1) World In Pictures

A Hindu devotee offers prayers to Hindu Lord Shiva inside a temple during the Mahashivratri festival in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh. Hindu women across the country celebrate Mahashivratri, better known as the Lord Shiva’s wedding anniversary, in hope that their husbands will be blessed with long lives.
(Ajay Verma/Reuters)

A woman is silhouetted next to a solar panel display by solar module supplier Upsolar at the fourth International Photovoltaic Power Generation (PV) Expo in Tokyo. More than 600 companies in the solar energy business from 18 countries are taking part in the March 2-4 expo, which showcases firms and products related to photovoltaic power generation, according to the organizer. (Yuriko Nakao /Reuters)

Satellite eye on Earth – Guardian slide show – http://tinyurl.com/4pswg65

Ostrov Shikotan (or Shikotan-to) is a volcanic island at the southern end of the Kuril chain. Shikotan lies along the extreme southern edge of winter sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere. The island is surrounded by sea ice – swirling shapes of ghostly blue-grey. Although sea ice often forms around Shikotan, the extent varies widely from year to year, and even day to day. The ice in this image may have formed in a matter of several days, and it is prone to moving with currents. North of the western end of Shikotan, eddies have shaped the ice into rough circles. The eddies may result from opposing winds – winds from the north pushing the ice southward, and winds from the south-west pushing the ice toward the north-east. (Photograph: ALI/EO-1/NASA)

2) Excerpts from Black Petal by Li-Young Lee

The complete poem can found here – http://tinyurl.com/amzpwn

“I never claimed night fathered me.
that was my dead brother talking in his sleep.
I keep him under my pillow, a dear wish
that colors my laughing and crying.

I never said the wind, remembering nothing,
leaves so many rooms unaccounted for,
continual farewell must ransom
the unmistakable fragrance
our human days afford.”

“And when clocks frighten me with their long hair,
and when I spy the wind’s numerous hands
in the orchard unfastening
first the petals from the buds,
then the perfume from the flesh,

my dead brother ministers to me. His voice
weighs nothing
but the far years between
stars in their massive dying,

and I grow quiet hearing
how many of both of our tomorrows
lie waiting inside it to be born.”

3) Science

Stem cell research is an example of where science is creating new ethical dilemmas for many. At this point stem cells have only shown they appear to be effective in treating some medical problems in mice. Human trials seem a long way off at this point. If the day does arrive when stem cells can be used to cure blindness, deafness, and as the store below suggest, spinal cord injuries, than many will face some tough choices. The specific issue is the use of embryonic stem cells, stem cells from the stage in human development called a blastocyst, 4 to 5 days after fertilization.

Some religious doctrines hold that a blastocyst represents human life. Destroying one is a sin, muder. This would mean a person who believes this doctrine would have to choose between remaining blind, deaf, or paralyzed, or commenting a grievous sin, the taking of a human life.

The larger question is should our socities laws reflect religious doctrine? Should an Atheist be denied treatment to cure their blindness, or deafness, or ability to walk. Being an Atheist you know my answer. What’s yours?

A University of Rochester press release, http://tinyurl.com/68gjjwg :

“For the first time, scientists discovered that specific human cells, generated from stem cells and transplanted into spinal cord injured rats, provide tremendous benefit, not only repairing damage to the nervous system but helping the animals regain function as well.

The study, published today in the journal PLoS One, focuses on human astrocytes – the major support cells in the central nervous system – and suggests that transplantation of these cells may represent a new avenue for the treatment of spinal cord and other central nervous system injuries.

“We’ve shown in previous research that astrocytes are beneficial, but this study brings it up to the human level, which is a huge step,” said Chris Proschel, Ph.D, lead study author and assistant professor of Genetics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “What’s really striking is the robustness of the effect. Scientists have repaired spinal cord injuries in rats before, but the benefits have been variable and rarely as strong as what we’ve seen with our transplants.”

There is one caveat to the finding – not just any old astrocyte will do. Using cells known as human fetal glial precursor cells, researchers generated two types of astrocytes by switching on or off different signals in the cells. Once implanted in the animals, they discovered that one type of human astrocyte promoted significant recovery following spinal cord injury, while another did not provide any benefit.

“The study is unique in showing that different types of astrocytes, derived from the exact same population of precursor cells, have completely different effects when it comes to repairing the central nervous system,” noted Proschel. “Clearly, not all astrocytes are equal in regards to their therapeutic value.”

Proschel and study co-authors from Rochester and the Unversity of Colorado School of Medicine also found that transplanting the original stem cells directly into spinal cord injured rats did not aid recovery. Researchers believe this approach – transplanting undifferentiated stems cells into the damaged area and hoping the injury will cause the stem cells to turn into the most useful cell types – is probably not the best strategy for injury repair.

According to Mark Noble, Ph.D, director of the University of Rochester Stem Cell and Regenerative Medical Institute, “This study is a critical step toward the development of improved therapies for spinal cord injury, both in providing very effective human astrocytes and in demonstrating that it is essential to first create the most beneficial cell type in tissue culture before transplantation. It is clear that we cannot rely on the injured tissue to induce the most useful differentiation of these precursor cells.”

To create the astrocytes used in the experiment, researchers exposed human glial precursor cells to two different signaling molecules used to instruct cell fate – BMP (bone morphogenetic protein) or CNTF (ciliary neurotrophic factor). Transplantation of the BMP astrocytes provided extensive benefit, including great protection of existing spinal cord neurons, support for nerve fiber growth and recovery of movement and overall function, as measured by a rat’s ability to run quickly and easily with no mistakes over a ladder-like track.

In contrast, transplantation of the CNTF astrocytes, and of the undifferentiated stem cells, failed to provide any benefit. Researchers don’t know why BMP astrocytes performed so much better than CNTF astrocytes, but say multiple complex cellular mechanisms are probably involved.

An added bonus of the BMP astrocytes is that they didn’t have to stick around in the injury environment for very long to aid recovery. The cells came in, did their job and were gone, likely absorbed by the rats – a positive finding since transplanted cells that persist can lead to negative immune responses and raise the risk of tumor development.

With these results, Proschel’s team is moving forward on the necessary next steps before they can implement the approach in humans, including testing the transplanted astrocytes in different injury models that more closely resemble severe, complex spinal cord injuries in people.

According to Proschel, “In the end, astrocyte therapy is not going to be the golden bullet. Injured patients may need other transplants or drug therapy, and they will certainly benefit from intensive physiotherapy. But because of the multi-modal effects that we see with this astrocyte-based therapeutic approach, we’ve made a big leap ahead for spinal cord injury repair.”

“Studies like this one bring increasing hope for our patients with spinal cord injuries,” said Jason Huang, MD, associate professor of Neurosurgery at the Medical Center and Chief of Neurosurgery at Highland Hospital.

“Treating spinal cord injuries will require a multi-disciplinary approach, but this study is a promising one showing the importance of modifying human astrocytes prior to transplantation and has significant clinical implications.”