Craving stem cells? An Insider’s Guide satisfies, leaves you wanting more

Author: Alessandra Pasut, 11/28/13
My fave pic of the book and source of inspiration for this blog: Paul Knoepfler’s interpretation of noodle soup. Who would have thought we can make a noodle soup out of stem cells! Great way to trigger kids to learn!

My fave pic of the book and source of inspiration for this blog: Paul Knoepfler’s interpretation of noodle soup. Who would have thought we can make a noodle soup out of stem cells! Great way to trigger kids to learn!

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There’s no better pleasure in life than to satisfy our own cravings. Whether it’s a food craving or something else, there’s no peace for the soul, at least mine, till that need is quenched. And for those of us who find themselves longing for (more) stem cells, Paul Knoepfler’s recently-released book, Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide is a tasty, delicious “food for thought” to indulge upon.

As he states in his introductory note, the book is a scaled-up version of his acclaimed blog. The book serves as both a manual that one can go through looking for instructions on how to use and what to do with stem cells, and as an example and inspiration for those who would like to establish themselves as stem cell advocates within their own community.

Knoepfler captures the quintessence of stem cells in 14 chapters, each emanating its own distinct aroma and flavour. The book has appeal for almost every taste. The fine-taste palate will definitely appreciate the sharp and meticulously referenced guide to the biology of stem cells described in the first two chapters, where real pictures of stem cells taken by either the author himself or members of his lab are shown. I thought the choice to include figures as they would appear in a scientific publication – complete with the words “DAPI” and “nuclei” – was quite a brave move on his part, and it effectively showcases the importance of getting the general audience familiar with scientific words as long as they are explained and made accessible.

Fetal mouse neural stem cells differentiated into neurons (red) and glia (green). Nuclei are stained blue with a DNA stain called DAPI (4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole). Courtesy of Paul Knoepfler

Fetal mouse neural stem cells differentiated into neurons (red) and glia (green). Nuclei are stained blue with a DNA stain called DAPI (4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole). Image: Paul Knoepfler

If you’re looking for something spicy and want to dig deeper into saucy topics then delve into the middle of the book, where chapters 7 and 8 carefully lay out some of the most controversial aspects of stem cells use and commercialization. These include the compassionate use of stem cells treatments, which was recently challenged or the prospect of making a profit out of stem cells treatments in an ethical manner. Particularly interesting is the idea of a fair-trade stem cells business where on one side there are the patients’ rights and enrollments in clinical trials to be considered (paying to be a human guinea pig is a quite captivating subchapter) and on the other side, not necessarily in an antagonistic position in my opinion, is the need to go forward with new treatments.

If you’re more into a light snack, chapter 13, “Getting your stem cells geek on”, is the perfect After Eight to finish your day. The chapter is refreshing, sprinkled all over with pop culture references (who knew stem cells can be an aphrodisiac?), fun to read, but at the same time provocative and inspiring.

For those of us who are always seeking for new experiences, whether it’s trying a different spice on our morning coffee or a risky experiment nobody dared to perform before, this is the book to read or to give to those who want to understand more about stem cells.

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Alessandra Pasut

Alessandra Pasut

PhD candidate at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Alessandra Pasut received her Masters degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Padova, Italy.  She pursued part of her training at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm funded by the Erasmus Exchange program. She is currently a PhD student in the Michael Rudnicki lab at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, where she uses muscle stem cells as a model to investigate the mechanisms by which tissues instruct their own stem cells to repair and regenerate. Alessandra strongly believes scientists have the responsibility to share their knowledge with the society in an informative and constructive way. Her passion for science outreach earned her multiple recognitions among which the 2010 LetsTalkScience-CIHR Synapse award. Since 2011 she is an Associate Faculty Member of F1000 in Genetic and Genomics for which she writes commentaries and recommendations on published scientific literature. Among her favourite writers are Virginia Woolf and Umberto Eco.
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