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Michael Cho: It is easy to get lost in a broad scope journal

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There are a lot of physical and chemical aspects to stem cells that are yet to be discovered, and therefore this field is likely to continue to grow. However, there was no suitable platform to publish papers on this subject – told me Michael Cho, Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Journal Editor of ‘Physics and Chemistry of Stem Cells‘, an open access serial by De Gruyter Open. Read the whole interview below.

You have recently published a paper written in collaboration with medical doctors, discussing the possible clinical treatment of liver cirrhosis based on biomechanical properties of hepatocytes. Could you tell me more about this collaboration? Cirrhosis is a major threat to people suffering from viral hepatitis and several other medical conditions. Do you think your research will bring new hope for them?

I am working in the bioengineering department and what we are doing here is, in general, looking to translate bench-top research to clinical relevance. In one of the projects in my lab we are working on liver cirrhosis, which refers to stiffening liver with the loss of its function. It is a serious life-threatening disease with no FDA-approved drugs currently available for treatment. In the past, the research effort was focused on softening the extracellular matrix. We are developing a paradigm shift in which the liver cells themselves are targeted and biomechanically softened. The experiments that we have performed show that if we are able to make the liver cells softer, the liver tissue may regain its function. This is rather important because Hepatitis C, which is one of the major causes of liver cirrhosis, is becoming epidemic. We are now ready to extend the scope of research and use primary liver cells from liver transplant patients. If that is successful, we will start animal testing.

You are the editor of ‘Physics and Chemistry of Stem Cells’ (PCSC), a new open access journal by De Gruyter Open. Why was this journal launched?

The research project that I described in my previous answer might also be applicable to stem cells. As liver tissue includes adult stem cells, it is possible that they might be recruited to facilitate potential therapy of cirrhosis.

There is significant emphasis on stem cell research which is growing rapidly. Some stem cell research utilize the potent power of physical and chemical techniques and technologies. However, there was no suitable platform to publish papers on the physical and chemical aspects of stem cells. This is why we decided to launch the journal, Physics and Chemistry of Stem Cells. Since we think there is a need to separate this kind of research from others such as stem cell biology, the journal invites contribution from physicists or chemists who are trained to treat the cell as a system.

What is your strategy for PCSC development?

PCSC has to compete with well-known, established, open access journals. Junior faculty are understandably under pressure to publish in high impact venues. This is why we are targeting more mature and reputable researchers who share the common interest of physics and chemistry of stem cells. Perhaps, these senior faculty may be more sympathetic to the cause and recognize the special niche for articles derived from the physical and chemical perspective. Such research may not match well with biologically oriented journals. It is clear that once established authors publish their work in the journal, it will subsequently bring credibility and visibility to the journal. Then it will be much easier to solicit new submissions. There are a lot of physical and chemical aspects to stem cells that are yet to be discovered, and therefore this field is likely to continue to grow.

At this moment we invite all authors to submit their manuscripts to our Special Issue on liver tissue engineering, edited by Yoh-ichi Tagawa, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan.

In contrast to a lot of open access journals, PCSC operates in a very narrow field – do you think this is an advantage or disadvantage for the journal?

Some of the reputable open access journals have a wide range of interest and topics. They might offer high Impact Factor and a large audience. But it is easy to get lost in diverse fields of interest simply because there are so many papers published just about every day. So I think that it is an advantage that the PCSC journal can be dedicated specially to those who can exploit the biophysical and biochemical means to regulate stem cells. Such an approach adopted by the journal should allow us to become more visible in the crowded field of stem cell research.

Will openness help the journal?

Open access is a trend which is not going away anytime soon. In fact I think eventually all traditional journals, including the most recognized ones, will become open access.

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