SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

 

Umbilical cord blood
A bio-insurance for all
Dr Rajeev Goel

In recent years, the promise of medical biotechnology has extended into the realm of disease therapy as researchers and physicians seek to develop new drugs and approaches to treat diseases. One such example of an innovative approach to treat debilitating diseases is to use umbilical cord blood, because it is a rich source of millions of unspecialised and immature cells called cord stem cells, the building blocks of life.

‘Kryptonite’ found
Kryptonite, which robbed Superman of his powers, is no longer the stuff of comic books and films.
A mineral found by geologists in Serbia shares virtually the same chemical composition as the fictional kryptonite from outer space, used by the superhero’s nemesis Lex Luthor to weaken him in the film “Superman Returns”.


Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL
In today’s world the most widely used numerical system is decimal. It makes it easy to count in multiples of 10. Then why is a minute divided into 60 seconds, an hour into 60 minutes and there are 24 hours in a day?

This important question is tied up with early exploration into the nature of this world. Discovery of the decimal system of counting numbers was a great discovery in mathematics. One could say it had not much to do with the way the world is constructed.

 

Top













Umbilical cord blood
A bio-insurance for all
Dr Rajeev Goel

In recent years, the promise of medical biotechnology has extended into the realm of disease therapy as researchers and physicians seek to develop new drugs and approaches to treat diseases. One such example of an innovative approach to treat debilitating diseases is to use umbilical cord blood, because it is a rich source of millions of unspecialised and immature cells called cord stem cells, the building blocks of life.

The cord stem cells have the amazing capacity to develop into all the other mature cells or tissues of the body, be it the liver cell, heart cell, muscle cell, skin cell or the cells of the nervous system, and are transplanted to replace the diseased cells. These lifesaving cells can treat a wide range of diseases like diabetes, blood cancers, heart diseases, Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, genetic diseases, such as thalassaemia and stickle cell anemia, degenerative disorders of the eye etc.

To get the stem cells, blood is drained off and collected from an umbilical cord. An umbilical cord is a tube which connects the unborn baby to the placenta and passes on the nutrient rich blood from the mother to the baby to keep it alive in the mother’s womb. The cord is generally discarded as a medical waste along with the placenta following the birth of a baby. However, with the discovery of the cord stem cells’ ability to treat various debilitating disorders, it is now no longer considered as a medical waste.

Advantages

Cord stem cells are presently seen as a great substitute for bone marrow (BM) transplantation because they do not require a perfect match of certain tissue proteins (known as HLA typing) between the donor and the recipient as is the case with the BM. This also leads to less rejection than BM transplantation.

With the availability of cord stem cells, one is also free from the hassle of arranging a matching BM donor. The cord blood, therefore, can be used not only for the child from whom it has been taken and stored in the cord blood bank but also for the siblings, the parents, the related family members and even for the unrelated individuals for treatment in case the need arises at a later stage in their lives. Cord blood is thus a great bio-insurance for everyone.

Cord blood donation is a little different from the routine blood donation but is highly safe, simple and painless without any harm to the mother and the baby. The baby’s birth is the only opportunity to save his or her cord stem cells. The prospective parents, therefore, need to decide at least three months before the birth of a child whether to save its cord blood or not. The decision should be conveyed to the physician/gynecologist for necessary arrangements.

The parents having a family history of genetic disorders or life threatening diseases may opt for the cord blood storage. However, one can save the cord blood even if there are no such high risk factors in the family so that it could be used for someone else. The blood can be collected both after the normal and cesarean delivery and its collection no way disrupts the normal activities of the obstetrician during delivery.

The process of collection hardly takes 10 minutes. The umbilical cord is clamped after the birth of the baby and the needle is inserted into an umbilical vein and the cord blood is collected in special bags. The blood is then transported to the cord blood banks and its stem cells are separated for long term storage at extremely low temperature at minus 190 degrees C). The cells remain alive at such low temperature for years together and could be retrieved later on in case the need arises.

Cord blood banking is, however, in its infancy and only 50 to 60 commercial cord blood banks have come up worldwide. One such bank in India is “Life cell” with the head office at Chennai and its collection centers at many places (Contact Numbers: Delhi: 011-29243320 & 29230087; Panchkula: 0172-4644322). One is required to pay both the collection and the long term storage fees which run in thousands.

Top

‘Kryptonite’ found

Kryptonite, which robbed Superman of his powers, is no longer the stuff of comic books and films.

A mineral found by geologists in Serbia shares virtually the same chemical composition as the fictional kryptonite from outer space, used by the superhero’s nemesis Lex Luthor to weaken him in the film “Superman Returns”.

“We will have to be careful with it — we wouldn’t want to deprive Earth of its most famous superhero!,” said Dr Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at London’s Natural History Museum.

Stanley, who revealed the identity of the mysterious new mineral, discovered the match after searching the Internet for its chemical formula — sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide.

“I was amazed to discover that same scientific name written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luthor from a museum in the film Superman Returns,” he said.

The substance has been confirmed as a new mineral after tests by scientists at the Natural History Museum in London and the National Research Council in Canada. But instead of the large green crystals in Superman comics, the real thing is a white, powdery substance which contains no fluorine and is non-radioactive. — Reuters

Top

THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL
In today’s world the most widely used numerical system is decimal. It makes it easy to count in multiples of 10. Then why is a minute divided into 60 seconds, an hour into 60 minutes and there are 24 hours in a day?

This important question is tied up with early exploration into the nature of this world. Discovery of the decimal system of counting numbers was a great discovery in mathematics. One could say it had not much to do with the way the world is constructed. But that would be wrong. Convenience of doing arithmetic in a decimal system must be closely connected with the fact that we have 10 fingers on our two hands. One can see its efficacy while seeing little children doing sums in addition and subtraction. Does the answer to your question have anything to do with another physiological convenience? Perhaps it does. But there is more to the adoption of this practice. This has to do with basic aspects related to rotation and revolution of the earth, happenings of day and night, length of the year and perhaps the number of full moons in a year. Passage of time has been measured from early times in terms of days and nights and then the movements of the sun and stars across the sky. Still longer periods were obviously measured by change of seasons and their repetition over a year, what we later understood as the result of revolution of the earth around the sun. Sundials were invented to define intervals of a day — this happened perhaps in Egypt first, may be also in China and many other places. These time intervals later, much later, came to be called as hours. Their number during the sunlit day could have been chosen as 12 for two possible reasons. There could have been a preference for the number 12 because that is the number of moon cycles in a year! Perhaps more practically for the purpose of counting this might have come from the fact that each of us has 12 finger joints on four fingers of each hand, while the thumb can be reserved for touch counting these joints, as we continue to do even now. Having defined the length of an hour we had the problem of choosing a unit for sub-dividing the hour. The number 60 could have been suggested because it is the smallest number divisible by all numbers less than or equal to six. That gave us the minute. After that it was natural to subdivide the minute a second time by 60 to get a second. It is clear that these definitions of time, whatever the names we have given them, owe their origin to earth movements and the related movements of the sun and the stars. On the other hand the decimal system had its origin in pure mathematics and perhaps the number of fingers on our two hands.

Top


HOME PAGE