under pressure, changing ideas that date back almost 50 years.
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Using Thorium for Energy

Using Thorium for Energy

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors LFTRs were invented 50 years ago by an American named Alvin Weinberg.

LFTRs are revolutionary liquid reactors that run not on uranium, but thorium. These work and have been built before.

The main reason this technology is not in widespread use today is our irrational fear of nuclear energy, despite the fact that more people have died from fossil fuels and even hydroelectric power than nuclear power.

That plus the multinational companies and governments invested in fossil fuel use such as oil, coal and gas.

How much Thorium for Energy do we Have?

Latest research says we have at least 2.6 million tonnes of it on earth, distributed over all the continents.

For every kilogram of thorium, LFTRs can produce 3.5 million Kwh of energy.

This is 70 times greater than uranium and 10,000 times greater than oil.

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Huge online attack exposes internet's vulnerability - tech - 29 March 2013 - New Scientist

Huge online attack exposes internet's vulnerability - tech - 29 March 2013 - New Scientist | anti dogmanti | Scoop.it
The largest online attack ever reported – which may have slowed down the internet itself – is over, but the next battleground is already
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