During October, over 450 Australian high school students and their teachers attending five screenings of the award-winning documentary Stem Cell Revolutions in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.
At each screening, the students had the opportunity to have their questions about stem cells and careers in science answered by visiting scientist EuroStemCell's Professor Clare Blackburn, also the co-producer of the film, and a panel of local stem cell experts.
Prof Blackburn is based at The University of Edinburgh and her visit to Australia, and the screenings of the film, were generously supported by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia as part of their commitment to educating the community about the potential of stem cell science.
The film set the scene by telling the history of stem cell research – from how stem cells were first revealed in the body, to the latest scientific and clinical developments. With beautiful drawings to illustrate how stem cells turn into the cells of the body and informative interviews with key scientists - including the 2012 Nobel Prize winners Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon, and Sir Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep - the students were captivated by the possibilities of this exciting field.
Inspired by the film, the students surprised the panel - and many of their teachers - with their thought provoking questions. In a fascinating exchange after each screening, the students grilled the panel about how to control differentiation, the moral and ethical issues associated with using stem cells, and where the line between reality and science fiction lies – now and in the future. Scientists also shared careers tips and some fascinating insights on life in the lab.
Students had the opportunity to play EuroStemCell’s ‘Start as a stem cell’ floor game where ‘cell fate’ during the differentiation of blood cells was controlled by the roll of some very large dice.
To quote one of the teachers attending the Brisbane event, which took place alongside the annual scientific conference of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research, “The students returned to school with a much deeper knowledge, appreciation and understanding of the role of research, in particular stem cell research”.
One of the Melbourne teachers also commented that, “Students were excited about the possibilities of the research and were able to imagine themselves in the shoes of the people on screen, doing the same great work. They were worried or curious about the implications of the discoveries and were pleased to have the scientists to talk to about it”.
We also held an evening screening in Melbourne just for teachers, where alongside the screening and a Q&A with scientists we had the chance to chat to teachers and show them some of the other stem cell teaching resources developed by EuroStemCell and others.
We would like to thank the Scottish Documentary Institute and EuroStemCell for their support for the events and our Australian partners: Melbourne Neuroscience Institute, Quantum Victoria, Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research and NSW Stem Cell Network.
The event would not have been possible, or as well received, without the following scientists providing their time and candid responses: Kathryn Davidson, Toby Merson, Mirella Dottori, David Elliott, Alison Farley, Alex Pinto, Ernst Wolvetang, Jatin Patel, Michael Morris, Nick Di Girolamo, Uli Schmidt, Alexis Bosman and from NSCFA Dr Chris Juttner. We would particularly like to thank PhD students Tim Henderson and Caitlin Bridges who spoke so frankly about their research.
Finally we would like to acknowledge the teachers from the eighteen schools that attended the event. They arranged the excursions for the students and also provided us with excellent feedback on how to bring stem cells into the classroom! Participating schools included: Kilmore International School; McKinnon Secondary School; MacRobertson Girl's School; Mount Scopus Memorial College; Keysborough Secondary College; Melbourne High School; Braemar College; Stawell Secondary College; Catholic College Sale; Centenary State High School; Cannon Hill Anglican College; Brisbane High School; Canterbury College; Clairvaux MacKillop College; St John Fisher College; The Queensland Academy for Creative Industries at Kelvin Grove, Centennial Park School and Strathfield Girls High School.