I first heard about StemCellTalks Vancouver when I saw a poster in my biology class and my teacher encouraged us to sign up and attend. I knew very little about stem cells except that they are a new advancement in medical science. I was interested to learn more, and the symposium provided me the opportunity to do that.
The symposium focused primarily on diabetes and its treatment. For example, I learned that the disease can be traced to the loss of functional beta cells. We talked about pig islet cell transplantation, a treatment for diabetes, as well as the idea of stem cells as a potential source of cells to replace these damaged cells. It would mean a diabetic would no longer require insulin injections and be cured. We also talked about the ethics involved in research.
A second but of no less important use of stem cells is in the treatment of leukemia. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and involves the production of abnormal white blood cells. To treat this disease, they take blood stem cells from healthy people and transplant them into leukemia patients.
|Ryan Scott participating in the StemCellTalks Vancouver symposium held at the University of British Columbia on May 15, 2015.
Throughout this symposium, I asked a wide variety of questions. I wondered how we reprogram stem cells and learned that genes are combined into an already-specialized cell, and that these genes can take over the cell and cause it to become a pluripotent stem cell again. This led me to ask, “What are induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and what is their significance to health care?” Their significance is that they help with curing disease. I also asked, “Why do we test stem cells on in-bred rats when we know the results could be different because of the animal’s low genetic diversity, especially as compared with humans who have very high genetic diversity?” The presenters replied that it is because they are trying to get one stable result, and that it makes research more cost effective.
By attending this symposium, I learned a lot about stem cells and how they operate in our bodies. I also learned about diabetics and what it would mean to them if we found a cure. Before attending this symposium, I did not know that we can turn specialized cells into stem cell-like cells and then reprogram them. This process eliminates the possibility of immune rejection by creating stem cells out of cells from your body. If we can create reprogrammed stem cells that can correct malfunctioning genes while preventing an auto-immune reaction, then the potential of using stem cells to treat a variety of conditions will grow.
Overall, I really enjoyed attending StemCellTalks Vancouver because I acquired information that will help me in my future pursuit of a career in the medical field. As the only student from my school, I had the opportunity to ask professionals questions about their field, listen, and learn, as well as meet a wide assortment of new people. StemCellTalks Vancouver was interactive and emphasized the need for continued support to advance this field of medicine.
StemCellTalks is an outreach initiative established to facilitate knowledge transfer between academia and high school students pertaining to the science and practical ethics of stem cells. We want to improve the public’s understanding of basic stem cell science in combination with facilitating the development of ethical frameworks in which to address practical ethics, such to independently contemplate contemporary bioethics in a field characterized by rapid scientific advancement.