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4 posts from March 2010

March 30, 2010

Stem Cell Gallery now available online

The Stem Cell Network has received a lot of beautiful images and great stem cell-inspired artwork from members and trainees over the course of the last two years, as a part of our Cells I See art initiative. And we're happy to say that the artwork is now available for viewing on our website's Stem Cell Gallery. Visit the gallery to see some great stem cell images and artwork, and maybe even find some inspiration for your own works of art.

March 19, 2010

Get schooled in educational outreach

by Drew Lyall

The StemCellTalks event at the MaRS Centre in Toronto was one of the most exciting and successful outreach events the Stem Cell Network has catalysed in the past ten years. There was an energy in the room that prompted more than one of the attendees to comment that they had just participated in something quite special. As I look back on it a few days on, I think there were three elements of what Paul Cassar, David Grant, Angela McDonald and their wider team accomplished that were quite unique.  

First, they developed some great content. Stem cell research is a difficult topic, yet they managed to create a varied and interesting program pitched at just the right level which kept the students fully engaged for a full day. It was evident that a lot of thought went into the program design, with more traditional lectures on Stem Cells 101, supplemented with videos from the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation and by three brand new case studies developed by the team, which prompted students to examine different aspects of the science and ethics of stem cell research. The case studies were introduced by two leading scientists who debated opposing perspectives of the "right" stem-cell based approach to treating diabetes and leukemia.  What this approach highlighted in an entertaining and engaging manner is that (i) science moves fast – is a living breathing body of knowledge that is being expanded every day and (ii) prominent scientists who respect each others work enormously can also profoundly disagree on why some things work the way they do. There is not always a "right" answer, and the experimentation/scientific method is the key to understanding more.  

Second, it is difficult to adequately communicate the scale and scope with which this event was conceived by Paul, Angela and David. The team persuaded some of the best scientists and ethicists from across the country to come to Toronto for the event, and picked them not just based on their academic prowess, but also their ability to communicate effectively with a high school audience.  Prior to the day they made more than 40 classroom visits across the GTA to present an introduction to stem cell research to hundreds of students and to talk about the March event for those who had a particular interest. They ran a selection process to recruit the most interested students to the event –133 of them, and the enthusiasm and the quality of the questions reflected that this was a job very well done. The team also recruited close to 100 volunteers from across several faculties to support the event. More than 50 were in attendance on the day facilitating small break-out sessions for the high school students, and managing the logistics of the event, while another 50 had been engaged in the build up to and organization of the event.  

Third, is the commitment of the team to build this into an ongoing program. With all the planning this event took, it would have been very easy for the team to have focused its efforts on just the one day. However, from the outset the team was thinking how to "productise" StemCellTalks as they branded the project. They raised money to ensure that the event was videoed, so, for example, the scientists introductions to the case students could be developed into short videos for Curiocity.ca to complement the written material. In addition, facilitators' notes are being consolidated to provide future volunteers with further case study material, in effect, a how-to guide for managing the event. Furthermore, at the Stem Cell Network's annual meeting last November, the team recruited volunteers from Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax to come to Toronto to participate in the event, with a commitment from each of them that they would roll out StemCellTalks in those cities within a 12-month timeframe. Finally, as if that wasn't enough, in parallel Paul volunteered to get directly involved in developing a separate website – stemcellschool.org – which was launched at the event, and is aimed enabling teachers and students to study many broader biology concepts through the lens of stem cell research. The site will complement the Let’s Talk Science materials being developed.

View the video summary from Paul Cassar and David Grant:

The event itself came off without a hitch, which when you consider the number of people involved, the number of moving parts, speaks volumes to the team’s project management and communications skills. I think more than anything the event taught me that you cannot "buy" enthusiasm and commitment. You can only seek to recognize it, enable it, support it, and get out of the way!  Paul and his team pulled off something quite special last week, and in doing so have energized students across the country to replicate his ideas and approach. I am convinced several of the 133 high school students in attendance will want to be stem cell researchers when they "grow up". As an organization, it is also causing us to revisit our outreach strategies and consider what more we can do to identify and support the evident enthusiasm there is out there amongst our own graduate student body.

If you attended the event and enjoyed it, post a reply to the blog and let us know your thoughts. And if you have your own ideas on how to spread the word about stem cell research, and have a novel idea for a high school event, or one for the general public, contact us at the Network office, we would love to hear from you.

March 16, 2010

High school students engaged by stem cell symposium

Paul Cassar talking to students at StemCellTalks  About 130 high school students gathered with a group of leading research scientists, teachers, and graduate students on Friday, March 12 for the inaugural StemCellTalks symposium at the MaRS Collaboration Centre Auditorium in Toronto. The group was together for a full day of discussion on the science and ethics of stem cell research.

StemCellTalks was co-founded by Paul Cassar, David Grant and Angela McDonald, all graduate students at the University of Toronto who were particularly interested in developing an outreach activity to better inform people about stem cells. The three leveraged support from the Stem Cell Network, Let's Talk Science as well as other a number of other sponsors and volunteers in order to organize the day-long event. The attending students were from Grade 11-12 classrooms from across the Toronto area. They were selected through an application process administered in collaboration with the schools.

Janet Rossant and Jim Till  The day started off strong, as Jim Till and Janet Rossant, two of Canada’s most respected stem cell researchers, sat down to a “fireside chat” with each other. They talked about their work with stem cells, what got them interested in the field, and what they are currently working on. 

After a brief Stem Cells 101 presentation by Cindi Morshead, researchers Peter Zandstra and Derek van der Kooy debated different stem cell-related treatment options for case studies on diabetes and acute lymphatic leukemia. After each debater made his argument, the students at each table, along with some post-graduate volunteer liaisons, discussed the treatment options and came up with their conclusion of which would be best, given the situation. The debates underlined the fact that scientific research isn’t always as cut-and-dry as is presented in high school textbooks; researchers can defend alternative viewpoints on a given issue, and can make very convincing arguments in favour of their opinions.

Questionfromstudent  The day kept moving quickly after lunch, as attendees began the ethics portion of the symposium. Ian Rogers introduced the group to cord blood banking, both private and public, and the treatment options it can offer as well as the issues facing the industry. The ethics discussion ramped up through a presentation by Tim Caulfield, who discussed the ethical, legal and political realities of stem cells, and particularly cord blood banking.

Panel discussionAfter another series of breakout sessions to discuss the challenges of cord blood banking, Caulfield chaired an expert panel featuring Rogers, Rosario Isasi, Barry Pakes, and Thu Minh Nguyen to answer questions about ethical issues behind the topics discussed through the day, but students focused largely on the cord blood banking issue, asking a number of insightful questions and posing plenty of possible solutions to the pressing concerns therewith.

Students were reluctant to leave at the end of the symposium, milling around in the auditorium and continuing conversations with their breakout session leaders and the scientists who’d just finished presenting. The day was an engaging and informative introduction to many different aspects of stem cells, and was a terrific beginning to the StemCellTalks symposium series.

The next StemCellTalks is scheduled to take place in Vancouver this coming November.

March 11, 2010

Following your lead - help choose the next stem cell awareness campaign

In the fall, the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation launched the Stem Cell Charter that has been signed by over 3,000 people worldwide. (If you haven’t signed, click here to add your support.)

A main focus of the Foundation is to raise awareness about the importance of stem cell science and help to educate the public. One way they are doing this is by conducting online awareness campaigns and they want the public to help choose the direction it will take.

The Foundation will conduct two online awareness campaigns this year that focus on a disease or illness where stem cells are already making a difference or are expected to in the not too distant future. They want you to choose one of the diseases that they will focus on. Just click here and vote via Facebook for the area you would like them to rally around -- you choose; they’ll run the awareness campaign. You have until Monday, March 15th to cast your vote.