DAVID GRANOVSKY

RUSSIAN PENCILS, IRON LUNGS AND GLASS HAMMERS

In STEM CELLS IN THE NEWS on October 8, 2015 at 12:40 pm
Don’t get me wrong. I love science. I am fascinated, jazzed and awed by what we can do with modern technology. It’s just that, every now and then, I feel like someone is really missing the boat and creating a very complicated solution for a simple problem.
TotheStars-matchbox-cover-1963
There’s a great story about how NASA spent millions to develop a pen which could write in zero gravity.  The punchline? The Russians just used a pencil.  Ironically, the Zero G Space Pen story isn’t true.  Lead pencils were used on all US Mercury and Gemini space flights and all Russian space flights prior to 1968.  In December 1967 Paul C. Fisher sold 400 zero G writing and NASA tested and approved Fisher Space Pens to NASA for $2.95 each.  He developed the Fisher Space Pen privately with his own money.  But is there something to learn here?  Are we missing the forest for the trees?  The pencil for the pen?  Are we overthinking and under working problems and coming up with solutions which are way more complicated than necessary?
iron-lung2
A TV show had this exchange:
JOEY:  “The Federal Government shouldn’t be directing scientific research.”
SAM:  “Why?”
JOEY:  “Because you stink at it. ‘If it was up to the NIH to cure polio through a centrally directed program. . . You’d have the best iron lung in the world but not a polio vaccine.'”
SAM:  “When did you get an M.D.?”
JOEY:  “I was just quoting Samuel Broder. . . . The former director of the National Cancer Institute.”
Sometimes we need to take a step back and view the problem, the whole problem, in a different way than we have been trained to, been conditioned to and been told to.
glass-hammer-and-nails
Imagine you needed a hammer.  So you went to a glass manufacturer to design and fabricate an awesome hammer. Why a glass manufacturer?
Maybe that’s all you know.
Maybe someone else told you you had to use them.
Maybe your were born in Plato’s cave and all you saw in front of you were glass manufacturers.

In any case, that’s where you went. So, after 8 years of research and $250 million you had the end all be all, most incredible, awesome-est unbreakable, high strength glass hammer in the world. Cool huh? What we can do is astounding… but at some point, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether we are over complicating the problem?  Couldn’t you have gotten a regular hammer from the hardware store for $12.92.  Or used a rock.  Or the heel of your shoe.  And saved 8 years and a quarter million dollars.

lnc-rna-small
There is an article called “Small Non-Coding RNAs Can Cross The Placenta, Scientists Say” based on the Nanjing University study “Li et al. (2015) Small Non-coding RNAs Transfer Through Mammalian Placenta And Directly Regulate Fetal Gene Expression”  In it, researchers claim that small exogenous RNAs from plants eaten by a mother can cross the placenta and affect fetal development.  Further,
“Exogenous small RNAs in food not only affect pregnant female, but influence fetus development as well. The dietary patterns of the mother will influence the fetus or even determine the postnatal health status. Dietary bias or other unhealthy dietary habits would also affect the fetus health by disrupting the balance of transplacental miRNAs or even cause a fetus—origin adult disease. This finding also reveals the possibility that maternal small-noncoding RNAs participate in fetal epigenetic regulation during pregnancy. Thus, the pathological status of the mother will result in an abnormal endogenous miRNA profile per se, which will also influence fetal health.”
Fascinating.  What Mom eats can change the gene expression in the fetus, possibly even causing ‘origin adult disease.’
 
So what’s my issue?
Professor Hu Yali, from the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital says:
“This finding also proposes a brand new potential strategy to treat fetal diseases in utero. Given that artificial synthetic siRNAs can transfer through placenta, we can try to use gene therapy to treat fetal disease by maternal administration,” Hu said.
 …
…or since small exogenous RNAs from plants eaten by a mother can cross the placenta and affect fetal development
…we could
…you know
…have pregnant moms eat more salads.
pregnant-woman-eating-salad

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