1) Why science research takes so long to find a cure, from Non Sequitur comic strip:

Two scientist in the lab.  #1 – “Woo hoo! I did it! I found a cure!  #2 – “That’s great Ralph.  Now what do we do?’

#1 – “Uh…what do you mean?”  #2 –  “Well, now that you found a cure our funding stops.  It will go to another department.”


#1 – Woo hoo! I just made a major breakthrough that will require lots more research! 

Okay, maybe you have work in a lab to get this.  However it may not be that far from the truth.  The competition for funding money is the same in science as it is in any business sector.

 2) Science picture of the week

Spring Comes To Mars

Spring has sprung on Mars, bringing with it the disappearance of carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) that covers the north polar sand dunes. In spring, the sublimation of the ice (going directly from ice to gas) causes a host of uniquely Martian phenomena.

In this image streaks of dark basaltic sand have been carried from below the ice layer to form fan-shaped deposits on top of the seasonal ice. The similarity in the directions of the fans suggests that they formed at the same time, when the wind direction and speed was the same. They often form along the boundary between the dune and the surface below.

From a slide show on the NASA site:


3) Two stories demonstrating that the promise of stem cell research is beginning to pay off.

a) At University College London scientists and surgeons have led a revolutionary operation to transplant a new trachea into a child, using the child’s own stem cells to rebuild the airway in the body.

The boy, who has not been named, is recovering from surgery but his condition is stable and he is breathing unaided.

He was born with a rare condition called Long Segment Tracheal Stenosis — a tiny windpipe that does not grow and restricts breathing.

Shortly after birth, he underwent a conventional trachea transplant at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH), but his condition deteriorated last November when a metal stent implanted in that operation began to erode into the aorta, a key artery, causing severe bleeding.

Scientists and surgeons at UCL, GOSH, the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, and the Careggi University Hospital in Florence, Italy, developed a new technique to treat the life-threatening condition. They stripped cells from a donated trachea, used it to replace the entire length of the damaged airway, and then used the child’s own bone marrow stem cells to seal the airway in the body.

Dr Mark Lowdell, Director of Cellular Therapy at Royal Free Hospital, received the donor trachea from Italy, and some bone marrow from the patient at the beginning of surgery. He and his colleagues prepared two different types of stem cells from the bone marrow together with some growth signalling chemicals and returned them to GOSH with the donor trachea.

Professor Paolo Macchiarini, from Careggi University Hospital,  applied the cells and the growth factors to the trachea in the operating theatre. Martin Elliot, Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UCL and Director of the Tracheal Service at GOSH, led the operation to repair the damaged aorta and implant the new trachea.


b) Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of biomedical engineering at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, become the first to grow a complex, full-size bone from human adult stem cells. Her team grew a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) from stem cells derived from bone marrow.

Because the TMJ is such a complex structure, it is not easily grafted from other bones in a patient’s body. Current methods of treating traumatic injury to the jaw include taking a bone from the patient’s leg or hip to replace the missing bone.

Her team started by analyzing digital images of a patient’s jawbone in order to build a scaffold into the precise shape of a TMJ joint. The scaffold itself was made from human bone stripped of living cells. The team then seeded the scaffold with bone marrow stem cells and placed it into a custom-designed bioreactor. The reactor, filled with culture medium, nourished and physically stimulated the cells to form bone. “Bone tissue is metabolically very active,” she says. Bone tissue develops best when it is bathed in fluid flowing around it. Vunjak-Novakovic and the team looked into the exact flow rates one needs for optimal effects. After five weeks, they had a four-centimeter-high jawbone that was the precise size and shape of a human TMJ.