Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Artificial Uterine-System: Growing Babies Outside of the Uterus

At some point in the future I expected to see something like this.  Some sort of science fiction technology that would allow for humans and animals to be grown in other forms of a makeshift uterus could very well be possible.  Well, that time appears to be now.

Published on the 25 of April, 2017, a study was proven to grow a fetal lamb outside of its mother in an artificial uterine-system.  Now, mind you, the technology proven to work here does not mean we have reached the point where we could take an egg outside of the mother, insert it into this system, and a baby would grow completely fine.  This artificial uterine-system is a method to continue the development of a baby that might have been born prematurely or that still needed time to develop.  In addition, this new form of a makeshift uterus (being called the BioBag) has only been tested on sheep as of now.

The BioBag works by mimicking the conditions of a uterus within the mother.  For starters, a pump filters in amniotic fluid into the pouch that the baby is located.  That fluid is cycled out in order to provide healthy amniotic fluid through pressure derived at the other end that forces out the old fluid.  In addition, a gas blender keeps the environment in check by providing the correct amount of Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen, and Oxygen within the pouch to ensure the baby's survival.  Finally, an umbilical system is attached to the baby to provide nutrients, oxygenated blood, and medicine to keep the baby healthy and alive.  All of the data taken from the study was proven to show statistical correlation with what the lamb receives while growing in the mother.

To prove that this study showed positive results with a premature baby, the lamb used was developmentally equivalent to an extreme premature baby.  The lamb survived and thrived in this artificial uterine-system for 4 weeks.  However, further research remains a priority.  Lambs and Humans develop different, with different brain capacities and functions that separate the two.  Overtime, human trials may be a possibility.  "I think its realistic to think about three years for first-in-human-trials," said Alan Flake, who is one of the lead writers on this study.

So we aren't quite at the point yet where we can grow babies completely outside of the mother.  But this discovery could help save the lives of thousands of prematurely born babies.  Soon after, we may be able to assist the growth of endangered species by recreating the uterine-system to harbor the babies of those species.  We may even have the ability to combine this technology with cloning to finally create those dinosaurs we see in Jurassic Park (I really hope not, we have many movies to show why growing actual dinosaurs is a bad idea).  The point of this study is to find a way to assist prematurely born babies in a better way than what we have now.  It's not completely done yet, but it is an incredibly important first step into saving those babies' lives.

Thanks to Kate Berglung for sending in the following article for information on this topic!:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/4/25/15421734/artificial-womb-fetus-biobag-uterus-lamb-sheep-birth-premie-preterm-infant

The research paper published on April 25 can be read here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15112

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Science Bureau adopted a small part of Earth

In celebration of Earth Day, NASA is giving people the ability to adopt a small part of Earth to call their own!  As of April 20th, Science Bureau is now the proud adopter of a small plot of land in Africa, located at 12.24° N, 4.8° W.  Here's the ID card that states the adoption:



And here is a picture of that plot of land (courtesy of Google Earth):



It is important to remember the importance of keeping our Earth clean and the environment healthy everyday as we go about our lives.  Little things, like recycling and not littering can go a long way if we all work together.  Earth day is on April 22 this year, so remember to consider the well-being of planet Earth as you go about your day!

Anyone can adopt a piece of land on Earth to celebrate Earth day!  You can find out how to do so at:

https://climate.nasa.gov/adopt-the-planet/#/

Thank you all for reading and participating in the quest to discover science through the Science Bureau!  The growing audience and enthusiasm from people around the globe is greatly appreciated!  Remember to appreciate each other and the world on April 22, our planet is a wonderful place to be!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spider Venom Protects Brain Cells from Stroke Damage

Who knew?  Just from reading the title of this post, you would probably be a little skeptical.  I mean, this is spider venom we are talking about, it's toxic for humans.  Yet some significant results have been achieved from this study.  But first, let's start with what goes on when a stroke occurs.

A stroke in the body happens when a clot keeps blood from reaching cells in the brain.  This causes the brain cells to switch to other metabolic pathways that don't necessarily rely on oxygen.  However, these other metabolic pathways create an acidic environment within the brain, which causes the pH to drop drastically - a condition deemed acidosis.  The brain cells - in an acidic environment and with no oxygen available - then begin to die off and cause irreparable damage to the brain.

Research in the past has linked a specific ion channel, called acid-sensitive ion channels (ASICs), that activate when the cell looses its connection to oxygen.  These ion channels pump out calcium ions which have a toxic effect in the brain when they reach abnormally high levels.  Previously, scientists had identified a specific peptide (psalmotoxin 1) in Tarantula venom that specifically blocked ASICs.  In the study conducted with the Tarantula venom, the rats that had strokes were much more protected from acidosis in the brain when administered psalmotoxin 1 for treatment.

In this current study, researchers focused on the venom of the Australian Funnel Web Spider (Hadronyche infensa) and a disulfide-rich peptide within the venom called Hi1a.  For reference, the Australian Funnel Web Spider Hadronyche infensa is an incredibly venomous spider.  Their presynaptic neurotoxins target sodium and ion channels within the body and induce spontaneous, repetitive firing of action potentials in autonomic and motor neurons, thus causing an increase in adrenaline, acetylcholine, and noreprinephrine.  The researchers discovered that Hi1a specifically targets ASICs, and does an incredibly fantastic job at doing so.  Even so, Hi1a has a faster time getting to the ASICs and inducing an effect on the channels than the peptide found in Tarantula venom.  So the researchers in this study induced rats to have strokes and gave them Hi1a to observe the effects.  In the rats tested, the Hi1a peptide protected up to 77 percent of the brain cells that were affected.  Specifically, it saved brain tissue that was hit the hardest from the lack of oxygen and severely limited peripheral damage to other parts of the brain.



The potential of this discovery is very high, for this peptide gives doctors and medical professionals a greater window to treat and prevent damage from a stroke.  As of now, the use of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) to restore blood flow is the only FDA approved treatment option for strokes.  This alternative could now help more patients that suffer strokes and prevent long-term damage.  However, the medical world is still a long ways away from venom-based treatment.  It will take a lot more research and time to develop a capable drug or treatment that is based on the peptides found in venom.  More specifically, more research needs to be done to determine potential problems that may arise using this method of treatment; lethal doses, effective doses, and risk assessments all need to be completed as well as trials for clinical use.  But the study does prove that spider venom, although toxic, does contain chemicals that may benefit our lives and our health.

If you want to read more, the story written on this study can be found here:


The published research paper within the PNAS Journal can be found here: