Chimeric cells and the moratorium on its research. #researchsaves #chimera #organtransplant #NIH #fountainofyouth

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has issued a moratorium on any and all research dealing with chimeric stem cells.

The Greek mythological creature Chimera.
The Greek mythological creature Chimera.

Yes, I wrote the word ‘Chimera’, the same word used in the movie Mission Impossible II. In the movie, ‘Chimera’ is a bioterrorism agent that becomes active when two viral agents come together.

By definition, the word Chimera refers to a Greek mythological animal composed of parts from different animals.

Chimera research on a genetic level that has been closely scrutinized by the NIH and with good reason. Any research involving the use of human stem cells has to be regulated strictly for scientific and ethical reasons.

While ethics may be seen as a hinderance by some towards scientific advancement, it is important to have it nonetheless. Remember the South Korean scientist who claimed he had clones humans  couple of years ago and it was found out later that he had falsified his data along with erroneous practices in data collection, well, now he is cloning dogs for $100,000 at his institute.

The NIH is worried about what could happen on an ethical level if two rats or mice carrying a human embryo and sperm cells in a laboratory mate by mistake resulting in a human embryo being formed inside of a female rat.

Wait, what? Yes, scientists in an effort to get other species to grow human organs for transplant patients have been experimenting genetically to get human stem cells to grow inside a rat. Imagine, if you had an unlimited source of human stem cells that do not need to be harvested from humans which circumvents every legal loophole, but allows for millions of humans to fix and cure diseases or have organs at your disposal for transplants.

Yes, absolutely the intentions are great, but what will happen if one mistake is made and a human embryo grows by mistake inside a rat. This is a possibility that the NIH wants to absolutely avoid.

Let me give you an example of the possible benefits. Human stem cells can grow into any human cell given the right genetic signals.

Possible human stem cell applications
Possible human stem cell applications

This in essence, if you can afford it, is the eternal fountain of youth. Your own stem cells being grown for you in another animal, ready to be used when you need to harvest them for an extra liver or kidney or heart. No immune reactions leading to organ rejection from your body because the genetic code is the same.

For me, I would want my own human stem cells to be turned into young neurons which have a higher degree of plasticity granting me the intelligence from 20 years ago.

Then my goal achieving fluency in 9 languages using Rosetta stone will take much lesser time.

Imagine!!!!! But, one must remember that with every great idea, there are possibly a lot of pitfalls which calls for ethicists and scientists along with law makers to get together and regulate.

Lest, we decide to play Icarus and race towards the sun and then fall down,

Lest, an accident happens and that Greek mythological creature becomes a reality.

Chimera, no chimera, there is always a monster lurking in us that begs to come out in a reality where there are no rules and that is a world that can become real if agencies like the NIH did not regulate.

From the scientific viewpoint, there are so many strategies in place to prevent mistakes and they too should be given a voice.

Good evening.

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Cancer fighting viruses, Water on Enceladus, Bionic robots #researchsaves #virus #cancer #science #future #space #bionics

The world, well, North America woke up to two things in the media today. The possibility of water and the right conditions for life on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn  and approval by the FDA on the cancer fighting virus produced by the pharmaceutical company Amgen. Has the future really arrived? I think so.

Robot assisted physiotherapy from REX Bionics. Hands free Robotic Device for Rehabilitation
Robot assisted physiotherapy from REX Bionics. Hands free Robotic Device for Rehabilitation

Before we go to space, here on Earth in Dallas, the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine held its annual conference showcasing the latest research in the field. I had a chance to check it out yesterday at the Hilton Anatole, today is the last day to go see some of the coolest innovations. I was particularly impressed by the Robot assisted Physiotherapy device from Rex Bionics. Another company doing very well with its sophisticated yet affordable wheel chairs was Numotion. The representative talked about how the company strives to get their products covered by the various medical insurance companies, changing lives for those patients who are not able to move around. The conference also featured exciting research from universities in Canada, India and USA.

Check out the ACRM conference in Chicago in 2016.

Please check out Numotion.com for more information.
Please check out Numotion.com for more information.

While robots are being designed to help disable people move, there are also robots being made out of viruses to i.e. being designed for a specific purpose.Using viruses, to be more specific, modified viral vectors in research is not anything new. Viral vectors have been used to knockdown genes for a very long time now. Laboratories using shRNA, siRNA, miRNA usually had viral vectors delivering these molecules to the target cell.

Diagram of Herpes simplex virus particle structure. Click on photo to go to link.
Diagram of Herpes simplex virus particle structure. Click on photo to go to link.

So it really was only a matter of time before academic and pharmaceutical research laboratories would figure out a way to design virus cells to hunt down cancer cells. Check out some very cool photos of Herpes Simples viruses here.

http://bryanmbrandenburg.com/herpes-simplex-virus-gallery/#

If you think about it, what is a virus really doing? It is delivering a piece of genetic information in the form of DNA or RNA to the host cell, which then uses it to make more viral particles for the virus. The specificity of viruses with respect to the cells it can attack are very precise. This makes it ideal to design a virus that hunt cancer cells with a very high level of precision. Once the virus infects the cancer cell, according to Amgen, it invokes an immune response in addition to breaking the infected cell apart. I mean at the end of the day, a virus really is a piece of genetic information with a layer of protective coat which can come in many forms.

An electron microscope image of a T-cell
An electron microscope image of a T-cell

Well, when the boys in blue i.e. the Immune system wakes up and finds a way to kill the cancer cells it makes it a way better option than using cancer therapeutics which also do the job of killing the cancer cell but has a wide range of side effects. This article is no way intended to put down the decades of research that has been done to create Cancer medications but I am hoping that Amgen will be able to see this to fruition and also reduce the $60,000 price tag.

There are astrobiologists that believe that life originated on Mars or somewhere else in the Universe and biomolecules may have arrived on Earth on meteors that crashed into earth. Imagine viral particles with genetic information encased in ice on a meteor that crashes on to earth and gets released into the environment. Science fictions- perhaps but not entirely impossible.

NASA has now moved Enceladus, a moon of Saturn to be one of its top choices for conditions for life to exist in the universe. Cassini, the spacecraft orbiting the moon has made a dive into Enceladus to take pictures from just 30 miles above its surface. They have detected organic molecules, water in the form of a hidden ocean, so if the command let there be life is going to happen, it is very likely it will be here on Enceladus.

A new ion engine, a Hall thruster being researched to take us to Mars for a fraction of the fuel it would normally take.http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/apl/107/17/10.1063/1.4932196photo credit: A prototype wall-less Hall thruster firing in a vacuum chamber. CNRS/LAPLACE and CNRS/ICARE
A new ion engine, a Hall thruster being researched to take us to Mars for a fraction of the fuel it would normally take.http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/apl/107/17/10.1063/1.4932196photo credit: A prototype wall-less Hall thruster firing in a vacuum chamber. CNRS/LAPLACE and CNRS/ICARE

We are finally getting there with research done by so many dedicated professionals all adding to the compendium of human knowledge advancing us, rushing us to a bold future. Imagine, a space ship filled with humans traveling to Mars using a new ion engine, who don’t get sick anymore because of highly targeted specific viral therapies they can inject into themselves and even a person who cannot walk can go to space with the aid of bionic robots.

So has the future arrived, yes, most definitely so 🙂 #researchsaves!!!

Have a good day!!

Psychology majors and psychologists are absolutely vital. #ThisPsychMajor #researchsaves

Being a very molecular and genetics sort of science nerd, I have always sought to answer questions concerning the brain and its manifestation i.e. our behavior, choices and perceptions from that view point. While neuroscience is paramount to answering questions at the molecular level, it is absolutely vital to have individuals who are able to statistically study behavior and other outward characteristics of individuals and populations and come up with brilliant correlations and theories.

That is where the psych major comes in, especially one who chooses to study it further at a graduate level and pursue research in the field, or those who choose to practice it in its various professions such as a counseling, clinical and many more.

Even an undergraduate degree in psychology gives graduates the tools necessary to work in many fields that can directly use their skill set to enhance their productivity and work environment.

Jeb Bush, click on photo to see the original Washington Post article and photographer info.

So, while I consider myself more on the molecular side of things and in the future, even on the clinical side, I stand with my colleagues in the field of psychology, whom I recognize to play a very VITAL role in understanding the human brain from a macromolecular level. So while words like NMDA turn me on, I don’t really have the tools to study behavioral patterns at a much larger level in a population.

The study of receptors are a part of  molecular neuroscience, neurochemistry, neuropharmacology etc.
The study of receptors are a part of molecular neuroscience, neurochemistry, neuropharmacology etc.

It is only when different individuals such as neuroscientists, psychiatrists and psychologists work together, can we as a society take more steps to prevent tragedies that plague this nation such as mass shootings that seem to take place here more than any other country in the G8. Imagine what would have happened had any of those shooters gotten help from a therapist, how many lives would have been saved. As for Jeb Bush, well, one shouldn’t try to change his opinion, because if in fact there is some truth to a psychology major not being able to find a job, then he should look into creating employment opportunities or increase funding for graduate schools so more psychology grads can pursue higher studies.

#ThisPsychMajor can help!!

Rumi and Neuroscience #faith #researchsaves #neuroscience #Rumi #science

Poetry repairing damaged nerves, whatever can that mean? A neuroscientist attempting to make the old neuron young again, what do they have in common?

Neurons in a neural network. Click on photo to see image from the original blog post.
Neurons in a neural network. Click on photo to see image from the original blog post.

Nothing really as they differ very much in their approach and therein lies the conflict. Or is there really a conflict between one’s spiritual faith and faith in the rigor of science?

“I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door.

It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside.”- Rumi

Karen Cavanaugh, can now walk, well, walk and whirl. An accident six years ago found her waking up in the hospital to the abysmal news that she would never walk again from her team of physicians. The article talks about a verse of poetry that she remembered while in the hospital that lead her to strongly believe that she would be able to walk again. She followed the verse of poetry from the mystical Persian poet Rumi in an attempt to understand more about him and discovered ‘Sufism’, a mystical branch of Islam. Despite the sad prognosis, she is now able to walk and whirl. Click on her name to read the original Huffington post article.

Visual Cortex in the human brain, illustration by Fedak Medical Illustration
Visual Cortex in the human brain, illustration by Fedak Medical Illustration

Sunil Gandhi, a neurobiologist and his team, at the University of California Irvine, published a study in the journal The Neuron, that shows the possibility of restoring plasticity to the brain to repair blindness in adult mice. He did this transplanting embryonic GABA inhibitory neurons into the visual cortex of the adult mouse. What is GABA you might ask?

Well, it is a neurotransmitter that is responsible in most cases for inhibitory responses and any neuron whose main output is GABA is known as a GABAergic neuron.

In both stories, the end goal is to get neurons to fire again, to restore the connection that was once lost. For Karen, it was to get her brain to speak again to her legs through the damaged nerves that contain thousands of neurons. She was able to do so through her spiritual faith according to the article.

For Gandhi, he is attempting to restore the ‘plasticity’ of old/damaged neurons by replacing them with young ones to restore the integral network in the visual cortex, thereby restoring visual perception for the adult mouse. He was able to do so, using the best of scientific techniques available to his neurobiology team.

Can you really argue that both people don’t have the same level of faith or belief in what they hold to be true?

Cogito, ergo sum, different directions leading to the same goal. In the end, we are what we believe or think to be true, said Descartes a greek philosopher at a time when religious or spiritual faith and science were both involved in the pursuit of truth.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

So, if you are banking on spiritual faith for healing, it is a powerful force and I can’t as a person of science argue against something I cannot see or measure, but, for the rest, rest assured, you have neuroscientists and doctors all working together to figure out what we can’t see deep inside our wonderful brain.

Good evening

Sleepy crocodiles and one eyed monsters. #researchsaves #crocodiles #snakes #science

As a child, we used to return to the city of Trichur, in Kerala, India every summer to stay with my grandparents. The Trichur(Trissur) zoo holds a special place in my heart and memories for two reasons, the crocodile that I would never see and the king cobra that would never move. I remember running to the crocodile pond and staring down into the green algae filled pond to see the crocodile each year but I never saw it. One summer, I fancied I saw a shoe floating in the water and imagined the poor soul to whom the show belonged to. The reason why I probably never saw the crocodile was because it was usually submerged under the green still water with only its eyes sticking out and from a height of 50 feet, it was hard to spot two dots in the murky green water.  Twenty years later, scientists now in the Journal of Experimental Biology have found out conclusively that crocodiles can sleep with one eye open and by extension one half of their brain active while the other half sleeps.

Why?

Well, unless you live with immature room mates who like to walk in while you are sleeping as a prank, then you don’t really need to keep one eye open as the old adage goes. However, for animals, the cost of sleeping fully is a very steep one as they could fall prey to predators or on the other side of the equation, loose potential prey.

To understand how difficult this is, try, sleeping with your eyelids on one eye open. Yes, it is very difficult for us- Homo sapiens, keeping the eyelids open forcefully will cause our eyes to dry out without being able to blink.

Crocodiles can and they can actually regulate the amount of activity their open eye can process depending on the type of environment the paper says. Put a human in the vicinity and that one eye is more active while the other one sleeps, constantly keeping a vigilant ‘eye’ on the human threat. Why is this important to us? Well, for a neuroscientist, it tells us just how much the brain can adapt to help a species in its environment.

Yes, their brains cannot derive multivariable calculus equations like mine can, but hey, they can sleep with one eye open, a very cool adaption which makes them the king of their environment like I am in calculus class.

Yes, they grow up to 18 feet and carries enough venom to kill an elephant. Click on the photo to learn more.
Yes, they grow up to 18 feet and carries enough venom to kill an elephant. Click on the photo to learn more.

The king cobra, well thats another post about the conservation of energy in cold blooded reptiles, I swear, I thought it was made of rubber because it never moved.

Have a good day 🙂

New superheroes – Science, Math and Botany #researchsaves

Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015), movies whose stories all take place in zero gravity, dusty martian surfaces and interstellar environments are trying to send us a very subliminal message inadvertently of course.

An artist's rendering of a monster black hole at the center of a galaxy. Yes, we have one also in the center of our beautiful galaxy.
An artist’s rendering of a monster black hole at the center of a galaxy. Yes, we have one also in the center of our beautiful galaxy.

Is the message coming to us from beings that have understood the string theory and managed to treat time like the edge of a table they sit on everyday?

337742_the_martian
The Martian,now a major motion movie playing everywhere brings a whole new kind of player to the superhero game- science, math and the botanist.

If these beings had a message they were trying to impart to us, I would take a gander and say that they are trying to say, ” Wake up everyone, its time to science the shit out of all our problems and save humanity.” Anyone who has seen the Martian know this line which Matt Damon’s character jokingly says with an underlying truth i.e. the problem is real, it is a life or death situation but we can do it by using science.

“Gravity Poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

The movies all stand witness to the problem solving nature of the human brain and what we are truly capable of in order to survive. For 200,000 years, since the human brain of our species Homo sapiens diverged from the common human ancestor, we have been solving problems to help our species survive.

This is what I want to see when I open the paper tomorrow, headlines that read:

                                                                            “Scientists cure cancer.”

                                                                                “Scientists cure HIV.”

                                     “Scientists find a way to create a renewable energy source.”

Plants grown in space last year by NASA
Plants grown in space in 2014 by NASA

“Scientists grow plants in space.” Well this actually happened last year as NASA              scientists figured it out.

But, what do I get instead?

(Photo composite: Yahoo News, photos: Riccardo De Luca/AP, Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
(Photo composite: Yahoo News, photos: Riccardo De Luca/AP, Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

It really is time to wake up, use the power that has been given to each and everyone of us in the space between our heads, instead of wasting our intelligence.

Scientists in the movie The Martian (2015) unite from every corner of the globe regardless of nationality, color, creed, race or any other categorical definition that can separate us and solves the problem. Considering that the world was witness to the U.N General Assembly drama, a week before the movie was released serves as a stark reminder that the ideal situation of global co-operation in the movie is a far cry from our woeful reality. The movie also serves a stark reminder to our government, that without the kind of money that needs to be put BACK into research, we stand a chance of grievously falling behind. #POTUS, please increase the NIH funding :),  it will be the greatest executive order you could fulfill before you leave office.

One can only hope, that future generations will get to read the headlines I posted in this article #researchsaves, and my personal message to #KimDavis, please leave the Pope alone.

خداحافظی                                              

An espresso and neuroscience. #researchsaves

20150924_163545The espresso, smooth if prepared well with just enough bitterness to wake you up to the jolt of energy about to come, once the caffeine molecules start antagonizing the adenosine receptors in the central nervous system.

The antagonistic effect of caffeine on these receptors gives you the ‘energy boost’ your brain is craving. Yes, I used the word craving because caffeine is the most unregulated psychoactive nervous stimulant with respect to the quantities it is consumed at, in the world.

While sipping this beautiful cup of doppio, I came across this article posted in the Journal of Neuro-engineering and Rehabilitation which talks about the possibility of setting up an external interface to help a paralyzed man walk again or gain ‘motor’ control over his lower limbs.

The caffeine boost from the doppio is working and I can feel the effects of the stimulant slashing through the mid-afternoon drowsiness, but there are thousands of people for whom this communication between the central and the peripheral nervous system is broken and by extension, the nerves and the muscles. It is akin to having an engine that sends out a signal but due to a bad transmission, the wheels do not turn or the brakes do not stop.

While spinal cord injury research is ongoing in its attempt to repair a broken nerve or restore the communication, it is easier said than done, however, as my hashtag always says, #researchsaves and a majority of this blog will be devoted to talking about science and its insurmountable role in saving lives.

One interesting approach as pointed out in this paper, is to bypass the broken region in the nervous system by having a brain to computer interface that can receive the signal from the brain and then relay it to the muscle.

Now keep in mind, just because you restore the electrical circuit or connection between the brain and the muscle through this interface, the muscles still need to be conditioned to receive the electrical response and act accordingly.

Who remembers the scene from The Matrix(1999) in which Neo escapes from the matrix for the first time after spending his entire life to that point in a jelly filled cocoon?

He spent a good amount of time in a chamber getting all his muscles conditioned to respond to the neural stimulation from his brain which for the first time was actually reaching his muscles unlike the dream like stage he was in till that point.

The paper points towards promising research which one day I hope can help people who have broken spinal cords or some neural communication problem to be able to gain or regain control of their muscles.

Well, I think I need a recharge, do click on the link in the article to read the paper and feel free to share this article with the hashtag #researchsaves

Arrivederci