Right Turn: Bringing stem cells to (fictional) life

Author: Lisa Willemse, 04/11/14

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the “personalities” of stem cells in recent weeks — specifically, the characteristics of stem cells that might translate into a persona or a fictional character of some sort. It’s with good reason, of course: The Stem Cell Network is in the process of creating a traveling science exhibit about stem cells, in collaboration with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Cell Therapy Catapult and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine. One of our challenges is to make the properties of stem cells interesting and understandable to younger kids — and in the process, draw more of them and their families into the exhibit.

This process of engaging younger audiences led us to create a group of stem cell super heroes — given the power inherent in stem cells, it seemed a pretty obvious choice and we created four illustrated characters that each represent one particular feature or capacity of stem cells. We’ve had a lot of fun working with our production partner, the Musée de la Nature et des Sciences in Sherbrooke, Quebec, to come up with our heroes. I’ll share more about the exhibit later, but it seemed a good time to give a sneak peek* of one of our heroes, “The Regenerator”, modeled after an axolotl, a cute little creature with an incredible power for regeneration. Pretty cool, huh?

We are not the only folks who have been thinking about stem cell personalities and turning them into fictional characters. Recently, I stumbled across this video from Life Technologies, one of a series that cleverly advertises a product by tapping into those characteristics of cells and stem cells that lab researchers are very familiar with. I wonder: How many researchers have viewed their cells as super heroes or celebrities?

*Side note on The Regenerator image: it was uploaded using IMGembed, a system that allows image owners to track usage and ensure attribution, much like what YouTube does. There are a few kinks to be worked out, such as the watermark that cannot be positioned or removed and the automatically generated title at the bottom, which simply draws from the account name, not the title given to the image.

Our regular feature, Right Turn, showcases the “lighter” side of stem cells and regenerative medicine. Every Friday, we will bring you cartoons, photos, videos and other content that may be just as thought provoking as the written submissions that you are used to finding here, but they definitely won’t be blogs.

As always, we welcome your feedback and we also welcome suitable submissions. Be creative! Use the right (!) side of your brain. Make us laugh! Let’s see if we can make this new direction a positive one for all of us. Send your submission to info(at)ccrm.ca.

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Lisa Willemse

Lisa Willemse

Lisa is a science communicator with 15+ years' experience in the fields of regenerative medicine, child development and technology. She launched this blog (first as the Stem Cell Network Blog) in 2009, and served as co-editor until April 2015. She is currently the Senior Communications Advisor for the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and has recently contributed to Motherboard, Science Borealis and the Genome Alberta and Canadian Blood Services blogs. Follow her on Twitter and Medium @WillemseLA.
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