BOLAND CELL'S STEMCELLS
The biotechnological relevance of human stem cells is reviewed. A lot of information exists on the application and origin of human stem cells and will not be repeated. Most of what has been written was compiled by hungry journalists of tabloids, and persons who have never seen the inside of a laboratory or have actually seen a stem cell in culture. This is the main problem and impacted negatively on biotechnologists. On the other hand, there have been the unscrupulous scientists who have been exploiting the human embryo. It is a highly charged and emotional topic enjoying debate in government ranks around the world and the whole issue is highly politicized. Scientists have been banished edged-out or side-lined, and laboratories closed down or over-regulated.
Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines stem cells as '" any precursor cell. and has pluripotential development potential". Langman's Medical Embryology emphasizes the importance of the stem cells during organogenesis of human development. The same reference tells us about the gastrulation and the importance of the germ layers ( ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm). Stem cells have enormous potential to renew and regenerate. This has great application in anti-aging.
Controversies of stem cell transplantation :
- In-vitro fertilization in man resulted in excess embryos. This opened the doors for scientists to exploit and study human embryonic cells. Many stem cell lines have been established and registered for proper use. Blastocysts render stem cells available for study. This is in the first week of human development. The danger is that this opens the door for the development of designer-embryo's and exploitation of poor countries and peoples ( especially woman) , much the same as the trafficking with human organs for transplantation. In the case of the blastocyst, cells of the inner cell mass are called the embryoblast. This is where the delicate stem cells are harvested from. Ethical problems have arisen because of designer embryo's. Also the cultivation of embryonic tissue for tissue harvesting is a problem. When does life occur? Cells in culture are living cells. That would mean that life exists as early as 7-8 days according to BOLAND CELLS . Not all will agree with this. One does not have to have a functional brain to have life. If cells grow in culture, then the cells are living.
- The use and study of human embryonic cells therefore is problematical for the moment. Adult stem cells ,such as myoblasts ( for the treatment of cardiac failure in otherwise hopeless cases) have been subjected to clinical trial. Patient survival is now available at 10 years. Results are promising. Commercial greed has also clouded the application of adult cells.
- Human cells cannot be patented. The ex-vivo process can be patented but will date quickly. Commercial labs are only after proprietary and profit and not interested in academic aspects. Cash generation and flow is important to ensure survival. But no new innovative work, of note, can really come from commercial labs, regarding cell therapy, because academic expertise is situated in Universities. Without academic expertise there will be no new innovation or growth. These are basic issues that are over-looked and not considered by investors. Labs that only do research in the private sector are non-viable. Returns on invested money is imperative. Stagnation and irrelevance becomes the issue with time, if profit cannot be shown.
- Pharmaceutical companies have not really supported the cell industry. They see no returns because tablets and capsules are not produced. And the cells belong to the patient, so there is no control by private enterprise.
- University faculty and aging academics have fallen behind with stem cell research. Almost all aging professors have never been in a laboratory since their 2 nd year at university. Most could not even identify a red blood cell under a microscope. Reaccreditations of all professors and academic staff on ethical committees should be made mandatory and statutory, to maintain standards of a university and to gain respect from researchers, both at top and lower levels. Like the ongoing accreditation of surgeons or air-line pilots. It is a must. Ethical committee faculty should rotate through laboratories as part of ongoing CPD to find out how labs function. If not willing, they should be retired, and younger more willing staff appointed. Older, grey-haired professors stymie research and block new innovative thinkers, and are often out of touch with the functioning of laboratories. This leads to delays in evaluation of research protocols and more beaurocracy. Executive stream-lining is needed. On the other-hand, standards at universities have to be upheld to maintain the credibility of the institution. But not at the cost of researcher frustration. Public demand this. Clinical experience and wisdom is not sufficient. Ongoing experience in research at executive level is needed and demanded by researchers. And professors must have enough recent scientific publications. Not all do, sadly. This is to the detriment of an academic institution. The output for the previous 5-years should be carefully assessed by top researchers. Professors with no publications for the previous 3-years should be barred or retired. Ongoing research output is important by persons that hold such positions. Persons without doctorates should never be appointed to the position of professor in academia. Personnel without doctorates should never be allowed to examine younger scientists supplicating for PHD'S. They become jealous and personal issues arise to the detriment of students. All examiners of doctorates should have a PHD. There should be no exceptions and is the only way to ensure standards in universities. There are many such examples. Also, unqualified academic staff does not help the assessment of a protocol on stem cell research. Under-trained personnel cannot give opinions on advanced aspects such as stem cell research or laboratory work. Theoretical knowledge is insufficient, and frustrates scientists and supervisors. Academic staff, not associated with laboratory work should be barred from giving opinions on such issues. Re-training of academia is needed to keep up with these new issues. More back-ground is needed. Research quality assurance of aged professors is needed in universities.
- Ref: Stem cell research, D.F du Toit. SADJ September 2006, Vol 61, no 8, pp 334 ( Invited editorial on stem cell research).