Cells are the basic entity of all living organisms. Cell Biology, previously known as cytology, is the field of Life Sciences that deals with studying different aspects of cell structure and function. Some areas that Cell Biology addresses are cellular components, responses under different conditions, their functions, regulation of cellular processes, intercellular communication, cell multiplication, growth and death.
Cell Biology is an interdisciplinary subject typically studied in conjunction with other subjects such as Genetics, Immunology, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. It focuses on the cellular study of all things living, starting from simple unicellular organisms, such as bacteria, to complex multicellular organisms including humans. It opens the door for many types of specializations, including Developmental Biology, cancer research and Neurobiology.
Applications of Cell Biology: Finding Cures For Incurable Diseases
In spite of great medical advancements, many conditions such as obesity, infertility, cancer, erectile dysfunction, AIDS and congenital defects are not completely understood and incurable. Scientists need to gather extensive information about various cellular mechanisms in order to develop successful therapeutics and treatment strategies, including novel applications such as RNAi therapeutics.
Cell Biology throws light on the way our bodies function at the microscopic as well as molecular levels. It aims at understanding the fundamental principles of the occurrence of medical anomalies such that appropriate therapies can be developed and practiced.
One of the impressive applications of Cell Biology is cloning, which is the process of creating exact replicas of living organisms or tissues. Creating copies of endangered species, beloved pets and body parts are some advancements of cloning. For instance, a small part of healthy skin from an otherwise severely burnt patient can be cloned to create a large mass of healthy skin. The new skin cells can then be grafted on the burnt areas without running the risk of graft versus host rejection. Similarly, cloning experts are providing a ray of hope to those suffering from severely mutilated/malfunctioning body parts. However, the long term impact of cloning remains to be studied and is replete with ethical questions.
Cell Biology Experimental Equipment and Methods
Knowing that most cells and cellular parts are microscopic, commonly used techniques in cell biology are polymerase chain reaction (PCR), lipid transfection, cell based assays, cell culture, electroporation and immunofluorescence. These techniques have been standardized over the years so relevant protocols and optimized reagents are easily available, as well as being commercially available cell biology services.
When performing histological stainings, cells are viewed using a variety of different microscopes such as an inverted microscope, electron microscopy, fluorescent microscopy, confocal and bright field microscopy. All of these offer state-of-the-art imaging to view events at the cellular level.
Other applications of cell biology are in realm of biotechnology, where the ability to control protein and mRNA expression have allowed the development of many new types of therapeutics. Not only are these techniques important for the production of therapeutic proteins and vaccines but they also enable the study of antibody generation, gene regulation, protein-protein interactions and protein structure. Proteins are often mass produced intracellularly for research purposes and industrial use and include production of viral subunits, antibodies and gene therapy vectors.
In November 2007, researchers developed cells similar to the human embryonic cells using differentiated adult human cells. Because this process does not use actual embryonic cells, it circumvents the ethical questions associated with using human embryonic cells. More scientists tend to favor this technique because it is cost-effective and directly translates to doctors in the future being able to treat patients simply by transforming their own healthy cells into a replacement for the malfunctioning tissue types.
Development of nano-machines is one of the latest trends in Cell Biology. The creation of super small components focuses at extremely precise, targeted drug delivery such that only the diseased cells receive treatment. Thus, surrounding healthy cells are not affected in the manner currently happening in chemotherapy treatment.