Category Archives: Stem Cells

Harvard Stem Cells Breakthrough: Diabetes

This recent news from Harvard is a perfect fit for the IBBio course, connecting lots of what we have learned in the course. Watch this short TED Talk from Prof. Doug Melton on how they are using stem cells to create new insulin-producing beta cells. Then read this article from the Harvard Gazette on the most recent developments in their work.

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Goal: Produce a poster, blog post or short presentation to communicate Melton’s team’s breakthrough, including connections to the IBBio course.

Role: You are science communicators.

Audience: Your peers – high school students and teachers.

Scenario: Stem cells and diabetes are both headline-grabbing stories. As we develop more treatments for diseases using stem cells, the public need to be well informed of the reality of what is happening – and inspired by the future.

Product: Large visual poster, blog (500 words with media) or short presentation (4-5 mins).

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Required information

  1. Explain that Type 1 diabetes is “an autoimmune metabolic condition in which the body kills off all the pancreatic beta cells that produce the insulin needed for glucose regulation in the body.” [article, paragraph 14]
  2. Outline the usual treatment needed for type 1 diabetes.
  3. Outline the properties of stem cells.
  4. Explain how stem cells differentiate to become differentiated cells.
  5. Describe the work of Melton’s team to create beta-cell lines derived from stem-cell lines.
  6. Outline the proposed treatment for type 1 diabetes through implanting the newly-produced beta-cells.
  7. Discuss any caveats or limitations to the method.
  8. Discuss any ethical implications for the use of stem cells in this manner.
  9. Define any new or technical terms used (or discovered in your research) for the audience.

Going Further

  • Distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
  • Evaluate whether this method would be as effective for type 2 diabetes as for type 1, with reasons.

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Teacher Notes

  • This could be used to teach part of the homeostasis topic once students know about stem cells, or as a review tool for later in the course.
  • Students should refer to the subject guide to check their use of terminology and to regulate the depth of explanation.

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Connecting Type II Diabetes

Here is Doug Melton talking about how we might use hormones to treat Type II diabetes:

Fruit Fly Development: Cell by Cell [Nature Video]

Drosophila melanogaster - fruit fly

Drosophila melanogaster

Wow. Two papers published in Nature Methods have outlined a new technique which allows researchers to track development of embryos (in this case Drosophila melanogaster), in real time. By taking simulataneous multi-view microscopic images of the developing embryo, individual cells can be tracked in real time. The methods are described in more detail at Nature News here.

Have a look at the amazing results below, as a fruitfly embryo develops into a larva, ready to hatch. The two views are the dorsal (upper side) and ventral (lower side) view of the same embryo. See if you can pick a cell and watch its path of development.

Think about how this links to IB Biology topics of cell division, cell specialisation and embryonic development. How does a stem cell know what type of cell to become? If you look closely, there’s a scale bar in the bottom-right. Take a snapshot and calculate the actual length of the embryo.

For more reasons to love fruit flies, check out my mini-review of Fly: An Experimental Life by Martin Brookes.

Image source: Drosophila melanogaster, from Wikipedia. 

Anthony Atala: Printing a human kidney [TED Talk]

With links to stem cells, genetic engineering and biotechnology, homeostasis and the kidney, the current science outlined in this TED Talk by Anthony Atala is amazing. It includes a demonstration of a real kidney being printed and a student who has an engineered bladder and now lives a normal life. Wow.

With huge numbers of people waiting for kidney transplants, is this the future of transplant medicine?

Thinking of kidneys, the Guardian has a link to an AP article: Mystery illness kills thousands in South America.

Imagine Science Film Festival

This visualisation of the role of breast stem cells was the winner of the award for Visual Science at this year’s Imagine Science Film Festival. Carl Zimmer was one of the judges and has posted more of the winning videos to his Discover blog.

For lots more quality visualisations, visit the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s YouTube channel.

The Imagine festival includes a $500 Budding Scientist award, open to High School students. Get working!

Here is a cute video called Do You Know What a Nano Is?

 

Embryonic Stem Cell Patents Banned in EU

Yesterday, the European Court of Justice banned the issuing of patents for embyronic stem cell research, stating:

A process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented.

The decision has caused widespread concern amongst European stem cell researchers, yet has been welcomed by other groups on moral, ethical or religious grounds.

So why is it such a hot topic?

Human Embryonic Stem Cells (Nissim Benvenisty, via Wikimedia Commons)

Human Embryonic Stem Cells (Nissim Benvenisty, via Wikimedia Commons)

Use the resources here, and others that you can find, to discuss the following questions in your group. Be prepared to feed back to the class with a summary of no more than 5 minutes.

  • What are (embryonic) stem cells and how do their properties facilitate research?
  • Where are stem cells found? Are they all the same?
  • How do stem cells eventually become differentiated and specialised?
  • Outline at least one recent successful therapeutic use of stem cells.
  • Identify a range of stakeholders in the debate. What are their views and reasons for them?
  • Can you propose potential solutions or workable compromises that could reduce the impact of the ban on scientific research?
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Resources:

EuroStemCell’s Stem Cell Story (with a load of great, free resources and videos on their website)

Some write-ups on this news story here:

About Stem Cells:

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Theory of Knowledge

The embryonic stem cell debate generates strong and emotive knowledge issues, which is evidenced by the fact that the case was passed all the way up to the European Court of Justice. There are many stakeholders in embryonic stem cell research, each with their own knowledge claims and beliefs.

With this recent ban on patenting methods based on the destruction of embryonic stem cells, we add the elements of patenting and intellectual ownership (and of course the knock-on effects to funding, progress and public perception).

To what extent does the embryonic stem cell debate highlight potential conflicts between the areas of knowledge of the natural sciences and ethics and between the ways of knowing of emotion and reason?

After reading through, understanding and discussing the resources, what knowledge issues can you identify?

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Connections:

This follows on from a related story in the USA last year:

Comments have been disabled on this post, but are open on the TOK page for the same content.

Deeply Dipity About Interactive Timelines

Create interactive timelines online for free with Dipity. This would be a great tool for revision of historical topics and it can be shared and embedded.

Ed Yong has a neat example on his NotExactlyRocketScience blog, of the timeline of reprogrammed (induced pluripotent) stem cell research:

Reprogrammed stem cells on Dipity

Why use this?

  • It’s free, visual, quick and easy
  • Images, links and videos can be inserted
  • You can connect it with facebook for easy logins (like SlideShare)
  • Sharing is easy, embeds are possible (though not WordPress.com, again)

What could it be used for?

  • Book or topic reports, such as a timeline of Darwin’s life and work.
  • Mapping any time-related topic. History of the Universe, anyone?

Of course, if you’re studying History, Economics or current affairs, it would be an ideal tool.

Hybrid Hearts: Stem Cell Transplants 2.0

“Can we use stem cells to make a new heart/eye/lung/liver etc?”

This is the predictable and perennial question that comes up from at least one student when we are looking at stem cells, genetic engineering, cell differentiation and transplanting. Until now, the answer has (perhaps in an oversimplified way) been ‘no’.

We can use stem cell transplants to treat lymphoma. Recently a young woman had a trachea transplant based on stem cell technology. Skin grafts from a patient’s own cultured cells are also possible, as are stem cell-based bladders. However, these are all rather simple technologies.

To treat lymphoma, bone marrow cells are replaced, and are all the same. The trachea transplant was a pre-existing trachea simply coated in the patient’s stem cells to prevent immune rejection. Skin transplants are basically sheets of epidermis that cover a wound, yet do not have the intricate functions of original skin: temperature regulation, secretion, senses. The bladder is a bag.

The challenge with using stem cells to transplant a more complex organ, such as a heart, is that it is not a simple sheet made of one type of cell. It is complex 3D structure, with a range of cells performing specific tasks within the organ. These cells have differentiated to perform their functions: cardiomyocytes (beating cells), vascular endothelial cells (smooth internal surfaces) and smooth muscle cells (blood vessel walls).

How can we get the stem cells to become the right type of cell, in the right position?

The answer to this question could be the key to opening up new doors in the search for viable transplantable organs in medicine, and bears much in common with the trachea case. It also marks a return to form for the NewScientist YouTube channel, who have this short clip of the new hearts in action:

A full article to accompany the footage is here.

In a nutshell:

Decellularised pig heart: the scaffold (NewScientist)

Decellularised pig heart: the scaffold (NewScientist)

1. Find a suitable transplant organ, such as a pig’s heart.

2. Strip of all cells and DNA, using a detergent. Only the collagen ‘scaffold’ remains, as in the image of the decellularised heart to the right.

3. Coat the scaffold with the recipient’s stem cells.

4. Ensure that the blood supply is adequate and will provide the right signals for differentiation.

What is amazing in this case is how the cells ‘knew’ what specialised cells to become. The leader of the research group, Dr. Doris Taylor, puts it down to the mechanical stimulus of the pressure of the blood in the vessels and chambers and chemical signals from growth factors and peptides that remained on the stripped heart structure.

They even went as far as replacing a healthy rat’s heart with one of these new hybrid hearts. The rat survived for the trial, but she says they need to focus on producing more muscular hearts in order to ensure long-term survival of transplant recipients.

Food for thought:

Read the whole article and some of the links within it. Discuss these questions:

1. What are the potential uses for this kind of transplant technology?

2. What are the current limitations of this method and how might they be overcome?

3. What are the ethical issues related to using hybrid (pig-human) organs in medical transplants? How would you feel if you were the patient?

4. Who are the various stakeholders in this technology and what are their viewpoints?

Useful Sources:

Dr Doris Taylor’s research page from the University of Minnesota

NewScientist Article: Hybrid hearts could solve transplant problem

BioAlive stem cells links and resources

Can stem cells repair a damaged heart? from the NIH

Research reveals how stem cells build a heart, from Harvard news.

Genetics – Megapost

Get the Essential Biology 04 – Genetics Revision guides here:  Standard LevelHigher Level

Top websites:

Learn.Genetics@Utah awesome resources

Click4Biology Genetics pages: CoreHigher Level

BioEthics Education Project: The Human GenomeGenetic Technology

And as always, click on the shadowed images in the presentations to be taken to source videos and animations.

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Here are all the presentations for the Genetics topics.

Core:

More presentations after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology linklist

This topic is Science at the moment, so let’s keep it as concise as possible. Some people go as far as studying a degree in all this, but that can wait for now!

Here’s the presentation for the IBDP Biology syllabus:

And here’s the revision page from Clcik4Biology

And now by topic:

Polymerase Chain Reaction

Very visual from Dolan DNA Learning Centre

McGraw Hill step-through

Rutgers step-through

and of course, the ever-so-silly PCR Song

Gel Electrophoresis and DNA Profiling (or DNA Fingerprinting)

Easy intro from Court TV

In-depth look from DNAi

DNA Learning Centre’s Electrophoresis animation

Learn.Genetics super-flashy animation

Case study: the case of the pothunters from Learn.Genetics

The Human Genome Project

Official Site How to sequence a genome

Teachers’ resources

Learn.Genetics genome resources

Outcomes: Bioinformatics DNA Microarrays 1 (2)

Outcomes: looking deeper into evolutionary relationships:

Gene Transfer Technology

McGraw Hill animation collection

NewScientist: gene therapy success reverses blindness

Gene Therapy in SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency) from Sumanas

Gene transfer in insulin production from abpi schools

Using the gene gun as a vector from Purdue

Genetic Modification in Crops and Animals

Glowing pigs and fish: Animal Farm TV series

GM food and you (objective, worth watching)

Cloning

Excellent animation from Dolan DNA Learning Centre

Video: Enucleation of an egg cell from Howard Hughes Medical Institute:

Download this Stem Cell cribsheet from SEED Magazine

Therapeutic cloning cures Parkinsons mice

More about cloning from ActionBioscience

If this catches your imagination, dig deeper!

Children’s Hospital Boston – Great Flash apps for students

Thanks to Rod Murphy for this one.

eSchool News featured CHB’s site as site of the week and it’s well deserved. There are some great animations here, including a nice neurons and synapses animation, some stem cell resources, cancer information and a chance to have a go at making an EM image.

Go have a look!

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