High school students gain special insight into stem cell science

31 October 2014
Learning about the potential of stem cells

Students from across Victoria became stem cell scientists for the day at a special event held at the Gene Technology Access Centre. Not only did the students get into the lab and learn more about how stem cells are being used in medical research, they also got the chance to discuss ethical issues posed by stem cell science.

There is no doubt that stem cells have captured the community’s imagination. But what are they, how are they used in medical research and how close are scientists to being about to treat currently incurable conditions and diseases.

To help high school students learn more about this exciting field, the Gene Technology Access Centre and Stem Cells Australia invited over seventy Year 8 high school students and teachers to spend a day learning about stem cell science. 

To start the day, students watched an award winning short film from EuroStemCell – Stem Cell Stories – before discussing the facts behind the science with Stem Cells Australia’s Megan Munsie.

Students then donned lab coats and went into the lab where they did a series of experiments.

First the students met local stem cell scientists who helped them investigate what goes wrong in three different diseases - macular degeneration, diabetes and leukaemia - and how stem cells are being used to better understand these conditions and develop possible new treatments.

In the next lab, they took on the role of researchers for a biotechnology company and learnt about how certain types of stem cells can be transformed into beating heart cells and researchers and pharmaceutical companies are using stem cells to screen for new drugs.

To conclude the day, students were challenged to think about the important ethical considerations regarding the current and future use of stem cells as therapies. To illustrate the hope that many place in stem cell research, Dr Mario D’Cruz – a GP and mentor for people with spinal cord injury – joined us to discuss patient expectation and the difficulties for patients, families and their friends to find out reliable information given the hype that surrounds this field.

We hope the students enjoyed learning about how stem cells are transforming science, medicine and society and would like to thank their teachers from Sunshine College, Braybrook College, Western Heights College, and University High School for getting the students to Parkville. We would also like to thank our participating researchers - Dr David Elliott, Dr Kathryn Davidson, Dr Ben Shields, Dr Ana Janic and PhD students Grace Lidgerwood and Deevina Arasaratman - for sharing their enthusiasm in stem cell science with the students.

Dave Elliott, Megan Munsie and Deevina Arasaratman are members of the Stem Cells Australia initiative.