Jul 2010

If something is broken, how can it be fixed?

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This past year, I have had the honour of meeting with some of the leading scientists in the field of stem cell research. It has opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.

I just finished my fourth year as an undergraduate student in the Biomedical Sciences program at the University of Ottawa, and I’m  working towards becoming a scientist because there are many things in the world that intrigue me. Most importantly, how do things work? How do I work? And if it something in me is broken, how can it be fixed?

I’ve been working with Dr. Michael Rudnicki on my honours thesis on stem cells that allow muscle regeneration. As a fourth year project, I was not expecting a breakthrough to cure a disease. But Michael is. His research into muscle stem cells can change the lives of young children suffering from muscular dystrophy. The method is to understand how the healthy body repairs itself at the cellular and molecular levels. Then, we can replicate, optimize and apply what we have learned. Not all miracles are by chance. The ones that aren’t take time and effort.

Most people have heard about how stem cells are supposed to be miracle cures and allow us to defeat previously incurable diseases. They’ve also heard of the ethical issues involved with the procurement of stem cells. Since the Stem Cell Charter launched last year I’ve been going around Ottawa and surveying pedestrians about their views on stem cells. To my surprise, public knowledge in this area is very out-dated and full of misinformation. However, the consensus was that people are eager to learn more about it.

This is why we need to spread the word about the Stem Cell Charter. The Charter promotes responsible research. We need to eliminate circulating myths and raise public awareness on the various types of research taking place. The ethical practice we follow as scientists should be recognized by the community; and the work we establish will have greater impact only when people pursue their curiosity to better understand stem cell research.

If you want to learn about stem cells, don’t jump too far into the literature. Take it one step at a time. Learn what stem cells are. Learn about their potential and the impact they can have on modern medicine. Learn the various points of views and new techniques on sources of stem cells. Because the more everyone knows the faster we can move forward.

Yu Xin (Will) Wang is a graduate student studying Cellular Molecular Medicine at the University of Ottawa. He believes in the responsible advancement of stem cell science.

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