Category Archives: Biotechnology

Three Parent IVF / Three Parent Baby

three parents baby

Britain on 3 Feb 2014 became the first country in the world to allow ‘Three Parent – In Vitro Fertilisation (TP-IVF)’ or ‘Three Parent Babies’. This technique will help couples with mitochondrial diseases, an incurable conditions passed down the maternal line that affect around one in 6,500 children worldwide. But critics say the technique will lead to the creation of genetically modified ‘designer babies’.

The treatment is known as TP-IVF because the babies, born from genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father and from a female donor. Under current UK law, genetically altered embryos cannot be implanted into a woman. But in this case fertility clinics will be given license for TP-IVF.

What is the benefit of TP-IVF?

A small number of children each year are born with faults in their mitochondrial DNA which can cause diseases. Mitochondria are small structures present inside cells and provide energy. They have their own set of 37 genes which are separate from the 25,000 genes present in nucleus and does not affect human characteristics such as hair or eye colour, appearance or personality traits.

How do the faulty mitochondria affect people?

The parts of the body that need most energy are worst affected: the brain, muscles, heart and liver. Faulty mitochondria have also been linked to more common medical problems, including Parkinson’s, deafness, failing eyesight, epilepsy and diabetes. There are no cures for mitochondrial disorders.

How are mitochondrial disorders passed on?

Only mothers pass mitochandria on to their children. Because egg cells contribute nucleus as well as rest other cellular component including mitochondria whereas sperms contribute only nucleus during fertilization process.

How TP-IVF could prevent the mitochondrial diseases?

Scientists have developed two techniques to stop mitochondrial diseases being passed from mother to child.

The first is called mitochondrial spindle transfer (MST). In this, doctors use standard IVF procedures to collect eggs from the mother. They take the nucleus from one of the eggs and drop it into a healthy donor egg that has had its own nucleus removed. The reconstituted egg contains all the normal genes from the mother, but her faulty mitochondria are replaced by those from the healthy donor. The egg is then fertilised with the father’s sperm. The resulting embryo has the usual 23 pairs of chromosomes that hold the mother and father’s DNA, but the 37 mitochondrial genes, about 0.2% of the total, come from a third person, the donor.

TP-IVF

The second procedure is called pronuclear transfer. It is similar to MST, but both the mother’s and donor’s eggs are fertilised first with the father’s sperm. Before the eggs divide into early stage embryos, the parents’ chromosomes are removed from the mother’s fertilised egg and placed into the donor egg, which has had its own chromosomes removed.

Is mitochondrial transfer safe and effective?

Both procedures have been tested in animals and resulted in healthy offspring. Good results have also been seen in human cells, but treated embryos have not been implanted into a woman to achieve a pregnancy. A review of work on mitochondrial transfer by independent scientific panel concluded there was no evidence the procedures were unsafe.

What objections do people have to the TP-IVF procedure?

Mitochondrial transfer passes on genetic changes from one generation to another. That raises ethical concerns because any unexpected problems caused by the procedure could affect people who are not yet born. Mitochondria are not completely understood, and the DNA they hold might affect people’s traits in unknown ways. The Catholic church opposes because a fertilised egg from the mother is destroyed in pronuclear transfer process and mitochondrial transfer dilutes parenthood.

Is ‘three-parent’ babies a good description of children born to the procedure?

Three-parent baby is misnomer. Women who donate their mitochondria would remain anonymous and have no legal rights over the child. On a genetic level the donor only contributes mDNA, less than 0.2% of the total genetic material.

Will this change in law allow ‘designer’ babies?

Designer baby is a concept of modifying human characteristics such as eye, skin and hair colour and other defining traits by altering nuclear DNA or gene. The procedure of TP-IVF does not change this nuclear DNA. The ban on altering nuclear DNA remains in place.

Stem Cells found in the Eyes can restore Vision

Eyes

Stem cells retrieved from the area between the white and black part of an eyeball can restore the sight in those who have lost their vision due to corneal blindness. It was tested and verified in a research carried out by doctors at the LV Prasad Eye Hospital in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, USA.

According to Dr Sayan Basu, Consultant Corneal Surgeon, at LV Prasad Eye Institute, the stromal cells were found in the area between the black and white portions of the eyeball known as the limbus. When these cells are applied to injured corneas, the corneas healed in a span of four weeks of treatment.

CORNEAL BLINDNESS

There are 1,40,000 cases of corneal blindness in India. This happens because of scarring or whitening of the cornea. This happens due to infection, poke in the eye, injury, accident or any other trauma to the eye. When this scarring happens, patients lose vision.

Currently, the treatment is corneal transplant where a donor cornea is required and 25 stitches in the eye are needed. The risk of infection and rejection by the body is very high. The cornea lasts for six to eight years as the body’s immune system later attacks it.

NEW HOPE, NEW TREATMENT

Due to these issues, scientists have been looking at stem cells. The first phase of trials is being carried out at present on 10 patients at the LV Prasad Eye Hospital and the results have been very encouraging. With phase 1 to be complete by March 2015, and the results being encouraging, the hospital will involve 50 people in phase II of human trials. The system, once standardised after these processes, will be available for the public in three years time.

Stem Cell Banking from Teeth

human_teeth

Stem cell banking from teeth is gaining popularity in India among the people with poor health history or suffering from genetic diseases. The major reason behind; people feel it less painful and the safest of all methods. With stem cells creating the new milestones for a secure future all around the world, the technique of collecting stem cells from teeth is picking up fast in India.

Tooth stem cells are so powerful and strong that they can even regenerate a new bone. Milk tooth and wisdom tooth are full of stem cells, which can be preserved for years. Dental stem cells have significant medical benefits in the development of new medical therapies, and can help people with newly generated organs and bones. Health problems which can be treated through these tooth stem cells include diabetes, visionary problems, kidney, and liver problems.

At present, the pulp is being collected by the dentist and is sent to stem cell banks in Mumbai or Chennai for preservation. As 95 per cent of health problems in any society or world are tissue-related, and only five per cent are blood diseases, these tooth stem cells are able to regenerate both soft and hard tissues.

Retail sale of Oxytocin banned

oxytocin

The government has banned the retail sale of the controversial hormone drug Oxytocin by pharmacies to curb its misuse by dairy owners and farmers who use it boost milk production and plump up the size of vegetables and fruits. It is believed that those consuming such dairy products and vegetables and fruits are hit by irreversible hormonal imbalance.

The ban restricts the Oxytocin bulk drug manufacturers from selling it to only those with licences to make the drug formulations. The drug makers on the other hand can supply it directly only to veterinary hospitals.

Under Schedule H of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rule, 1954, the drug can be distributed on the prescription of a Registered Medical Practitioner only. Further, to avoid its bulk sale, Oxytocin injections are packed only in single unit blister packs.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone, secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. It is sometimes called ‘love drug’ or ‘boding hormone’ for its ability to enhance social interactions like maternal behaviour and bonding.

It is also called ‘birth hormone’ because it is responsible for distension of the cervix and vagina during labor facilitating birth. It is ‘milk releasing factor’ in female, helps in breastfeeding after stimulation of the nipples.

Meanwhile, Prof. Paul Alewood from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience has claimed that Oxytocin also holds the key to treat chronic abdonimal pain.

Stem Cells from dead can give Vision

Eyes

A group of researchers have suggested that adult stem cells taken from the donated eyes of dead people may be able to give sight to the blind. Tests in rats showed that the human cells can restore some vision to completely blind rats. The team at University College London said similar results in humans would improve quality of life, but would not give enough vision to read.

The research team extracted a special kind of cell called Muller glial cells. They are a type of adult stem cell capable of transforming into the specialised cells in the back of the eye and may be useful for treating a wide range of sight disorders.

In the lab, the cells were transformed into rod cells that detected light in the retina, and injecting the rods into the backs of the eyes of completely blind rats partially restored their vision.

Brain scans showed that 50 percent of the electrical signals between the eye and the brain made a recovery after the treatment. Researchers believe the cells might be able to help patients with disorders such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa.

[The study has been published in journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.]

Reversing Adult cell into Stem cell

Stem-Cell

The last big development in stem cell biology took place in Japan in 2006, when Shinya Yamanaka discovered how to convert adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), for which Dr Yamanaka shared a Nobel Prize in 2012 with Sir John Gurdon.

Now in 2014, Japanese research team, led by Haruko Obokata at Riken Centre for Developmental Biology, have discovered remarkably simple way to convert mouse adult cells to pluripotent stem cells, by treating them with dilute hydrochloric acid.

Methodology

The researchers exposed the haemopoietic adult cells taken from mice to a mildly (sub-lethal) acidic condition (pH 5.7) for just 25 minutes at 37 degree C. This environmental stress did not kill or damage the adult cells but surprisingly reprogrammed the adult cells to behave like pluripotent cells. This process is called Stimulus Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency (STAP).

The stem cells so produced exhibited pluripotency on the seventh day after exposure to stress. But unlike embryonic stem cells the STAP cells do not multiplied on their own. But the researchers were able to overcome this hurdle. By using a culture medium containing a particular hormone, the STAP cells were enabled to grow into colonies.

The STAP cells were found to be capable of contributing to both embryonic and placental tissue formation; depending on the medium in which they are cultured. Whereas even the embryonic stem cells (ES cells) do not contribute to the formation of the placental tissue.

Human cells could in future be reprogrammed by the same technique, offering a simpler way to replace damaged cells or grow new organs for sick and injured people.

[The study appears in the journal Nature.]

GM Plant for Fish Oil

camelina

A genetically-modified plant that produces seeds containing fish oils is set to be grown in crop-fields in the U.K. soon. The oils could provide feed for farmed fish but it can also be used as a health supplement in human foods. Fish oils – specifically ‘omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids’ – can cut the risk of cardiovascular disease and are a popular food supplement.

The fish oils that benefit the health of both fish and humans are called EPA (Eicosa-pentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosa-hexaenoic acid). Both EPA and DHA are not produced by fish themselves, instead they accumulates in body when a fish feeds on marine microbes like algae. Scientists recognized up to seven genes from algae that produce the fish oils and transplanted them into oil seed plants called camelina.

This GM plant has been developed by Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, England, in about 15 years. Now researchers are hopeful to get permission for field trials by March, which will be the first in the world to use plants to grow the special oils. Environment minister of U. K. will make the final decision after public consultations and advice from experts. Europe continues to close its doors to GM crops.

[Credit – Guardian Newspapers Limited]

Capturing the Body’s Energy

device

Researchers from universities in the U.S. and China have developed a microscopic device capable of producing power from the body’s organs, such devices in turn can be used to power other implanted biomedical devices, like pacemakers, heart-rate monitors and neural stimulators, eliminating the need for invasive surgeries to replace their batteries.

A group led by John Rogers at the University of Illinois has developed a flexible, piezoelectric patch that harvests the mechanical energy of a beating heart. The implant contains a film made of lead zirconate titanate (PZT) surrounded by gold and platinum electrodes. PZT is piezoelectric, meaning a voltage develops across it when it is bent. The output is used to charge a tiny battery integrated into the device, and the entire system is encased in a layer of polyimide to make it bio-compatible.

The researchers tested their device with both experiments and computer simulations. During experiments, they implanted the device on the hearts of cows and sheep and they found that the device operated at an efficiency of 2 per cent.

Implanted devices like cardiac pacemakers need about 1 microwatt to function, and last for some 10 years. Currently, such devices come with a built-in cell that produces this power, and requires replacement after the lifetime period. Stacking five of the PZT energy harvesters on an organ results a power-density of 1.2 microwatt/cm, sufficient to operate a pacemaker.

[Photo Credit: University of Illinois and University of Arizona]

First Plastic Cell

chemist

Chemists at Radboud University in The Netherlands have built the world’s first eukaryotic cell using plastic. Researchers created artificial organelles, which are the membrane-bound compartments of a cell that each have unique and important functions.

In order to make a complete cell, the tiny spheres mimicking the cell-organelles were filled with specific chemicals and placed inside a water droplet. Then the water droplet was covered with a polymer layer mimicking the cell wall. Using fluorescent dye, the researchers were able to show the reactions within the artificial cell took place just as they would in the body

Previously, chemists have managed to create artificial cell walls and developed synthetic DNA to produce self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cells. Now, for the first time, researchers have used polymers to produce an artificial eukaryotic cell capable of undertaking multiple chemical reactions through working organelles.

[Photo Courtesy – Synthetic Remarks]