Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wise beyond her years - a teenager's perspective on stem cells

Unraveling the secrets of embryonic stem cells
Everyone once in a while you come across someone who leaves you feeling somewhat in awe. I don’t mean the President or the Pope – though they are rather impressive individuals – but someone who by most definitions would be considered “ordinary” but who, it turns out, is really quite extraordinary.

I came across someone like that today. Her name is Ms. Marie, or at least that’s the name she uses in writing for Teen Ink, which is a website and magazine that is written by teenagers. Ms. Marie wrote a piece titled “The New Medical Hope – Embryonic Stem Cells” about the power and potential of stem cells to treat and cure many different diseases.

Ms. Marie does a wonderful job of explaining what embryonic stem cells are, where they come from and how they work. For someone so young she has a really good grasp of the complicated science and does a great job of translating that into plain English (something many top stem cell scientists are not particularly adept at). Nor does she shy away from the political controversy over the use of embryonic stem cells.

What’s most impressive about her though is how mature she is. After learning about stem cells she set out to become actively engaged in trying to advance the science and raised more than $12,000 this year for research.

In previous blogs she describes how she drove two hours to the nearest pediatric hospital near her home in Kentucky that treats cancer patients, because she wanted to volunteer to help these children. In the end nothing came of that effort but she said she learned a valuable lesson about having the courage to fail. She says at first she was disappointed but then:

 “I realized that having courage also means being prepared to fail. When you fail get back up and show the world you’re not finished yet. Life has many things to get you down. These things will give the biggest lessons!” 
In many ways that is exactly what the best scientists do all the time. They know there is a likelihood that any particular piece of research could end up not working out, but it may provide information that can be used in other experiments, other research.

Ms. Marie ends her piece on embryonic stem cells by saying we must all make up our own minds about them:

“Knowing what stem cells are and how they form is crucial in making your own opinion, however, for me; I am ready to see how we can make a difference in the medical field with this remarkable thing called “stem cells”! 

I couldn’t have said it better.

Ms. Marie says she is now learning about stem cells in school. We have a whole curriculum designed for schools It features the first Next Generation Science Standards-based high school units that teach fundamental cell biology, organismal biology, and genetics concepts through the lens of stem cell research. And it meets both state and federal education standards.

kevin mccormack

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