Is there a future for stem cell research in Kazakhstan, local scientists wonder keeping an eye on the West. The recent speech of President Nazarbayev gave some hope as the Head of the State instructed the officials to invest heavily into scientific research. The Head of the Family Medicine Center Ivan Korkan talked with a
Tengrinews reporter about the possibilities and realities of stem cell research in Kazakhstan.
Why stem cell research is crucial? “When our body is sick it starts sending SOS signals to all the other organs. Each of them helps in its own way: the heart quickens the heartbeat to nurture organs with more blood, oxygen and other nutrition, bone marrow “shoots” stem cells right into the sick organ. Injected stem cells have a similar effect,” he explained.
Embryonic stem cell allows growing any tissue and so it is considered one of the most promising areas of scientific research. “Certainly, the question of obtaining embryonic stem cells is a moral and ethical dilemma. I do not think that any scientist in Kazakhstan can get a license to work with human embryonic stem cells. Even though experimenting with animals is possible the desire and sufficient financing are not enough to advances in cell science if there is no cooperation with foreign, and in this case Japanese scientists,” Dr. Korkan said.
Progenitor cells that sometimes are equal to stem cells can be found in umbilical blood and placenta. Dr. Korkan said that there is an umbilical blood bank in Astana that can store blood for several decades. Stem cells extracted during childbirth from person’s umbilical blood can become a unique medicine for this person in the future. The Astana blood bank is one of hundreds of such banks in the world.
“There are stem cell research attempts in our country. For instance, mesenchymal stem cells (obtained from bone marrow and fat) are used for regeneration of connective tissues. But we have not got any serious scientific research in that area either,” Dr. Korkan added.
The Japanese counterparts have learned to influence embryonic stem cells to grow specific types of tissue from them. Specific markers are used to track the way a cell travels through the body to specific organs. “What's interesting is that with cell technologies it is possible to grow a new organ inside a human body. Today in Japan, thanks to stem cells, 8 people out of 10 who require a heart transplant are cured without a transplantation surgery,” the scientist said.
“Cell technologies have a great potential. But a doctor does not have a right to experiment (without a proper license). (…) Since science in our country has not reached the level of the Western science, I believe we should relied on the technologies that already exist. There is no point in spending tons of money when there are no results we can produce. It does not matter if we are the first, the second or the third to use a technology. We just have to “keep out finger on the pulse”,” Dr. Korkan said.
Earlier in February, an American scientist Shukhrat Mitalipov came to Almaty to give a speech about stem cells cloning done in the Oregon University. Mitalipov, a Kazakhstan national, is the first scientist who received a license to conduct experiments in that area. He believes that stem cells contain the secrets of eternal youth.
By Gyuzel Kamalova, reporting by Dmitriy Khegai