A new website launched in Toronto allows the public to peruse all the current research on stem cells, as well as take a tour of a lab and stay updated on any specific disease — all in the hopes of educating us about a line of research that has huge potential to save a lot of lives. The ethical and political controversy hovering over work with stem cells, particularly embryonic cells — which have the biggest potential but pose the greatest ethical problems — has made work in the field particularly jittery; stop and go funding, as well as confusion about the concept in the public sector hasn’t made for the most ideal working conditions. Stem Cell City — an online portal launched yesterday may significantly contribute to the cause, its founding scientists hope.
Educating people about the concept of the whole thing, as well as the very tangible solutions the field can provide — for diseases of all sorts, ranging from cardiac problems, to Alzheimer’s, diabetes, paralysis and even cancer — is a key goal of Stem Cell City. The plan is to link the stories of patients with that of doctors, researchers and others involved, showing the public the benefits which progress in the field can provide. Worldwide, new ideas about stem cells are put forward on a quick and regular basis; public knowledge about the cause will hopefully spur a round of private funding which will support continuous research and advancement.
Public access to this type of interesting and very important research is crucial in many ways — researchers may not always get the support they need from federal sources, but private funding can quickly step in — in this case, over $20 million dollars were privately donated by the founders of a related center. Public support is also potentially important for the morale of the researchers, themselves — they may know that their work has the potential to save lives, but getting the support of the people they are working for would presumably be a good feeling. In general, this type of public-access set-up may also lead to spontaneous crowd-sourcing of ideas and knowledge (the site already has a function to ask researchers questions as well as direct funding at certain topics) — allowing people who are not necessarily formally trained, but may have the smarts and the desire, will surely lead to at least something mildly productive down the road. Above all, the initiative will shed light on a controversial but very important aspect of modern science.
I’m excited about all the knowledge spilling out into the public thanks to this Ontario-based website, and will follow Stem Cell City’s progress for any interesting developments.