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Stem cells, artificial organs, and the potential for a healthier future

If you’ve ever looked up human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in technical journals or textbooks, you have probably seen them defined as pluripotent cells derived from the inner cell mass of a 5 – 8 day old preimplantation blastocyst. In plain english, this means that human embryonic stem cells are immensely powerful and versatile cells that are carefully isolated from the interior of a fertilized egg, 5 to 8 days after fertilization and before said fertilized egg has had a chance to attach itself to the thickened walls of the uterus. The last part of the statement above is a bit misleading because it’s not like scientists are on constant standby ready to accost people and take their fertilized eggs from them after sexual intercourse. Rather, most human embryonic stem cells are derived from eggs that were fertilized using IVF (in vitro fertilization) techniques. First off, you are probably wondering what the heck “in vitro” means. Well “in vitro” is latin for “in glass” and back in the day, laboratory utensils and equipment were made of glass so in vitro fertilization of a human egg simply means the human egg was fertilized in a laboratory dish rather than in the fallopian tubes of a woman. And yes, you read that correctly… modern science has endowed us with the power to fertilize a human egg right in a laboratory dish provided that the right temperature and chemical conditions are present. These IVF derived embryos are then grown in a laboratory as they go through the multiple cellular divisions that would usually result in the formation of a full human being if it occurred in the womb. After 5 – 8 days of development, the fertilized egg takes the form depicted in the figure below due to multiple cell divisions and physical cell movements. At this stage, the fertilized egg or embryo is called a blastocyst and the tiny clump of cells within its fluid filled cavity is called the ICM or inner cell mass. This tiny clump of cells that we call the inner cell mass will eventually give rise to a full blown human being if normal development is allowed to occur in the womb. The inner cell mass is the source of the super versatile and powerful embryonic stem cells that you have probably heard about in popular scientific culture. Continue reading Stem cells, artificial organs, and the potential for a healthier future

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An ACL tear, and surgical repair

Ligaments of the human knee joint ACL: Anterior cruciate ligament PCL: Posterior cruciate ligament LCL: Lateral collateral ligament MCL: Medial collateral ligament
Ligaments of the human knee joint
ACL: Anterior cruciate ligament
PCL: Posterior cruciate ligament
LCL: Lateral collateral ligament
MCL: Medial collateral ligament
So… what exactly is an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)? Well, anterior means front, cruciate means to cross in a diagonal kind of way, and ligaments are tough fibrous bands of tissue that connect the bones in our human joints. So in plain english the ACL is a ligament in the knee which connects the thigh bone to the shin bone… it is situated close to the front of your knee and runs across the PCL (another ligament) in a diagonal kind of way. Make sense? If it still doesn’t, don’t worry… the figures in this article should elucidate further. The ACL is arguably the most important ligament in the knee joint. Its major functions are to resist excessive twisting or rotation of the knee, and to prevent the tibia (shin bone) from sliding too far forward underneath the femur (thigh bone) when one comes to an abrupt stop. This ligament is so important that without it, the average person’s knee would constantly “give out on them” while they perform seemingly mundane tasks. This super important knee ligament may be injured or torn due to a direct forceful blow to the front or side of the knee. ACL tears are common in sports such as football (soccer), and basketball where rapid acceleration, deceleration, and changes of direction are common. Continue reading An ACL tear, and surgical repair

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Be formless, shapeless… be like water

Water: The source of life on our planet.
Water: The source of life on our planet.
Since the invention of language, people have frequently used the qualities of inanimate objects to describe some of the most desirable human traits. “As good as gold”, “as solid as a rock’, “as tough as nails”, and in the words of famed ESPN SportsCenter™ anchor – Stuart Scott (may the good Lord rest his soul) – “as cool as the other side of the pillow”. These are a few examples of the general trend which uses the characteristics of inanimate objects as metaphors for desirable characteristics that we humans would like to embody. While all the above stated character traits are very desirable, it doesn’t take long to realize that attempting to embody the characteristics of any single one of the objects mentioned above is insufficient to live a fully balanced life as a human being. It is true that it is good to be as physically tough as nails if you are a martial artist who finds him or herself in a caged octagon opposite another person whose sole purpose in life for the next 25 minutes is to cause you as much pain as possible. However, that same physical toughness won’t really help you when it is time to have your first awkward conversation about sexual intercourse with your 13 year old son or daughter. Always being as “good as gold” could actually get you killed in the ghettos of Southside Queens, or fired in the corporate world… one must know when to be “bad” in order to survive in such tough environments. The above logic and rationale therefore begs the following question: is there any single inanimate thing or object that possess all the characteristics one can embody to aid growth in almost every area of life? I have pondered this question for many years and have picked the minds of some of the most philosophically brilliant people I know in search of an answer. As fate would have it, the best answer I could find to this riddle came from spending a Saturday afternoon watching video clips of Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali on YouTube. Allow me to share what I have settled on as a solution to this riddle after many years of thought, intellectual discourse with others who have gained my respect, and a Saturday afternoon spent watching video clips of icons in the martial arts. Continue reading Be formless, shapeless… be like water

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Sickle Cell Anemia: When red blood cells look like sickles

As a young boy growing up in Nigeria, football (or soccer as it is called in the United States) was a religion unto itself. Yes, all of us in my small group of friends endured long church sermons every Sunday but that was just because our respective parents forced us to attend them. While the priest or pastor talked about the virtues of being a devout christian for hours on end we were secretly plotting the dribbling moves we planned to execute on the dirt road which we had converted into an imaginary football stadium by my childhood home. We played barefeet using a deflated makeshift game ball and with a passionate intensity that was out of all proportion to the actual importance of the games. Our games were fiercely competitive and we loved it that way. We played each game like life itself depended on it… as if armageddon would ensue if our team lost and we had to wait another turn to play again. Although we were all pretty much soccer mad, one of the members of my childhood posse wasn’t allowed to physically play the sport. His mother expressly forbade him from playing football for reasons unbeknownst to us. For the sake of respecting his privacy, we’ll refer to this friend of mine using “Ade” as a pseudonym. Ade’s mother would frequently let him hang out with the rest of us under the strict condition that he was never allowed to actually play football or any other sport. Continue reading Sickle Cell Anemia: When red blood cells look like sickles