The scientist in society  pg. 2

Understanding preimplantation embryo development, implantation of embryos in the uterus, postimplantation embryonic growth and how the placenta forms also will advance our knowledge in several basic physiological processes.

These include: paracrine and juxtacrine epithelial–epithelial interactions and epithelial–mesenchymal-extracellular matrix interactions, involving cell migration and invasion, the formation of blood vessels from bone marrow-derived precursor cells (vasculogenesis) and from pre-existing vessels (angiogenesis), and vascular permeability, as well as regulated growth (proliferation, differentiation, polyploidy and apoptosis).

These processes involve numerous signaling pathways that are common to many other systems under either normal or pathological conditions. For example, many of the characteristics and signaling pathways that are operative during early development are also active during tumorigenesis—the difference being that tight regulation occurs during pregnancy, while dysregulation of the same pathways occurs in tumorigenesis.

Another interesting area of research is the similarities in plasticity of both multipotent tumor cells and embryonic stem cells (ES). Both these cell types are profoundly influenced by bi-directional microenvironment for expressing specific phenotypes and are amenable to reprogramming. Therefore, understanding the intricacies of early development might help to better understand the complexities of tumorigenesis, and might one day reveal that “life and death are linked by a common thread.”

What are some of the challenges to making further progress?

The entire research enterprise in the United States is at a crossroad.

On the one hand, enormous technological advances have set the stage for ground-breaking discoveries, but on the other hand, dwindling federal research dollars for basic research make it difficult for scientists to take advantage of this opportunity.

In addition, federal, state and institutional bureaucratic regulatory burdens (for example, compliance with animal protocols and institutional review boards) are creating a tremendous stress on investigators and raising the levels of despair and frustration in them, resulting in reduced scientific innovation and productivity. Investigators are spending more and more time in writing and rewriting grants and addressing and untangling bureaucratic red tape.

Like adding salt to the injury, increases in research costs are passed on to investigators by institutional leadership in the face of shrinking federal research dollars provided through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Investigators, especially junior and mid-career scientists, are increasingly worried that they will be unable to put bread and butter on the table for their families if they fail to receive grants that provide a major portion of their salaries.

These are not the only challenges the scientists are now facing. Federal restrictions on human stem cell research in the United States are also hindering progress in a field that has enormous clinical applications in regenerative medicine and correcting genetic errors that lead to various diseases.

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