Some of today's news will become historical landmarks in the future.
This is true also for science news. This section brings you some of this
history-making  SCIENCE headlines

Jan 27, 1999
Growing your very own cell garden
Did you ever hear anything about stem cells?
OK then,
Wouldn't it be great to grow new liver tissue in case your old one was too heavily damaged ?.
It certainly would but, sorry, millions of years of biological evolution have not been enough to develop that ability. On the other hand, a few thousand years of cultural and technological evolution added on top could be enough to master that trick.
    We are not talking about developing artificial livers. This time scientists are thinking about the possibility of growing specialized cells such as those found in liver tissue from non-specialized cells (stem cells) in a process somewhat similar to the one taking place during the development of embryos. These "master cells" are indeed at the root of human life. They are called embryonic stem cells and are  microscopic dots that grow inside weeks-old embryos before morphing into any of the 210 types of cells that make up a human body.
    Finding and controlling embryonic stem cells has been a Holy Grail of science. Understanding how they develop could prevent birth defects. These cells could grow huge tissue banks for safer drug testing. They might even grow replacement body parts. Livers or hearts cannot regenerate. But imagine doctors one day repairing heart-attack damage with a simple injection of cells to grow new heart tissue or curing diabetes by injecting insulin-producing cells.
    Excitement in the scientific community was understandably great in the fall of 1998 when researchers in Wisconsin and Maryland culled some of these mysterious cells and grew large supplies of them in  laboratories.
    Sound like science fiction? Look to Johns Hopkins University, where Dr. John Gearhart already has used the technology to grow fledgling human brain cells in his lab.

BUT. So far, scientists thought that only stem cells from embryos could be used in this new frontier of research on man-made cellular regeneration. The ethical implications were obvious, some ethicists showed concerns, and abortion opponents declared stem cell technology immoral and wanted it banned. On the other hand powerful patients' groups were demanding the research.

THE (most recent) GOOD NEWS IS that Science is progressing so rapidly in this new area of research that it might circumvent the ethical dilemma.
    In January 1999 researchers have announced  that adult mice harbor certain ``mature stem cells'' designed to replenish one tissue that can sometimes be recoded to grow other tissues. If humans have the same capacity, stem cells from embryos might not be needed. We could after all take some of our own stem-like cells and convince them to grow into our most beloved tissue. We would be growing our very own cell garden.

This headline was taken in part from:
Promise of 'Master Cell' Research
AP Medical Writer=

Dec.1, 1998
Connected the first two modules of the International Space Station
    The International Space Station (ISS)  is one of those headlines which will be around for a good while.  And will certainly make history. The first seed has been planted by coupling one Russian module (Zarya) and one American module (Unity) that orbit right now the Earth at 28000 Km/h, 400Km above our heads. It is just the beginning of a long process that should culminate in the year 2005. But the opening of the first room of this 'station with no definitive name' was certainly a celebrated event.
    Not everything is to celebrate though. The critical economic situation of Russia has been a continuous burden and has caused repeated delays. Some critical voices even proposed the cancellation of the project or the dropping of Russian contributions. Nevertheless the Russian experience in space has proven to be most valuable and the own strategic and corporate interests from the USA have finally prevailed in going ahead with this expensive but profitable enterprise.
    Once completed, the ISS will be the base campground for a wealth of new scientific experiments and discoveries which will boost our knowledge and achievements in materials science, biology, medicine and engineering, to name a few.
   On the other hand, this is not the first orbiting space station. The Russians Salyut 1 and Mir are important precedents. So, what is so special about it?. Well, this is the first one involving from the beginning a cooperation between the USA, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. It is a global project.

  Questions and comments to |  Last modified: August 24, 1999
©Pedro Gómez-Romero, 1998,1999

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