Under the microscope lecture covers stem cells


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A vast amount of students overfilled Dillon I Feb. 28 in anticipation of listening to a science lecture on a much-debated topic: stem cell research.

As part of the “Under the Microscope’ lecture series, which started this school year, Dr. Susan Cook, professor in biology, presented a lecture titled “Stem Cells Past and Present.”

Dr. Jackie Horn, professor in biology and chair of the biology department, said that the biology department started the lecture series in order to fulfill the fourth pillar of President Robert B. Sloan Jr.’s Ten Pillars Vision and to educate the University about new developments in science. The fourth pillar is to build a community of learners, and the biology department wanted to bolster the learning community within the students and faculty of biology and sciences.

Horn said that biology is constantly transforming as methods and equipment develop, so the information expands and revamps.

“This lecture series gives us an opportunity to review some of the most recent work and helps the entire University family learn more about the topic,” Horn said.

Cook spoke on different types of past and recent stem cells and how they can be used medically. A stem cell is self-replenishing, which means that when it separates, one of its daughter cells separates into a different kind of cell while the other daughter maintains the stem-like characteristics. Stem cells are significant because they can potentially help cure chronic diseases such as vascular and degenerative ones of the muscles and nervous system.

In the past, the main types of stem cells were reproductive and hematopoietic. Reproductive stem cells are in the reproductive organs. Hematopoietic stem cells are found in the bone marrow and can differentiate into blood cells such as lymphocytes, granulocytes and mast cells.

Recently, embryonic and adult stem cells are the main types of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are derived from the earliest diploid cells of an animal. Cook said that she believes that these cells could not cure diseases because they were incompatible with patients’ bodies and would cause tumors.

Adult stem cells, however, can be used to treat diseases. Adult stem cells are found in organs and have characteristics of the organ but can also grow cells that could differentiate into the cells of the organ.

In October 2012, Dr. John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work with adult stem cells. Gurdon proved that all cells have the same genome by removing a gut cell from a frog and developing that cell into a tadpole. Yamanaka added to Gurdon’s work through the process of induction; he tricked a somatic cell into believing it was a fertilized egg by giving it the transcription factors found in fertilized eggs. Adding transcription factors to body cells can transform them into stem cells.

Cook said that she hopes that adult stem cells will be able to cure diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. The process would involve extracting stem cells from a sick person that contain the genes of that disease. The stem cells could then differentiate into the relevant cell type. Treatments could be tested on the stem cells and the cured cells could be placed into the patient.

Horn said that the lecture series helps attendees because it allows them to understand progress in science. Therefore, they can have viewpoints on remedies and environmental concerns.

Senior biology major Jennifer Chopra said that using transcription factors to manipulate stem cells can help her with future research.

“Manipulation opens up our ways of using different kinds of ingredients or different types of chemicals to probably manipulate cells and other things in our line of studies,” Chopra said.

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