Stem Cell Research - Inside the Lab

by Andrea Darby - Master Medical Tattooist & Industry Educator
Inside the Lab

ParaMedical Tattooists are often asked to provide a Cosmetic/Camouflage services for clients in situations where the various medical treatment options have been exhausted, meanwhile back in the lab scientists are looking for more permanent solutions.

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Most Medical/Para-Medical Tattooists have some interaction with the medical profession in relation to the clients/patients that we see but primarily our role is to provide cosmetic/camouflage options in situations where the options for medical treatment have been explored by the patient and the medical options were either inadequate or unsuitable for the needs of the patient.

As an experienced Medical Tattooist I often refer clients to their doctor or to a cosmetic physician in circumstances where I feel that the client has not adequately explored medical treatment options or because the situation is outside of my own expertise. Equally various members of the medical profession often refer patients to me when the options for medical treatment have been exhausted and Medical Tattooing or Medical Camouflage Makeup is considered to be the best available alternative option for the patient.

Cosmetic & Medical Tattooing are very intimate services, clients are sometimes so overwhelmed with emotion due to the changes in their appearance after a treatment that they become tearful and ask if they can hug me or feel the need to bring a gift on their next visit to express their gratitude, I am sure that health professionals experience the same from patients whom they have helped.

Behind the scenes there are a groups of incredible people working in research laboratories searching for ways to help others, often these scientists never have any contact with the patients who are the beneficiaries of their years of dedicated hard work. In fact most people never have any contact with research scientists other than reading about their accomplishments in journals and news articles.

There are some key areas of medical research that hold the promise of dramatic advancements in treatment and prevention of some of diseases that have eluded conventional medicine, in particular stem cell research holds the promise for a broad range of conditions including leukaemia, cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, androgenic alopecia, vitiligo and a range of auto-immune diseases to name but a few.

Stem cells are found in all but the smallest single cell organisms and they are capable of dividing via mitosis (split into two identical cells) and then differentiating into a very diverse range of specialised cells that perform discrete functions within the body. During our early development in the womb embryonic stem cells help create our specialised organs and other body structures, during adulthood our blood, bone marrow and fat tissue all contain stem cells which together with progenitor cells help regenerate, repair and restore those parts of our body that require constant maintenance.

In 2012 Shinya Yamanaka from Japan won the joint Nobel prize in the category of 'Physiology or Medicine' with the invention of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Yamanaka discovered that any cell from the body could potentially be placed into a reverse stage of their evolution by using genetic engineering, the result is that any cell could potentially be converted into an embryonic-like stem cell. The hope is those cells could then be manipulated to form any other cell in the body perhaps leading to groundbreaking treatments for a plethora of conditions and treatments for debilitating injuries.

Even the cosmetics industry has become excited about the potential use of stem cell research with the inclusion of extracts of the rare Swiss apple Uttwiler Spatlauber in high end exclusive new facial creams. It was discovered that the apple, which was well-known for its excellent storability, had high levels of plant stem cells in the region of the skin and the cosmetic industry quickly began cultivating this rare variety of apple for use in skin protective and anti-aging preparations.

To gain a deeper understanding of how stem cells evolve and differentiate scientists have been studying various members of the plant and animal kingdom in an effort to learn the mechanisms at work within the tiny inner world of the cell using all the tools available within the field of molecular biology.

Australia has been at the forefront of the scientific research in this area, notably the European Molecular Biology Laboratory Australia (EMBL) which is the hub of the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University, has teams of dedicated scientists from several countries including the USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Cuba and of course Australia.

It was not surprising that when Andrea Darby was invited to tour the EMB Lab that I jumped at the chance to see the inner workings and speak with the scientists who work tirelessly to find small pieces of the puzzle that may lead to solutions to some of our most vexing problems.

Juan Silva who is originally from Cuba and has worked in scientific research in both the USA and Australia explained how the EMBL teams are searching for clues as to what influences a stem cell to differentiate into different types of cells, their current focus is a natural protein named Oct-4 which is believed to be an intimate part of the stem cell evolutionary journey.


Juan Silver & Andrea Darby

Andrea Darby & Stem Cell Researcher Juan Silva from Cuba

To study the mechanisms at work stem cells from small zebra fish eggs are tagged with the florescent genes of a jellyfish which enables the scientists to map the progression of the cells over time using an impressive laser microscope worth a reported 1.5M, the microscope floats on a cushion of air to reduce vibrational artifact from affecting the ultra-precise images that are created.

Juan Carlos Fierro-Gonzalez Working at the Laser Microscope
Research Fellow Juan Carlos Fierro-Gonzalez working with the laser Microscope
Scientists have the coolest toys!

The highest standards of ethical practice are observed by the EMBL teams during their work and we were thoroughly impressed with the professionalism of each of the scientists that we met as we progressed through the various stages of the study within each discrete area of the lab.

Zebrafish Tanks Within the Lab
Tanks Within the Lab

The mention of stem cell research sometimes invokes debate and controversy regarding religious, philosophical, ethical and political ideology, but teams such as those working at Monash are proving that this important work can continue within the constraints of all of those concerns. Their work is painstaking and is likely to span many years but eventually it may lead to new treatments for our clients, our patients, our friends and family members, and perhaps even ourselves.

It was an absolute privilege to have the opportunity to thank them first hand for their dedicated work.


Date of most recent revision: 03/06/2013 (mutatis mutandis)
Original publication date: 03/06/2013

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