As much as I love my career in design, some days I think life as a scientist would have been pretty freaking amazing too. The hardest pill for me to swallow is that in all my years of working as a designer in movies, there is almost a 0% chance that I’ve made this world a better place (cue the tearful violin section). Yes, of course art is essential to expanding not only our minds but our culture and civilization as well, but sometimes I think a scientist must get an infinite source of validation and pride in what they do for a living because of the massive impact their brilliant discoveries could have on our world. Take for example the work of a Japanese stem cell research team who were able to coax embryonic stem cells of mice into forming a 3-dimensional assembly of a retina — a feat of complexity miles ahead of any tissue that has been engineered in any lab up to now. Nature broke the story and interviews Robin Ali, a human molecular geneticist at the Institute of Ophthalmology in London who was floored by the Japanese lab’s breakthrough: “There’s nothing like it. When I received the manuscript, I was stunned, I really was. I never though I’d see the day where you have recapitulation of development in a dish.” Here’s an excerpt from the Nature story:
If the technique, published today in Nature, can be adapted to human cells and proved safe for transplantation — which will take years — it could offer an unlimited well of tissue to replace damaged retinas. More immediately, the synthetic retinal tissue could help scientists in the study of eye disease and in identifying therapies. The work may also guide the assembly of other organs and tissues, says Bruce Conklin, a stem-cell biologist at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, who was not involved in the work. “I think it really reveals a larger discovery that’s coming upon all of us: that these cells have instructions that allow them to self-organize.”
I’m trying to imagine the feeling these scientists must get when they achieve breakthroughs like this. Imagine finding out you just won the national lottery at the very same time you’re climaxing with your lover in the sunset waters off St. Barts at the very same time you achieve Buddhist enlightenment and start levitating above the crystal blue waters as a group of rare tropical butterflies lands on you bringing tides of peace of love. Needless to say, big congrats to the Japanese team responsible for this — and thank you for continuing to show the world the importance of stem cell research! You can read the full article at Nature.