Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thousands of California students have their eyes opened to the vast potential of stem cell research on Stem Cell Awareness Day.

San Diego High School students learn about stem cells


“Fascinating,” “amazing”, “awesome”. Those were just some of the words that students used to describe learning about stem cells as part of Stem Cell Awareness Day. These particular comments came from students responding to presentations by UCLA’s Michael Teitell. We’ll have more on that in a minute.

The presentations were in addition to the many events where the general public were invited to learn about the hope that comes from stem cell research during yesterday’s sixth annual Stem Cell Awareness Day. There will be many more awareness-raising events throughout the month of October. You can get a flavor of the events world-wide at the Twitter hashtag #stemcellday and on our web site at stemcellday.com

But much of activity at CIRM focused on pairing up our funded researchers at universities and companies from one end of the state to the other with high schools where teachers had requested guest lectures. Each year our numbers have grown and we set another record this year with researchers in 176 classes with well over 4,000 students.

In addition to those classroom visits the Sanford Consortium in San Diego bused in over 170 students for a day of lectures and lab tours. They heard about the basics of stem cells, but also ethical issues and courses they may want to consider in college if they want to enter the field.

Each year we hear many anecdotes from students and teachers suggesting the classroom visits really do make a difference not only in the students knowledge of this burgeoning field, but also in their interest in considering a career in science and often in stem cell science in particular.

Michael Teitell, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, gave three presentations at a high school in the area and the teacher there provided his email address to the students in case they wanted to ask him more questions or thank him for the talk. Mike forwarded me notes from 39 students this morning.

Those notes were filled with words like brilliant and eye opening. A number of the students voiced a sense of awe about the dedication they could see in Mike’s work and the training that got him there. He has an M.D. and a Ph.D. one of the rare physician-scientists that are so essential to moving basic discoveries to the clinic. While they could see that completing the dual degrees was tough it didn’t discourage them. Several discussed being inspired to pursue careers in medical research, including one who said:

“Because your presentation today sparked some interest for me about the field of stem cell research. I am actually now considering studying this field in college. This type of research is very fascinating to me, and I believe it will be very promising in the near future. I would love to be a scientist who could help research something that could eventually do miraculous things such as returning senses to the legs of paraplegics.”

At CIRM we encourage people to share knowledge about stem cells everyday. A good place to start is the section of our web site that talks about Our Progress with stem cells.

Don Gibbons

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