Friday, December 21, 2012

NEWS: Is Stem Cell Research Possible in Mongolia?

Originally posted at on Dec 11, 2012

A Contribution to Montsame's "Mongolia Today Magazine." Stem Cells and Scientific Progress in Mongolia.

It was a great pleasure to receive a call from Montsame about a possible contribution to the magazine. What was news to Montsame was the fact that I had been able to do stem cell research, at the highest level, in the USA but had returned home to Mongolia, hoping to make a contribution to my own country.

Montsame always had a special place in my memory from childhood as Montsame Radio news, which had a several radio-broadcasts weekly, reading letters from foreign countries that the Montsame office had received. Those letters often described how people around the world wished to visit Mongolia and how they had imagined the country via Montsame radio-broadcasting. Conversely, it was so intriguing for me to hear about these people that I wanted to get to know these countries and people from Japan, USA, Germany and more. After completion of my Master’s and Bachelor’s studies in Mongolila, my years of study for my Doctorate in Germany and postdoctoral research in Canada, my dream brought me finally to the USA. During my stay at the Ordway Research Institute and Wadsworth Institute in upstate New York, I had a chance to do research on the ways that stem cells change during the course of aging and in cancer. Stem cell research itself was a new phenomenon, as was specific research on malignant stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (capable of differentiation into multiple different cells with respect to function). Stem cells were just being introduced into Medical and Clinical areas and were just being spoken of to the public by researchers and research institutions. And this year, 2012, Laureates John B. Gurdon (UK) and Shinya Yamanaka (Japan) received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their pioneering work in the field. Dr. Yamanaka’s work on iPSC (induced pluripotent stem cells) proved that adult cell can produce stem cells and provided a major insight into reverse aging.

My work in the USA (Albany, NY) focused on the aging of stem cells and the possible roles of stem cell during aging processes. I was also interested in examining whether cancer is caused by cancerous stem cells or whether stem cells’ potential is associated with cancer-causing effects. A stem cell is a cell that can give a rise to all other types of cell of an organism. Thus, it is possible to generate healthy stem cells from a patient and use them in the healing process. However, when and how stem cells produce healthy or cancer cells is still the focus of intense current research. This is another important point that any stem cell treatment in the future must be monitored by only professionals. Especially in countries like Mongolia where such advanced knowledge and skills are rare to consult and health care system is degraded in the country pervasively. After years of research by hundreds of scientists, stem cell research is creating a whole new paradigm in medical and clinical science offering personalized and regenerative treatments that is only now being appreciated by the public all over the world today.

Probably the first member at the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) from Mongolia, I had the opportunity to participate in the ISSCR 10th Annual Meeting in Yokohama, Japan, in 2012. Gathered from all over the world, stem cell researchers shared the result of each other’s experiments, exchanged ideas about the use of stem cells in common diseases and discussed detailed mechanisms of numerous biochemical and molecular biological aspects of stem cells life-processes.

My poster for the annual meeting attracted some attention because it was from Mongolia, but, because of limited research facilities in Mongolia, my research was not at the forefront of the field. The importance of stem cells research was underlined by a visit from the Emperor and Empress of Japan, which I recognised as a gesture of respect by Japan for stem cell research and researchers. This year’s host city of Yokohama is a dedicated research hub for biomedical research and, in particular, it is one of several major sites of Japanese institutions where serious stem cell research takes place.

Energized and encouraged, my first ever visit to an ISSCR Annual meeting and the country of Japan still fuels my wish to initiate a well-grounded stem cell research project in Mongolia, since stem cells have so much potential in medical treatments and overall biomedical scientific knowledge that will be offered to the human kind. Mongolia today is classified as a middle-income country in terms of its GDP, but it lags behind in all areas of science that are rapidly expanding elsewhere in the World today. Mongolia sees itself and is seen by cooperating countries as a developing country. Moreover, there is an un-written yet clearly understood message that advanced research, for example, in stem cells, is not possible in developing countries.

But, on returning to Ulaanbaatar from Yokohama, I asked myself "Why should scientists in a developing country like Mongolia not be able to study stem cells?”. How should such research be planned? What should we look for in the next five years and beyond in advanced scientific research and its application? What kind of successful international collaborations might be productive for all stakeholders?

The Great Mongolian Khaans’ understanding and appreciation of the importance of knowledge and science are evident from historic artifacts. In more recent times, Mongolian science thrived during collaborations with the Soviet Union, via its strong commitment to science. Today, however, modern science is only represented by a few Mongolians who have returned home after studies abroad. We all understand how science and knowledge-based applications of scientific research are being ignored here. Mongolia needs to engage in serious discussions and decision making to build well-grounded foundations both for its future as a contributor to the World of scientific research and for applications of relevant scientific and medical discoveries to improvement of the wellbeing of Mongolians.

Our newly formed government should begin a transparent, open and inclusive progress of policy making in the fields of basic science, applied science and technology. Positive changes in our education system still need to highlight the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) which are the foundations of all advances in knowledge. Education and scientific research can be combined to develop entrepreneurial markets via innovation. Advanced research must occur in parallel with the development of a society in which everyone is wired and connected through social media and has access to open-source information. The human resources to fill the gap that formed during the post-soviet era are becoming available as western-style educated Mongolian scientists and professionals return to their native country for visits of even to live, bringing their valuable talents and training home. We must welcome and encourage them, and we must make it possible for them to use their sophisticated skills and education here in Mongolia. Not only that, they are the bases of working hand in hand with collaborators from the scientifically and technologically advanced countries that Mongolia is calling to build its strong economy together. These scientists are gold in terms of human capital. Every effort should be made to provide them with the facilities that they need to make use of their knowledge and experience for the good of their country.

Ariun Narmandakh PhD, for questions and comments please contact

Word List:
  • intriguing: very interesting because of being unusual or not having an obvious answer
  • phenomena: a fact or an event in nature or society, especially one that is not fully understood
  • malignant: that cannot be controlled and is likely to cause death
  • degraded: to make something become worse, especially in quality
  • pervasively: existing in all parts of a place or thing; spreading gradually to affect all parts of a place or thing
  • paradigm: a typical example or pattern of something
  • hub: the central and most important part of a particular place or activity
  • thrived: to become, and continue to be, successful, strong, healthy, etc
  • innovation: the introduction of new things, ideas or ways of doing something
= intriguing
= phenomena
= malignant
= degraded
= pervasive
= paradigm
= hub
= thrive
= innovation