This Might Change Medicine as We Know it

After the interesting post Bacteria in a Barbie WorldMagdalena Assaad shared with us this extremely interesting article she wrote about a huge update in transplant medicine. Cheers to revolutionising ideas !

Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death : according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 17 million people die yearly of cardiovascular ailments, most of them due to heart disease, and this number is expected to exceed 23.6 million by 2030. More than half of the patients do not benefit from drugs, and the best solution is to obtain a new heart.

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Consequently, the demand for hearts keeps increasing while the availability is almost the same. Out of the 4,000 Americans waiting for their heart transplants, only 2,500 will receive new hearts in the coming year. And even when a heart is obtained, there’s a high risk of the host body rejecting the transplanted organ by initiating an immune reaction against the foreign heart cells.

Scientists have been looking for effective permanent solutions for these problems while minimizing the complications that may arise after the procedure, and the answer found is to make synthetic organs from the patient’s own cells.

A team of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School is working on this project, using adult skin cells to generate human heart tissue and their study was published recently in the journal Circulation Research.

stem-cell-complex-body-parts-121017-679157-Looking at this solution, one might find it trivial, considering that scientists grow cells in labs very frequently, however this particular solution is far more complicated, since the grown tissues are not intended to fill a petri dish, but have the architecture of the needed organ, the heart with its cavities that are naturally meticulously designed to complete their functions perfectly.

Cells are usually easily grown on scaffolds, and scientists needed a scaffold for their cell culture. In previous research, 3D heart segments were fabricated by 3D printers using biological material and these structures can serve as scaffold on which heart tissue can be grown, yet the group of scientists opted for a better procedure.

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They used a detergent solution that strips a donor organ (not fit for transplantation) of cells that may launch an immune response in the recipient: the cells were turned into pluripotent stem cells by using adult skin cells and messenger RNA while the remaining of the heart would serve as a scaffold.

Pluripotent cells have the ability of specializing to any type of cell in the human body. For this experiment they were transformed into two different types of cardiac cells that develop and grow on the scaffold when bathed with nutrient solution.

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After two weeks, the networks of lab-grown heart cells resembled immature but intricately structured hearts. Once given a burst of electricity, the hearts started beating.
Any heart cells grown in this way are recognized by the patient’s immune system as “friendly”, as long as the original skin cells are obtained from their own body in the first place. In other words, these lab-grown hearts will be specially designed for the patient and won’t be rejected once transplanted.

Regrowing a whole heart would take tens of billions of cells, while this study manufactured only 500 million cells so far. The team is still improving methods to generate more cardiac cells at a faster time, help the cells mature more quickly and perfect the body-like conditions in which the heart develops.

If successful, this project might change medicine as we know it, where cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure won’t be seen as life threatening risks. Additionally, other organs may be made of stem cells as well. The long organs waiting list will cease to exist, while patients can obtain a second chance for living happy healthy lives.

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Cocktails Ingredients:

“Stem Cells Grow Beating Heart : Dnews”. DNews. N.p., 2013.

Andrews, Robin. “Beating Human Hearts Grown In Laboratory Using Stem Cells”. IFLScience. N.p., 2016.

Ossola, Alexandra. “Scientists Grow Full-Sized, Beating Human Hearts From Stem Cells”. Popular Science. N.p., 2016.

Heart Disease And Stroke Statistics – At-A-Glance. 1st ed. the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee, 2014.

Picture :

“Amazing!! Scientists Can Now Grow A Human Heart Outside Of A Human Body From Stem Cells | Science | Blog | Qatar Day”. Qatarday. N.p., 2016.

Bacteria in a Barbie World

Magdalena Assaad is a Senior Mechanical Engineering Student and research assistant at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Her work is Focused mainly on biomedical engineering.
Here’s what she has to say about a cool idea that can solve a huge problem, especially in Lebanon:

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To Much Plastic Everywhere

While the garbage crisis is increasing in Lebanon each passing day, a developed country like Japan was able to find recently a bacteria that is capable of eating one of the most resilient types of plastic. Their research was posted in The Journal of Science earlier this month.

In numbers, Polyethylene Terephtalate (PET) takes up to one fifth of the annual production of plastic, which is almost 50 million tons produced each year globally. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea and it takes about 450 years to de compose thin PET films in the environment. This plastic is usually found in water bottles, polyester clothing, frozen-dinner trays, blister packs….

This plastic is in high demand thanks to its lightweight and resilience, yet these properties make it more difficult to decompose, labeling it as non-biodegradable, and no microbes were find to be able to eat it, until last month.

A Japanese research team from Kyoto Institute of Technology and Keio University collected 250 PET-contaminated samples including sediment, soil and wastewater from a plastic bottle recycling site, and screened the microbes living on the samples to check whether any of them were eating the PET and using it to grow.

“If you put a bacteria in a situations where they’ve only got one food source to consume, over time they will adapt to that” lead researcher Enzo Palombo from Swinburne Univeristy explains the technique. First a consortium of bugs appeared to break down the PET film but it turned out that only one bacteria specie was responsible for the PET degradation, and they called it Ideonella Sakainesis.

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This bacteria uses two enzymes to break down the PET : It secretes one enzyme onto the PET to generate an intermediate chemical, this chemical is later taken by the cell where another enzyme will break it further providing the bacteria with carbon and energy to grow.

It’s a slow process, this community of bacteria can break down a thin film of PET in six weeks, and needs even more time to degrade highly crystallized PET, and this can happen only at a temperature of 86⁰ F (30⁰C).

For now, this bacteria can have a limited impact, thus incapable of cleaning the ocean and landfills around the world. Collecting PET products and melting them to be reused still seems like a more effective way of handling them then using this bacteria. Meanwhile, the team is looking for other microbes that might have similar PET-degrading capabilities.

Give Science Bar a Like on Facebook, and never miss an update.
Cheers!science_bar_logo

Cocktail Ingredients:

  • Netburn, Deborah. “Newly Discovered Bacteria Can Eat Plastic Bottles”. Los Angeles Times. Phys.org. N.p., 2016.
  • Starr, Michelle. “Newly Discovered Bacteria Eats And Digests PET Plastic”. CNET. N.p.2016
  • Mohdin, Aamna. “Nature Can Surprise Us”: There’s A New Species Of Bacteria That Eats Plastic”. Quartz. N.p. 2016

Photos:

  • “A Bacterium That Degrades And Assimilates Poly(Ethylene Terephthalate)”. Science 351.6278 (2016): 1196-1199.
  • Krumins, Aaron. “Plastic-Eating Bacteria Set To Revolutionize Waste Disposal | Extremetech”. ExtremeTech. N.p., 2016.

 

GMOs: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly…

Our first Cherry On Top is authored by Perla Saad ;  researcher and teaching assistant at The American University of Science And Technology (AUST). She has a BSc in Biochemistry from the Lebanese University, she’s currently an MSc student at AUST majoring in Biotechnology –  DNA technology : emphasis on GMOs, hence the topic of her post:

You’ve all probably heard about GMOs and all the fuss they are making in terms of anti-GMO movements and campaigns. In Addition, you probably read jokes such:

You use the leftover chicken as a nightlight for your kid’s room.
OR
Family of seven, one turkey — yet everyone gets a drumstick.
Via Paul Kavanagh

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So how much truth is lying within these jokes? And what do we really know about GMOs?

GMOs: The Definition

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Genetically modified organisms or GMOs are animals, plants or microorganisms whose genome had been artificially altered by the insertion of convenient foreign genes.  One of the most common examples is the Bt-corn, where the inserted gene allows the latter plant to synthesize a protein that acts as a pesticide and kills the insect by paralyzing and perforating its digestive system. This gene permits the plant to defend itself without the application of huge amounts of toxic chemicals.

The array of GMO applications is extremely wide ranging from biofuel production, drugs and vaccines synthesis, xenotransplantation (use of animal tissue to be transplanted in humans), and most importantly agricultural applications; In fact, the last one is used to improve food and feeding production quantitatively and qualitatively.  Recently, a study made at the John Innes Centre in Norwich is aiming to alter Beetroot strains in the intention of creating a plant that synthesises L-DOPA that aids in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease! how amazing is that ?!

What’s the big deal about GMOs ?!

The Good

GMOs present many advantages in terms of increasing nutritional values, herbicide and pest resistance, contributing to larger yields, faster growing traits… For instance, the golden rice is a GM crop aiming to prevent vitamin deficiencies especially in third world countries. This crop produces beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A that helps decreasing the widespread of this vitamin’s shortage.

The Bad

foodswithchems2-2On the other hand, these organisms might have potential risks, especially on the human’s health and environmental biodiversity. You won’t be growing a third eye or an antenna by consuming GMOs, but at some point, your health might be affected since the insertion of foreign genes might cause the production of secondary metabolites and allergens, allocation of antibiotic resistance genes to the gut flora and even horizontal or vertical gene transfer to off-springs or within the same organism. Geneticists have concerns regarding gene flow since the trans-gene constructs transferred to the related wild species results in hybrids. These hybrids will out-compete the native strains and lead to the loss of innate traits.

The Ugly

The debate about the safety of GMOs became robust as GM crop numbers are increasing rapidly due to the quick evolution of biotechnology. Many countries worldwide have retained rules and regulations concerning GM crops due to the risks they might have on human health.
A study published by Dr. Aziz Aris in 2011 in Reproductive Toxicology Journal, showed the presence of potentially toxic pesticides deriving from GMO foods in the blood of pregnant women and their foetuses. Since the foetuses are very fragile, and due to the toxicity of these products more studies will be needed to investigate this correlation.

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Concerning the rules and regulations, the European Union has set a 0.9% labeling threshold for the food items containing these entities; Each country has its own limits. The threshold indicates the quantity of GMO present in the product. Note that labeling GMOs could be a voluntary or mandatory action and it is set to protect consumer’s rights and choices.

Where Does Lebanon Fit in all This?

According to the Lebanese University – Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Lebanon is not a producer of GMO crops itself, but most of its imported feed and food products are traded in from GMO producing countries.

Currently, no Lebanese law bans the consumption of food or feed that has been genetically altered. In agriculture, a definite law in article 14 (Law 778-2006) bans the import of GM plants and seeds, but no testing is applied for confirmation.

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In addition, previous studies at the AUST laboratory have shown the presence of large quantities of GMOs in imported soybean feed samples , and these levels are alarming since they might cause food chain contaminations, meaning that the feed seeds could be accidentally mixed with food seeds, or they might grow in the nearby environment and alter the wild species. Recently, the same Lab is working on the detection of GM products in food and cultivation seeds present in the Lebanese market.

To wrap this up, since GMOs might be present in the Lebanese market, rules and regulations must be implemented to control these imports in order to ban, label or accept the products, but at the moment, even less primitive regulations like cleaning the garbage from the streets are being overlooked because of the political and economic status in Lebanon… But the least we can do is wish for a change…

[Perla Saad]

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Cocktails Ingredients:

Cherry Blossoms

Cherries and their trees are exciting

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Hence we’re introducing a new section that makes us equally fuzzy inside:

Cherry On Top

Our beloved guests will be sharing their own content, mixing up the flavors and hopefully catering to your tastes.

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If you enjoy our content and feel like contributing, email us or send us a message on Facebook!

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