Cellular Reprogramming. Cord-blood banking. Preserving the fertility of young people undergoing cancer treatment. Scenarios such as these are no longer the stuff of science fiction; they are real-life examples of how stem cell science can influence the lives of ordinary people.
That’s why Jamie Shuda believes it is so important to educate students about the ethics surrounding stem cell science. Shuda is the director of life science outreach for Penn’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IRM) and coordinator for life science education for the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. She first broached the topic in the fall of 2010 when she taught an undergraduate course on the biology of stem cells.
“[Students] thought the stem cell science was really cool,” Shuda says, “but where their ownership came was when they got to talk about the ethical sticky scenarios.”
Shuda made adjustments to the course to place more emphasis on ethics for the upcoming fall course, “Stem Cell Science in Schools: History, Ethics, and Education.” The class is one of the Netter Center’s Academically Based Community Service courses, intended to engage students in real-world problem solving, and is the product of a partnership between the Netter Center, the IRM, and the Department of History and Sociology of Science.
On Mondays, Penn undergraduates will gather for class with Shuda; she expects about 15 students to enroll. They will hear lectures and share their views about stem cell biology and ethics, and bring to life the possibilities of regenerative medicine by participating in hands-on activities, such as cutting planaria flatworms in two and watching them regrow, and even performing in vitro fertilization in mice.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the undergrads will walk a few blocks to University City High School, where they will help teach similar lessons to an honors biology class of about 25 ninth graders.
By the end of the semester, Shuda hopes to have produced inquisitive, informed consumers of scientific information.
“You do not walk away from this class a stem cell biologist, but you will walk away understanding what stem cells are and how they apply to your life,” she says. “You’ll also have a better understanding of how to communicate science. That’s my real goal. When these students are scientists or doctors themselves, they’ll have the skills to talk to and with people about the impact and importance of science.”
Originally published on July 19, 2012