Գիտության ուժը, Թողարկում 2 / The Power of Science / Gitutyan uj

Գիտության ուժը, Թողարկում 2 / The Power of Science / Gitutyan uj

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The research activities of the Institute of Physiology after Levon Orbeli can be split into two main periods, the one preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the other following it. A major research center in the Soviet period, the Institute conducted scientific research in neurophysiology, particularly in brain research. It was already after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Institute had to make a shift from theoretical studies to more application-driven research to become one of the greatest research centers in the region. This is the most visible future, welcome to the program “The Power of Science”. Welcome to our world and let’s discover together what exciting scientific events, changes and developments are unfolding in Armenia. Let’s follow the scientists who complete complex scientific tasks and everything that has to do with the power of science, which is a mighty one. Before introducing my guest, I’d like to mention that animal models of neurodegenerative diseases, tissue engineering and toxinology are not completely new concepts in Armenia. What is new, though, is talking about them in this format. The power of science is on to discover interesting, unique and key people in research and the most promising areas of research. We are happy to host today Naira Ayvazyan, the Director of the Institute of Physiology after Levon Orbeli. Welcome to the program, Naira! Naira Ayvazyan was born on 19 November, 1973, in Yerevan. In 1995, she graduated from the YSU Department of Biology with a major in Biophysics. She is a Doctor of Biological Sciences and her research interests include Biochemistry, Biophysics, Neurochemistry, Toxinology. Naira has been the director of the Institute of Physiology after Levon Orbeli since 2012 and is also the head of the Laboratory of Toxinology in the same institute. She is the member of Federation of European Biochemical Societies, European Biophysical Societies’ Association, International Society for Neurochemistry, Organizing Committees of the International Union of Toxinology. Naira has published more than 100 research papers, among them one instruction manual and one monograph. Let’s welcome Naira Ayvazyan, who is our guest today. Naira is the head of the Institute of Physiology after L. Orbeli. Welcome to our programme. – Good evening – Thank you for promoting the power of science in your field and let’s join our forces. – Thank you, too. – Let’s start with a retrospective question. We know that in the Soviet period, the institute was mostly engaged with brain research and then slightly changed its research scope. Tell me what research was done at that time and progress was made. – We pride ourselves on our past research. The Institute was founded 75 years ago by Levon Orbeli at the same time as the National Academy of Sciences. Hovsep Orbeli, who is Levon Orbeli’s brother and one of the founders of the National Academy, had to seek his support in several institutes that were already functioning then and one of them was the Institute of Physiology. We already had a good research school and there was a network of famous physiologists, who could lay the foundation for the Institute. Over the past 70 years, in the Soviet period, our Institute did research into neurophysiology, dealing with the studies and pathologies affecting the brain and the nervous system. The research was initially started by Levon Orbeli. – The world still finds brain research challenging, as one of the most complex and inscrutable aspects of neuroscience. I wonder how much resource and bravery one would need 70 years ago to start this system. – The foundation for the system was laid back then. Brain research priority is increasing, as it helps researchers understand how people function. It is claimed that all disease starts and stops in brain. Researching brain also helps us understand its disorders. Levon Orbeli would send his students to Yerevan who would set up research laboratories and it was already by the time the Soviet Union collapsed that our Institute had become a leader in brain research. – What were our achievements in this field at that time and what were the research outcomes? – All high-level scientific events on brain research and brain physiology convened renowned scientists across Armenia, in Yerevan, Dilijan, and Tsaghkadzor. There were also annual schools, conferences, large-scale research projects. For instance, there was a project on cerebellum research that was done in our Institute throughout years. In the Soviet period, the Institute hosted all the projects with a focus on neurophysiology. – Ms. Ayvazyan, tell us why you decided to study the brain. – My background is actually in biophysics, a study that combines two greatest sciences about life: biology and physics. With sciences merging today and gaining an interdisciplinary value, biophysics also deals with neurophysiology and physiology on another level, say on a cellular level or on a molecular level. I have always been interested in this and this is where I have always envisaged my future. – If we imagine our life on a cellular level, we can see how complex and how interrelated it is. – As you put it yourself, brain is in charge of everything, our happy and sad moments, stress and diseases. Let’s discuss the post-Soviet years of the Institute. As we know, today the Institute is doing research in animal models of neurodegenerative diseases. Could you elaborate more on this? First, what does the term ‘neurodegeneration’ imply and what progress have we made so far? – As you suggest it yourself, one cell is already a microcosm and neurons, the nerve cells, especially human brain neurons, are the greatest mystery ever. When neurons in the human brain get affected, this leads to neurodegenerative diseases. Alzheimer’s is an example of a neurodegenerative disease. – We can call it a dementia case… – Another example is Parkinson’s disease, a condition that causes problems with mental functioning rather than physical one. These conditions mostly have to do with old age and have been long investigated in our laboratories. – Would you say sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease too? – Absolutely, there is systemic sclerosis, e.g. Alzheimer’s disease. There’s also multiple sclerosis and other similar disorders that can cause permanent damage of the nerves. – Ms. Ayvazyan, when we were set to set up this show promoting the power of science, we had some concerns that there would be so much theory involved that our viewers might find the program boring or might not understand it. I know that the Institute used to have a theory-driven approach to research, however, application is crucial to any science. – Indeed. – Let’s consider the progress we have made in the practical field and let’s talk about skin regeneration technology which is already in use in Russia. – In many other countries as well. – Exactly. – Back in the USSR, research institutes sought to develop the fundamental science, which would lay the foundation for other institutions, for example, medical centers, could develop the theory and make it more applicable. The key mission of science is to serve people, which implies its practical application at some point. Physiology would normally study the levels of organisms but the 21st century has set other requirements… – Requirements that change every single minute to cater to the trends … – Exactly, and especially in our field, where we have to catch up with everything. We have reached a new level and research is currently done on the level of tissues, cells, and cell cultures and this practice also implies application. For instance, we set up a laboratory of cellular engineering, tissue engineering in 2013, the main aim of which is not to identify methods of treatment but … – Regeneration? – No, skin replacement, when the affected tissue is removed and is replaced with a new and healthy one. This is of course a long-term goal and relates to organ transplantation. However, skin replacement is already a reality not only in developed countries but also in Russia. In case of burns, tissues engineered from artificial or biological particles can be a good replacement, sometimes even with no scars … – A particular skin area …. Does this mean that if we can’t prevent the burn you mentioned …? – Trophic and a range of ….. – Dupuytren’s disease, associated with skin contractions, if it cannot be cured or prevented, the tissues can be simply completely replaced by introducing artificial or natural cellular tissues. – Sounds fantastic! – It is fantastic, but it is real today. – This is already a reality, and of course today it mainly serves the serious injuries that occur when a person loses most of his skin and poses a direct threat to life. You know that burns, depending on percentage, endanger the life of a person, and therefore the ability to quickly restore this dam is a very important problem. In Russia, it works primarily in the field of the Ministry of Defense, which, I think, is very relevant to us as well. – Ok, how does it happen that it found its application and implementation in Russia, but not in Armenia yet? – First, the methodology is fairly new. We should be proud to have been able to attract our well-known scientists from abroad who have returned to Armenia and founded this laboratory. One of them is the head of the laboratory which is a great example of repatriation. We also have a good network and continue to consult with them. But as you know the purpose of the scientist and the research center is to bring the development of scientific applications to the state of product. In fact, volume of manufacturing is not the function of the research institute and it is beyond our power if there are no large-scale investments. – Yes, this is stark reality. If institutions are more or less able to provide the scientific and practical part with own resources or international financing, then obviously, the production and engineering is another area and this is totally different financial case. – This cannot be implemented under grant program. There comes the demand of an investor, who, unfortunately, is very easy to find in many other areas, but not here, as in this case the outcomes and benefits are not visible in a year. – Long-term – In long prospective: three, five years or even more… – We constantly emphasize that science is not about today, but about the future from today’s prospective. If we do not pose fundamental knowledge and research work, further, we will not be able to get applicable outcomes and developments. Shortly thereafter, we will continue our conversation with Naira Ayvazyan, and at this point we suggest to visit the Institute of Physiology after Orbeli for more information. The Institute of Physiology of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia was founded in 1943. Since 1959, it was named after academician Levon Orbeli. The main scientific direction of the Institute of Physiology is neurophysiology focused on the study of the integrative, plastic properties of nervous system, central regulation mechanisms of motor and vegetative functions of organism. Currently there are 13 research laboratories here. We are in the laboratory of tissue engineering and immunology at the Institute of Physiology. Here, they study cell activity in different conditions and under the influence of different materials. Experts also try to make the first steps in the field of tissue engineering in Armenia. We have two main areas: we try to get artificial skin from natural materials, and we try to investigate the artificially made liver, and on the example of the liver we can find out whether we can repair the damaged organ by integration of corresponding cells. Currently, there are non-Armenian artificial skin substitutes for skin grafts available in Armenia. The result of this study will be armenian alternative: isolating and preserving mesenchymal stem cells from adipose tissue, a repisotary of cells is created for further usage in skin generation. We try to get scaffolds for skin tissue engineering conducting research in three directions: we take animal skin and human skin, which may be available to get after the death of a patient and study that. This is a rat liver, decellularized and placed in a protective solution which will be sent for further histological examination. There are two essencial goals in this study. First goal is to create skin and the other is to be able to make 3D liver parts, imagine you make a square which is the liver tissue and it is viable in a pot with feather and we can experiment on it observing how long it can withstand, the nutrient regime, the extent of being nourished. It is also possible to study the effect of different drugs on the human body. Let’s move on to the Laboratory of Toxinology and Molecular Systemetics of the Institute of Physiology. A state-of-the-art flow cytometer is also of significant importance for the study. With the help of this cytometer, it is possible to identify various types of cancer. But let’s state that everything is still in the reserach phase. We analyze different blood groups and try to better differentiate them. In addition, we try to determine what changes blood cells undergo in various pathologies and diseases. The Institute of Physiology is well equipped. This machine is unique in Armenia and is used for visualization of biomedical objects. In order to determine the characteristics of any object of the study, the cell, the organoid, any components of the cell we paint it with certain reflective color substance, then it’s analyzed by a microscope by means of lazers and get the picture of the oject. There is a distance learning school at the Institute of Phisiology after Levon Orbeli. There are attached institutions operating under the Institute of Physiology- The Physiological Society of Armenia and Armenian Association of International Brain Research Organization (IBRO). Thank you, we learn many interesting facts, and it is unfortunate that ordinary people who do not deal with science have no access to this enormous information. Perhaps it is our fault, or to some extent it’s scientists’ fault of having a gap in proper communication. We hope that the power of science will become a bridge to this understanding, and, getting back to the topic, let us turn to toxinology. It is also an important area, especially when it comes to human health. Please, elaborate on this. – I should say that these are not only the researches required for ensuring human health and safety, but also another area that can serve medical science in the future. When we say, toxinology and not toxicology, we mean the natural toxins overwhelming in our country. Having a unique fauna, we have 4 species of venomous snakes, with unique venom, that is, they are typical only for this region. – In a difficult region, snakes have a special venom to withstand. – But it is also an advantage, because you know that there is drug, substance testing in science when chemists try to find successful compounds that can help in medical science. These venoms already contain biologically active substances, which have already been designed by nature. They are very influential, have a unique and local influence, and many of them also have a significant impact in pharmaceutics. – If I get it right, these exceptional venoms can become antidotes, that is, medications for a particular disease. – They can also become medicines for thе disease, but of course the problem of danger remains in rural areas. The Danger of being bitten by such animals is very high, and even in the city there are several valleys where the Transcaucasian Macrovipera lebetina lives. And our institute develops two directions. We are investigating the components of venoms for drugs, pathologies such as cancer, but we are also developing antidotes against snakebites, as the problem is highly topical. Today, we have only one type of antidote in our medical institutions that is the Uzbek antidote, which, unfortunately, has not been developed since 1976. – Why is it called Uzbek? – Because its produced in Uzbekistan and in the Soviet Union the Central Asian and Transcaucasian Gurza was not differentiated, though they are very different species and the composition of their venom is totally different. – Subsequently, the antidote developed in Uzbekistan highly affects in our region. – It affects the local antidote – Yes, it doesn’t help against the snakebite, since it also contains antibodies of the other two Central Asian snakes – Cobra and Echis, it is also a very heavy product for the human body to perceive. – Because initially there is no such information in our body – It exposes people with emaciated, weak immune system to fight against antibodies which is a serious issue. – But we already have some advancement here and in the practical application… – Yes, this is the product which has already been developed and we achieved the outcomes of course not to the extent of manufacturing volumes, but still enough to conduct decent researches and define the productivity. It is implemented together with our key collaborating centers in Brazil, Costa Rica, Spain and Argentina. – It would be interesting to find an antidote for an Armenian, an antidote to each other, then we will win the world and will overcome all those challenges cast on us for centuries. – Sure the human venom is the most dangerous one. It is the most dangerous one and we haven’t been able to find a formula of antidote for human venom so far. It’s a fact. If all these studies, from the Soviet years to present day, were not been conducted, what would human life look like? And, often when there are concepts against the studies implemented on animals, how to ensure the evolution and development. – It would be a hard task to achieve evolution. Truly speaking, the natural science of genetics, physiology was laid back in Soviet era due to political reasons. I mean Lysenko’s approach combating the genetics. Levon Orbeli also suffered greatly from this struggle, because he did not try to adapt in time and had been saying all that was derived by his scientific decency, and therefore, at that time he was subjected to various… – Agony – Yes, he was dismissed from the position of the Director. However, the advancement of science is impossible to stop and I am proud that our compatriots are at the forefront of most novelties in medical science worldwide ranging from MRI to Positron Tomography etc. – Wheelchair – Nobel prize worthy findings have been realized due to our compatriots’ intelligence and capacity and very often they were people who left Armenia and the Soviet Union. – Mrs. Ayvazyan, today whoever is considered a hero except for the scientists – Yes, unfortunately. – But there is such a great scientific force, actually a labor force in Armenia, which we will try to reveal in this program, and in fact this force is in line with the world, more over is capable of exporting some things. – Yes, I do believe in it, and I see this in my environment, however it is not much visible to ordinary people. – We’ll try to fill this gap. – How interested are young people in neurodegeneration today or in all areas we have covered today? – As a matter of fact, they are really interested, we have many brilliant young people who ignore financial burdens of work and make investments in this field they work, however We have such problem, when the scientist focuses on his work, aims at finding solutions based on his scientific interest and sometimes, he has to find these solutions abroad because they are more affordable. The Science is universal, there is no Armenian science its value is worldwide. Unfortunately, after certain achievements of solving the problem they don’t come back to Armenia. I am more than sure, if we had centers for excellence to implement certain projects on the same level, the young scientists would return and continue their research having received higher qualifications there. We hope that this will happen someday, and we will jointly establish such work environment. However, one of our previous guests mentioned that without being provided proper conditions, they were able to find a more accessible and easily applicable version of the concept existing in the world. It is also another unique way of service provision. In summary, I would like to remind you that in the Soviet era, which we revealed, the Institute of Physiology after Levon Orbeli focused on cerebellum research at a theoretical level, and today it is more applicable and much more developed. As we have already said, the institute is engaged in artificial cultivation of skin, which is successfully applied throughout the world, as well as in the Russian Federation. We are convinced, that through science, one can truly become not only physically healthy, but also mentally, and have his contribution in favor of the world, and not to harm the world as well as himself. The Power of science is a mighty one! We are thankful to our guest. Mrs. Ayvazyan, see you again in the scope of our program. – Thank you. – See you

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