Studying Stem Cells

September 15th, 2014 Comments off

The study of stem cells is fast becoming a popular and specialised area of expertise; propelled forward with advancements in technology and further understanding of biology, stem cell research promises to hold the key to curing many seemingly incurable diseases and injuries. This article will aim to provide an introduction to this particular field of study.

What are Stem Cells?

Most of the cells in our bodies have a specific purpose and that purpose cannot be changed, but stem cells are different, they can become any cell that is needed by the body. Stem cells fall into two categories: embryonic and adult. Most research is undertaken using the former, because it is difficult to differentiate between the types of adult stem cells that can be seen under the microscope. Adult stem cells are found within tissue that has already developed and it is their job to repair various parts of the body, by dividing and creating new cells. Embryonic stem cells are produced when an egg is fertilised and begins to divide; they can develop into any type of cell far more easily than adult cells, hence the preference for using them in medicine and research.

How are Stem Cells collected?

Adult stem cells are collected directly from our tissue, such as from bone marrow when treating leukaemia, whilst embryonic stem cells are usually collected from embryos that have been specifically grown in a laboratory – there is much debate over the ethics of this practise. There are other ways to collect the necessary cells and they include harvesting from “spare embryos” that are created via IVF, the umbilical cord shortly after birth and organs of an aborted foetus.

How are Stem Cells used in medicine?

Because stem cells can be altered to become any cell in the body, the potential uses for stem cells in medicine are astounding. At present, they are used to treat blood diseases and tumours; but there is research underway that looks at the use of stem cells in treating a wide array of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and even blindness.

For more information on stem cell research, visit the following websites:

Laminins: Advancing Research

September 11th, 2014 Comments off

A quick search online and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Laminins have some sort of religious significance, as the majority of the top search results make a connection between the cross shape of this useful protein and the Christian Cross.

Of course, this isn’t true, but after searching for the science, what does the information tell us about laminins?

This protein is present in the make-up of the basement membrane, which is a layer of protein found supporting cells in most of the body. This includes skin cells, lining cells and the cells of organs.

Laminin is involved in a range of processes vital to normal function at the cellular level, including development of the embryo, the healing of wounds, cell migration and differentiation, and cell adhesion.

There are at the minimum twelve isoforms that have been discovered so far, and the type of laminin will determine its role in cellular-level processes. For example, types 5, 8 and 10 can be found in the lining of blood vessels, so their function will be different to that of type 1, which mostly influences interactions in epithelial cells.

Now that we have more information on laminins, we can move on to the recent scientific breakthroughs regarding this protein that will help in cell culture research, amongst other things.

Advancements in Cell Culturing

There are two types of laminin protein that have been used in the advancement of culturing cells, which are normally difficult to culture using other substrates. These are laminin-111 and a combination of laminin-511 and 521, which are extracted from mouse sarcomas and human placenta, respectively.

Before, the problem posed by scientists was that it was very difficult to extract these isoforms from tissues due to cross-linking and the conditions required for extraction, such as a low pH.

This is where BioLamina comes in, a company that distributes, manufactures and develops reagents involved in the culture of cells. The problem of extraction was overcome by professor Tryggvasion – BioLamina’s founder – and his group by using human embryonic kidney cells to manufacture recombinant laminins, which allowed in vitro testing.

After this, it was only a matter of time before recombinant laminin would prove its usefulness. Indeed, in 2008 it was shown that stem cell could be grown on laminin for months at a time.

Today, BioLamina offers these recombinant laminins in the culture of stem cells and stands as the original and the first company to offer recombinant, full length laminins.

Becoming a Lab Technician

September 8th, 2014 Comments off

Are you thinking of becoming a lab technician? This can be a rewarding career if you have the right personality and aptitude. If you love science, want to work in healthcare, are capable of multi-tasking, and are willing to pay attention to small details, then this could be the perfect job for you.

There are many different types of lab technician (aka assistant technical officer), but the main focus with this career is assisting scientists to carry out tests and do research. Your responsibilities may include things like collecting samples, setting up equipment, analysing samples, recording data, and making sure the laboratory environment is kept safe.

Qualifications Needed to Become a Lab Technician

There is no official minimal academic requirement for getting work as a lab technician, but many positions expect you to have GCSEs and maybe even an A-level in one of the sciences. If you have a Higher National Diploma or Bachelor of Science degree, it will likely give you an advantage – although, this is one job where an enthusiastic attitude could impress interviewers enough that they choose you over a more academically qualified candidate.

Lab technicians receive on-the-job training, and this means you get paid while you learn. In the NHS, certificates are rewarded for mastering certain competencies, and these can be used later when applying for jobs elsewhere. There may also be the option to some formal accreditation such as National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).

Job Satisfaction and Career Prospects as a Lab Technician

An experienced lab technician will usually enjoy a high level of job security – there is likely always going to be a demand for this role. The starting pay is reasonable enough (around £13,500), and you can earn a lot more if you stay in this career long-term.

Working side-by-side with scientists can be enjoyable as well as challenging. Those who are suitably motivated can do educational courses to become a trainee biomedical scientist. Working as a technician may mean all this training is paid for by your employer, so it is a good way to gain qualifications if you can’t afford to go to university. There are also many areas where a lab technician can find work (e.g. cytology, histology, and biochemistry), so there is always the option to change to a new area if you get bored.