Stem cell breakthrough opens new medical window

Updated 09 October 2012
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Stem cell breakthrough opens new medical window

THE Nobel Prize-winning discovery of how to reprogram ordinary cells to behave like embryonic stem cells offers a way to skirt around ethical problems with human embryos, but safety concerns make their future use in treating disease uncertain.
While researchers have already applied the scientific breakthroughs of Britain's John Gurdon and Japan's Shinya Yamanaka to study how diseases develop, making such cells into new treatments will involve a lot more checks.
Stem cells act as the body's master cells, providing the source material for all other cells. They could transform medicine by regenerating tissue for diseases ranging from blindness to Parkinson's disease.
Creating embryo-like stem cells without destroying embryos gets round a key controversy by avoiding the need to process embryos left over at fertility clinics — a system that has led to political objections in the United States and elsewhere. Reprogrammed cells — known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells — offer an ethically neutral alternative. They have been a source of intense research since Yamanaka discovered their potential in 2006, building on work that Gurdon did in frogs and tadpoles 40 years earlier.
Recently, however, different research groups have noticed problems with iPS cells, suggesting they may not be as good as embryonic ones. In one study, iPS cells died more quickly and another found multiple genetic mutations, raising concerns that they could cause tumours.
Despite this, Japanese researchers hope to test iPS cells in clinical trials for a form of blindness as early as next year - catching up with recent successful eye trials using embryonic stem cells.
Researchers in the West are generally more wary.
“There is a bit of a divergence between Japan and the rest of the world on this,” Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, told Reuters.
“Scientists in Japan are trying to move very rapidly towards clinical trials of iPS cells, whereas many of us still feel there are a lot of issues to overcome, especially in terms of safety.”
The future potential for reprogrammed cells is that they could be taken from sick people who could have their own "person specific cell replacement" to mend damaged organs or tissues.
But key worries include the fact that iPS technology involves using genes which could also be tumour-inducing in some circumstances and that other as-yet undetected problems might crop up after the new cells have been put into patients.
Gurdon played down such worries and said regulatory authorities and governments should take a step back and let patients assess the potential benefits and risks for themselves.
"If you explain to a patient what can be done, and what might be the downside - then you should let the patient choose. Don't have ethicists or ... doctors or whoever say you may or may not have replacement cells," he told reporters.
Experts agreed that the pioneering work by the two new Nobel laureates had changed the field of stem cell research.
"What's grand in this discovery is that these specialized mature cells can rewind in their development and become stem cells," said Urban Lendahl, chairman of the Nobel awards committee.
Still, many experts believe the true promise of iPS cells is as unique research tools, rather than necessarily forming the basis of new medical therapies.


Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

Updated 18 November 2018
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Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

  • Pakistan digital growth is supported by population and increasing penetration of internet, IT experts
  • Prime Minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom to meet next week to draw comprehensive policy

KARACHI: Destine to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030, Pakistan, supported by a growing population, fast growing business and increasing penetration of Internet, is poised to grab first position among the digital economies, Information Technology (IT) experts say.
US technology giant, Google, says Pakistan is quickly becoming a “digital-first country”, which means there are new opportunities for brands to reach and engage with consumers that may have previously been overlooked.
“It shows that Google has realized the marketing potential of the country and they are now encouraging businesses to focus on Pakistan as a potential market,” Badar Khushnood, vice president of growth at Fishry.Com and vice chairman of [email protected], commented.
According to Google, there are five reasons for “considering expanding your digital campaigns into Pakistan”.
Pakistan’s growing population is the first reason that makes the country attractive for the foreign and local investors to venture into the IT sector.
“Pakistan has a population of more than 202 million people, which means there are lot of potential consumers coming online every day. And the country is even more urbanized than neighboring India, with nearly 40 percent of total households living in cities,” writes Lars Anthonizen, head of large customer marketing, South Asia, Google.
Pakistan’s economy grew by 5.7 percent in fiscal year 2018. HSBC in is recent report published in September 2018 has projected Pakistan to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030.
Around 90 percent of the companies in the country are SMEs which are contributing more that 40 percent to the country’s 313 billion economy, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
Third attraction, according to Google, is the country’s growing smart phone users. Pakistan has 152 million cellar subscribers, and 60 million 3G/4G subscribers, according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
This number will likely grow quickly as smart phone prices have dropped over the last few years. Pakistan also has some of the cheapest data prices in the world, which is helping to grow mobile app usage, according to Google.
However, experts say more work is needed to be done to fully utilize the existing potential. “We need to work on optic fibers, penetration of 4G, creation of data centers, telecom infrastructure and most importantly creation of awareness among masses,” Pervaiz Iftikhar, a member of the newly formed prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s overall Internet penetration stands at 29.9 percent with 62 million broadband subscribers, a fourth attraction for the investor, as per Google. In spite of this, digital consumption in the country continues to grow quickly. YouTube watch time, for example, has seen over 60 percent growth over the last three years.
The Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the largest Chinese investment venture in Pakistan with around $62 billion, a fifth reason to look toward Pakistan.
The mega project under BRI is not only limited to the infrastructure and energy sector but it is also contributing to the growth of the IT sector in Pakistan.
“One of the first CPEC projects is to lay 820 kilometers of fiber-optic cable, connecting more Pakistanis to the Internet. This is in addition to ongoing investments in 3G and 4G network expansions from China Mobile, and the company has already announced plans to invest another $225 million in 4G expansion (bringing its total investment to $2.4 billion),” writes Lars Anthonizen.
“We have to connect every village through fiber optics that will not only create thousands of jobs but would multiply opportunities for the IT business countrywide,” Pervaiz Iftikhar added.
“A lot of potential exists in the IT sector of Pakistan with the young population turning to computers, smart phones and other digital means, and the country offers big market for local and foreign investors”, Jehan Ara, another member of the prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom and president of [email protected], commented.
Badar Khushnood, who is also former consultant of Google, Facebook and Twitter, called for comprehensive policy for the growth of the IT sector.
“Taxation systems should be rationalized, simplified, and encouraging for startups. The country also needs data protection laws, and broader cyber laws,” he added.
The first meeting of the prime minister’s Task Force on IT and Telecom is expected to be held next week in Islamabad. “Comprehensive strategy including short term and long term measures would be discussed in the upcoming meeting of taskforce because country needs a policy for the persistent growth of IT and Telecom sector”, Pervaiz Iftikhar informed.