stem cells inked episode 1

Stem Cells Hit the Small Screen

Student-created animated shorts help explain stem cells' staggering potential


For scientists who have spent years immersed in lab study, trying to find the right words and media to share their research can be a daunting, if not an almost impossible task.

And sometimes, all that is needed to overcome this barrier, is an opportunity and a little bit of outside expertise.

This was the approach the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM) took in launching an animated video series, entitled Stem Cells Inked. One of the goals of the initiative was to get grad students who had an interest in communicating their science directly involved in the process of crafting a video. In having a measure of creative control over the process – with guidance from writing, audio recording, filming and animation specialists – the students (primarily PhDs and Postdocs) were able to gain skills in video production and communications.

At between 2-3 minutes in length, each video also seeks to shine a light on the process and motivations behind the next generation of scientists – in a way the public can understand.

The first of the short videos features Nika Shakiba, a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Peter Zandstra at the University of Toronto, whose research on induced pluripotent stem cells employs both engineering and mathematics.

Nika Shakiba’s Stem Cells, Inked video showcases her research on induced pluripotent stem cells.

In a post that describes her key learnings gained from participating in the project, Shakiba said:

“Beyond the messages about the science, which are at the forefront of the video, I wanted to show how the marriage of math and biology can create a synergy that has the power to push the boundaries of scientific advancement not just in my work, but in many areas of science. I am an engineer after all, and though most people picture engineers as building bridges or coding computers – as cool as those jobs may be – I wanted to show that engineers are applying their knack for problem solving in other lesser-known ways as well. I am a deep believer in collaborative science and in bringing together the talents of experts from various fields to promote out-of-the-box thinking. Who knows, maybe more young students will be turned on to science knowing that they can incorporate their love of math or writing or other areas into their career trajectory.”

Two more videos are planned for release by OIRM in the coming months: the first will look at the use biomaterials for stroke recovery and the second will explore current research aimed at improving developmental outcomes for pre-term babies.

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Lisa Willemse is a communications professional with 18 years’ experience working in the technology, child development and health research fields, and is currently a Senior Communications Advisor with the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine. With a background in fine art, communications and journalism, Lisa continues to moonlight as a writer, photographer and editor, contributing to a range of Canadian and US-based publications. In 2014, she was alumni-in-residence for the acclaimed Science Communications program at the Banff Centre. She is also involved in several volunteer initiatives, including serving as a Board member for Science Borealis, a Canadian science blog aggregator. Follow her on Twitter and Medium @WillemseLA