First Stem Cell Research Curriculum Developed for High School Students

Filed under: Medical Conditions, In The News, Education: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens

Stem cell research

Today's high schools will yield tomorrow's cutting edge researchers. Credit: Corbis

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has developed the first high school stem cell curriculum in the U.S., and will be offering it to science teachers this fall.

Some of the world's most promising stem cell research is currently being conducted in California, but the state will need to produce an increasing number of trained workers to sustain the field, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Stem cells are unique in that they can potentially develop into many different cell types in the body. In many tissues, stem cells can divide to replenish damaged or worn out cells, working as a sort of repair system, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Because of this ability, stem cells may potentially be able to treat a host of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. Transplants of adult stem cells have already become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases, according to AOL Health. Through stem cell research, scientists work to advance the knowledge about how an organism develops from a single cell, and how healthy cells replace damaged ones in adult organisms.

Stem cells from embryos were first grown in a lab in 1998, but the moral and ethical controversy surrounding their use prompted President Bush to restrict federal funding for stem cell research in 2001. However, in March 2009, President Obama overturned the Bush order, opening up NIH funding for stem cell research. It is also of note is that the use of adult stem cells is now much more prevalent than the use of embryonic stem cells, AOL Health reports.

Last fall, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that required the state education department to include stem cell science in high school career development programs. This prompted a partnership between the CIRM and the education department, and it led CIRM instructors to formalize the high school curriculum, the Chronicle reports.

The CIRM curriculum is designed for all levels of high students, from students taking advanced biology to those that will never take another science class after tenth grade. But the hope is that the subject will strike a chord in students, and they will feel compelled to continue studying it in college and beyond, The Chronicle reports.

"We hope these kids will get really excited and get an M.D. and Ph.D., but we don't expect everyone to do that," Don Gibbons, the institute's chief communication officer who helped organize the curriculum project, tells the Chronicle. "We really need the whole pipeline of workers. We need technicians too, and they come out of your junior colleges and your state colleges."

Laurel Barchas, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley who led the CIRM curriculum development effort, tells the Chronicle that even if students do not choose to follow a career in science, they hope that what the students learn about stem cell research will cause them to educate their families and friends about the issue. After all, today's students may someday be voting on stem cell research policy or may face the issue when someone they know benefits from current research.

The curriculum is divided into four units: embryonic stem cells; adult stem cells and regenerative medicine; stem cell behaviors and cancer; and the immune system and hematopoietic stem cells, from which all blood cells are formed, the Chronicle reports. However, CIRM instructors don't expect science teachers to use all, or even most, of it -- rather, they can fit small sections into their existing lesson plans.

Each of the four units contains a political or ethical topic, such as a discussion of ethical standards in clinical trials or addressing if it is appropriate to screen for certain genetic traits when doing in vitro fertilization.

"We are not there to force an idea or a belief on anybody. We're allowing students to have a discourse," Barchas tells the Chronicle. "It's really good that teachers are not afraid to start talking about this stuff."

Related: Microsoft's Philly High School Traveled Rocky Road

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