Renal failure is a condition that arises due to the inability of the kidneys to adequately filter metabolic wastes thus resulting in the excessive buildup of toxins (Pino & Humes, 2010). This disease can often manifest itself in various forms like an acute renal failure, chronic renal failure and sometimes even due to a genetic predisposition (Pino & Humes, 2010). The topic of study, Alport syndrome, is one such hereditary disease that occurs due to the mutations in Type IV collagen, also termed the COL4A3 gene (LeBleu et al. 2009). The COL4A3 gene provides instructions for making one component of type IV collagen, which is a flexible protein required for the formation of glomeruli that remove waste water and waste products in the kidney. No treatment treats Alport Syndrome as a whole (Wong & Rogers, 2009). If an individual with Alport syndrome progresses into renal failure, then the only recommended course of treatment involves diuretics, dialysis and in most extreme cases, allogenic kidney transplantation. However, none of these treatment options are permanent solutions. (Wong & Rogers, 2009). Research into stem cell therapy as a treatment option for renal failure is still a relatively novel practice. Since this practice is so new, the article by LeBleu et al. is one of the first to establish the use of different cell types for the treatment of Alport syndrome. This article was used to demonstrated that there is, in fact, a beneficial effect on the infusion of bone marrow-derived cells thereby eliminating the need for radiation therapy. The principal hypothesis of the primary literature is that bone marrow, blood transfusions or embryonic stem cells are capable of reversing the effects of renal disease by regenerating the missing alpha-3 chain of Type IV collagen (LeBleu et al. 2009). The experiments that were conducted include multiple infusions of Wild-Type bone marrow, simple transfusions from Wild-Type mice and embryonic stem cell transplantations. Mice were chosen as the test subjects for this study as the genetic makeup of mice closely resembles that of humans beings. The bone marrow infusions were performed on a litter of mice that had end-stage renal failure between the ages of 19 and 25 weeks of age. Four of the mice received the Col4A3 knockout mice infused with the wild-type bone marrow(WTBM) and the other three with treated with Col4A3 knockout bone marrow(KO). The final results suggested that bone marrow-derived cells in Col4A3 knockout mice were infused with Wild-type bone marrow, then it improved glomerular and tubular compartments. Finally, the bone marrow-derived cells alter the composition of the type IV collagen composition in Col4A3 knockout mice because these mice that were infused with the wild-type bone marrow expressed the missing alpha -3 collagen chain which was also associated with an increase in the collagen deposition.
Farinella, M. (2018). Science comics’ super powers. American Scientist, 106(4), 218. doi: 10.1511/2018.106.4.218
Le Bleu, V., Sugimoto, H., Mundel, T. M., Gerami-Naini, B., Finan, E., Miller, C, A., Gattone, II, V, H., Lu, Linge., Shield, III, C, F., Folkman, J., Kalluri, R. (2009). Stem Cell Therapies Benefit Alport Syndrome, J Am Soc Nephrol, 20(11), 2359-2370. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2009010123
Pino, C. J., & Humes, H. D. (2010). Stem cell technology for the treatment of acute and chronic renal failure. Translational Research: The Journal of Laboratory & Clinical Medicine, 156(3), 161-168. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2010.07.005.
Wong, C, J., Rogers, I. (2009). Cell Therapy for Alport Syndrome. J Am Soc Nephrol Review, 20, 2277-2284. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2009090915
The process of creating a comic was a first for me, let alone focusing on communicating a meaningful scientific concept. Science is in every aspect of our daily lives, however as the knowledge gets more and more advanced, it is essential to convey this knowledge with the general public. Despite efforts that have been made to communicate the new scientific knowledge to the public, there are still many who remain uninformed about the subject. Comic strips, however, are universal and can generate interest and even curiosity to its readers. Visualization, storytelling and the use of metaphors are the pillars of a strong and engaging comic. My comic was on Alport syndrome and how scientists have found innovative stem cell therapy that can prevent the use of dialysis and diuretics. One of the metaphors that I employed for my comic was “ the kidney is the filter of the body.” By using this metaphor, it conveys the abstract idea of the kidney’s role in our body in more tangible and accessible terms to a general audience.
Furthermore, the comic is written from the point of view of the kidneys, and it follows a chronological order starting from a healthy, young girl, subsequently zooming into the events that occur inside her body. Matteo Farinella, the renowned author of the popular Neurocomic, believes that the combination of narrative and visual communication have the potential to make scientific studies more accessible and engaging for a broader audience. As a visual learner, I always make it a point to watch videos and look at the images provided in the appropriate course pack to make sense of the scientific terminology that is printed beside them. Comics, therefore, have the ability to not only cater to the audience of ‘non-experts’ in the field of science, but also to academic learners, who are trying to gain more knowledge and understanding if complex inner processes. Any work of art takes time, and my comic took me a long time – right from conceptualizing a storyboard all the way to the final product, I can safely say that it was a tedious albeit delightful journey. The critical lesson from this project was that science involves a lifetime process of learning, and it is essential to develop creative ways to continually engage the general public so that we can be more informed as a society.