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RotM : Interview with Dr. Sonja Schrepfer

For this month's Researcher of the Month, we spoke to  Dr. Sonja Schrepfer, Professor of Surgery, at Division of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery, University of California San Francisco (UCSF).  Dr. Sonja is also the Director at TSI Lab at UCSF, which focuses on methods for preventing immunological rejection of tissue in heart and lung transplant. 
Dr. Sonja's recent publication in Nature Biotechnology, tells us about recent advancements made by her lab in generating derivatives from stem cells that avoid immunorejection in healthy recipients. 
CTS : For the benefit of our readers, could you please explain in brief what your team has achieved in this publication? Dr. Sonja Schrepfer (SS): Our team used CRISPR to create the first pluripotent stem cells that are functionally “invisible” to the immune system, a feat of biological engineering that prevents rejection of stem cell transplants and brings the promise of regenerative medicine a step closer to becoming reality. The immune sys…

An ant colony has memories that its individual members don’t have

Like a brain, an ant colony operates without central control. Each is a set of interacting individuals, either neurons or ants, using simple chemical interactions that in the aggregate generate their behaviour. People use their brains to remember. Can ant colonies do that? This question leads to another question: what is memory? For people, memory is the capacity to recall something that happened in the past. We also ask computers to reproduce past actions – the blending of the idea of the computer as brain and brain as computer has led us to take ‘memory’ to mean something like the information stored on a hard drive. We know that our memory relies on changes in how much a set of linked neurons stimulate each other; that it is reinforced somehow during sleep; and that recent and long-term memory involve different circuits of connected neurons. But there is much we still don’t know about how those neural events come together, whether there are stored representations that we use to tal…

5 reasons to start learning Chemistry today

Many of us hated Chemistry as school going kids. Organic, inorganic or what ever you call it, chemistry was a subject invented to trouble us. But in reality, chemistry can help you to find an explanation for so many things that happen in your body and around you. Chemistry forms a basis of understanding basic and applied sciences. If you really want to understand chemistry, you need to stop looking at it as a subject but instead as a way of life. For starters, let's forget about the complexities of its reactions and focus on the simple things that we do on a daily basis, that are filled with Quimica, (Chemistry. in Spanish)
1.      Cooking We are now consuming more processed foods as compared to some years ago. It is therefore important to know the ingredients of what you are eating, avoid the foods that may affect you negatively. If you know the chemistry behind your cooking, you can also use it to create a finger-licking meal. Isn't Molecular Gastronomy, all about that?


W…

Learning Laziness from Ants

Ants have always been the epitome of industriousness and team work.  Since childhood, we have been fed with stories where ants put in the hard work and are well rewarded in the end for their effort. Time and again, ants save the day because they are hard working. Ask the lazy grasshopper, if you do not believe me. But, that's not completely true. In a recent study published in Science Magazine, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, studied burrowing techniques of ants and found that 30% of the ants actually do the work. This might just be the reason, you have been looking for, to justify your lazy attitude but before you harp on it, do read this post to know why ants do so. 
Like humans, ants, too, are social insects and do their work collectively.  Division of work is common phenomenon in the ant society and so is movement of individual units to and fro from home to place of work. Problems of the social structure should affect ants in equal measure as they affect h…

What is eDNA and can we find the Lochness Monster?

Recently, an international research team led by University of Otago’s Professor Neil Gemmell made headlines by announcing that they would be looking for signs of the Loch Ness Monster's DNA. While the work seems fanciful, the science being used is very real. Scientists, researchers, and businesses are using a new technology known as environmental DNA (eDNA) for a number of applications beyond the hunt for a mythical creature, like detecting hard-to-find species in aquatic ecosystems and determining the prevalence of said species, without having to trap or visually count the animal.  
eDNA works by taking advantage of a simple fact: as living organisms move through their environment, they shed genetic material in the form of DNA. This material lingers, providing insight into the past and present of the creature that left it behind. 


According to an article in Scientific American, farmers in New Jersey and New Hampshire are using eDNA to combat the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug by detect…

Recent advances in cancer treatments

As per estimates of American Society of Clinical Oncology, 14 million people worldwide will learn that they have cancer this year and 9 million will lose their lives. Their estimates for the year 2030 are even worse and present an alarming situation for cancer patients and their families. We have been hearing about personalized medicine for many years now but the last year or so, there have been some great advances that have made their way from research labs to real world clinics and with regulatory approvals. Here is a look at some recent advances in cancer treatments. 
Traditional cancer treatment use the chemotherapy approach that bombards the body with cytotoxic drugs and has a 50-50 chance of killing normal as well as cancerous cells.As treatments improved, we moved to drugs that inhibit the growth of cancerous cells, typically the Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors (TKIs). As our understanding of cancer has improved, the approach has changed from trying to find a cure to leveraging o…

Use CaRROT to turn on/off genes

Genetic modification is a hugely debated subject as well as a highly interesting one. Being able to genetically modify a plant or an animal (humans included) is a huge achievement towards understanding our genes and their function. Over the past few years, CRISPR- Cas9 has been in the news for the simple reason that the technology allows labs to easily edit genomic sequences in live cells. The simplicity of the technique lies in the fact it requires a CRISPR associated protein 9 (Cas 9) and a single guide RNA (gRNA) to edit the region of your interest. 
The technology also brings with it the promise of curing genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia, beta-thalassemia and cystic fibrosis, among others. Many privately funded labs are already in the race to design and manufacture CRISPR-Cas9 derived therapeutics that could make genetic diseases a thing of the past.CRISPR-Cas9, however, has its limitations. For one, the editing that it can easily bring about, is not very specific,…