I am giving my first ever talk on the subject of Alexander Burnes on Saturday morning, as part of the Open Eurasian Literature Festival. You need a ticket, which you can purchase here for £11.21 and gives admission to the entire festival, which aims to connect people with an interest in the cultures of Central Asia. I am contributing at very short notice to support the endeavour, so I expect my audience will be pretty intimate, but I am not unhappy about that for my first stab at a lecture on this particular topic. If you are coming, I suggest you consider getting a copy from Amazon first to bring for me to sign, as pretty well everywhere else is out of stock (the book is reprinting again on Friday). The Yunus Emre cultural centre is at 10 Maple Street, London W1T 5HA.
The full festival runs from tomorrow for a full week, and whether you are reaching out to new cultures or reconnecting with familiar ones, it is well worth the effort.
I recently came across a remarkable testament to Alexander Burnes’ stature as an intellectual and a scientist, a facet of his character which has surprised many who have read the book. This article relates to a possible breakthrough in spinal cord injury research at Griffiths University in Australia.
Research supervisor at the university, Dr. Hames St. John, explains of this method’s impact on spinal cord injuries as, “Allowing cells to grow in this 3D format dramatically increases their growth and function and is particularly useful for spinal transplantation repair in which cells are transplanted into the injury site.”
Any proposed solution to spinal cord injuries is groundbreaking for the community because there is currently no single cure to remove paralysis after the spinal cord has undergone complete damage. And the number of people who stand to benefit grows everyday, with 12,500 new people experiencing injuries each year in the U.S. alone.
This promising approach to spinal cord repair stems from research on the transplantation of a specialized cell from the olfactory system. These are the cells that form your sense of smell.
“Successful partial regeneration of a completely severed spinal cord in a human was achieved recently in an overseas study, thus demonstrating this therapy can work,” says Mr Vadivelu.”What is now needed is to make the transplantation therapy more effective and suitable for patients with a range of different spinal cord injuries.”
This method of 3D cell growth means transplanted cells have a better chance of survival at the site of spinal cord injury, ultimately meaning better integration and overall more effective and rapid spinal cord regeneration.
The “floating marbles” mentioned above, are actually just liquid marbles and, according to Dr. St. John, are a remarkably simple way to culture cells in 3D. These marbles were observed nearly 200 years ago, by a British explorer named Alexander Burnes. As he travelled through Pakistan in 1830, he noted that while watching the Indus River merging with the sea, “round globules filled with water” could be seen floating on seawater, and formed when “the freshwater detached sand from the sand banks.”
Dr. St. John explained of his method:
“A droplet of liquid that contains the cells is placed upon a carpet of teflon powder to create a liquid marble which can then be floated on cell culture medium. By having an air interface between the liquid marble and the cell culture medium upon which it floats, the liquid marble easily rotates. This allows the cells within the liquid marbles to freely associate to form natural structures without the confines imposed upon them by other 3D culturing methods.”
Of course, this is still relatively new research, and it will be some time before it is being carried out on patients. It does, however, demonstrate promising advances in the field of spinal cord injury research.
Many researchers and techniques have been publicized in recent years, and with growing recognition and funding, even more time and money can be spent on similar techniques and ideas which may, in the near future, be a treatment you or a loved one experience on the road to spinal cord injury recovery.
The extraordinary thing is that Burnes made and wrote up this scientific discovery at a time when he was in great physical danger and seeing the apparent destruction of his career hopes, as his flotilla was being physically blocked from proceeding up the Indus by the Amirs of Sind. It is entirely characteristic of Burnes multi-faceted mind that he should behave in this way.
Doubtless I am doomed for the rest of my life to learn new things I shall wish I knew at the time I wrote the book!