Super Stemmys, a stem cell story

Stem cells to save the day! Or the heart, at least. That's the plot of a new children's book on adult (or repair) stem cells, published by the linkurl:Repair Stem Cell Institute; (RSCI) -- a Dallas- and Bangkok-based public affairs company that provides interested patients with contact information for stem cell treatment centers around the world. "It's a nice idea,"

By | April 8, 2010

Stem cells to save the day! Or the heart, at least. That's the plot of a new children's book on adult (or repair) stem cells, published by the linkurl:Repair Stem Cell Institute; (RSCI) -- a Dallas- and Bangkok-based public affairs company that provides interested patients with contact information for stem cell treatment centers around the world.
"It's a nice idea," said cell biologist Mahendra Rao of linkurl:Life Technologies,; a California-based biotechnology company. "I think it's good to tell kids about all current events, [including] technological breakthroughs," and "it's a nice book for kids [with] illustrations [that] are nice and a logical flow to it." The RSCI aims to connect patients seeking adult stem cell therapies with 10 medical centers (all of which are outside of the US), and the goal of the new book, Super Stemmys: Doris and the Super Cells, is to increase awareness that these treatments even exist in the first place. "I want people to know that these options are out there so they can consider these options in their treatment decisions," said book author linkurl:David Granovsky,; director of communications for RSCI. "The book is the quintessential element of distribution of that information in a digestible format, which is hopefully also fun and educational." Using rhyme and illustrations by Greg Boone (penname Boonie), the book tells the story of a bone marrow stem cell named Doris -- named after University of Minnesota researcher Doris Taylor, one of the first to treat cardiac disease with skeletal muscle and later stem cells -- who is called into action to fix a failing heart.
"I just felt it was a little too narrow," Rao added, noting that the book "was completely focused on bone marrow [stem cells] -- a very small subset of the whole stem cell field." Indeed, there is no mention of induced pluripotent stem cells or embryonic stem cells. "If I wanted to write a child's book on stem cells, I would have tried to give them a flavor for the whole wide range of stem cells," Rao said. "All stem cells are not the same." "It's just not a complete story," agreed cell biologist linkurl:Pamela Robey; of the National Institutes of Health. Robey also noted that the book is also a bit unclear with regard to the science behind Doris's mission. "It was very nebulous about how that cell would fix the heart," she said. Super Stemmys "didn't really depict exactly where the field stands. There was kind of this underlying [notion] that any stem cell can do anything, and I don't think we believe that these days." The book depicts Doris and other stem cells being extracted from the bone marrow, put into culture, and then re-injected into a patient where they proceed to directly repair heart tissue. At some point between extraction and re-injection, Doris grows from an undersized "stemmy" to a gigantic "super stemmy" -- a transformation that "does not match what current technology does or presumes to do," Rao said. Such stem cells "don't repair structure [as the book implies] but may improve blood supply by providing signals to endogenous repair processes," he explained. But are these inaccuracies enough to misinform children's understanding of stem cell biology? Granovsky said that the depiction of Doris growing bigger was simply Boone's interpretation of the text -- an interpretation that likely comes from his background as a comic book illustrator, he added. Furthermore, with the science advancing at a rapid pace, Granovsky said he chose to breeze over some of the details of the mechanism to avoid "dating" the book. "I wanted it to be educational, but I didn't want to portray it as the end-all-be-all [of] how stem cells work."
"One should not expect to cover everything in the first book [on stem cells]," molecular biologist Xiangru Xu of linkurl:Yale University; wrote in an email to The Scientist. The book is "really a scientific-based fairytale [that] reflects roughly the essential facts and expectations about stem cells [thus] far." Wanting to reach "as large an audience as possible," Granovsky wrote the book at a 6th grade level -- no easy task given "the inherent science and unknown science in it," he said. The problem is that the illustrations and rhyming parts of the book appear to be targeted towards a much younger audience, Robey said -- such as kindergartners or 1st graders. But at that age, they don't "even know what a cell is," she said. "The idea of teaching children about [stem cells] is a good one; I just didn't see this piece as being at a level that would be understandable." Still, Xu said, "I think this is a [great] way to educate the young generation about the contemporary, exciting works in biomedical science research and the great potential for its medical applications." linkurl:Super Stemmys: Doris and the Super Cells,; by David Granovsky, CreateSpace, California, 2009. 52 pp. ISBN: 978-1448645169. $19.95. Images courtesy of The Repair Stem Cell Institute.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Scientists criticize adult stem cell claim;
[24th September 2007]*linkurl:Less plasticity in adult stem cells;
[5th July 2007]*linkurl:Making a Play at Regrowing Hearts;
[August 2006]*linkurl:Stem cells for heart disease? First things first;
[22nd February 2006]




Posts: 34

April 9, 2010

I think this is more about pushing politics than it is educating kids. I would focus on basic math and reading skills over stem cells every day for children?s literature. In 6th grade people are reading books like Dragon Lance, The Black Cauldron, and other similar level of books (this is a selection of my friends and I at that time); a rhyming book with more child like pictures is not going to impress a 6th grader they are already reading comic books with hyper-sexualized super heros and villains. Thus the science will be completely lost on the audience of younger readers (1st graders); ergo, the book topic is more for the parents and speaks to my introductory point that this is more politically based.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

April 9, 2010

It strikes me -- perhaps unfairly -- that the authors don't have kids of their own. Children would not be interested in this sort of topic. Their parents might be, but don't expect kids to want to read this. Yeah, I have a daughter (now 18) and believe me, there's no way she would have read this book as a child over, well, Green Eggs and Ham.

April 9, 2010

The article seems to compound a general fault in the popularization of the stem cell. A minimal definition of a stem cell includes the idea that it can form at least one tissue of interest, conventionally the tissue you wish to repair, and can self replace. In the example used in this article of the amelioration of cardiac infarcts, the bone marrow 'stem cells' have not been demonstrated to do either of these things. It degrades the appellation 'stem cell' to the same category as 'scientifically tested', i.e. an advertizing ploy.
Avatar of: JOE A BOWDEN


Posts: 1

April 9, 2010

As both a biochemist and an author of children's books I applaud the author attempting to transfer scientific "stuff" to a level for children to understand and use as a stepping stone to the future. \n The presence of lots of illustrations suggests up to 3rd grade, the text is a bit complex for that age level. One of the hardest parts of writing science for children is keeping ones agenda out of the story. For example if the author feels that embryo derived stem cells are not the way to go then that agenda will be a basis of the story. The converse is also true.\n My opinion is that an effective book for children is to use adult stem cells since a child can not assimilate cells derived from an embryo since they have no point of reference. A bad example is to try to tell a child that a baby died to make make them well... no point of reference. They can understand that a needle takes cells from mommy to make them well.\n The hallmark of science for children is to make it fun and informative and make the words of the story capture a child's imagination so they can transfer what they read to the world around them.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 107

April 9, 2010

Did it go through peer review? I'm just saying.
Avatar of: Paul Knoepfler

Paul Knoepfler

Posts: 6

April 12, 2010

I think what the authors tried to do was a good idea, but it seems as though they missed the mark. Maybe a next edition will be better, especially if it undergoes peer review by actual kids.\n\nPaul\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 5

April 20, 2010

Read his book and see why we have the most expensive health care system in the Developed World. It is about BIG MONEY.

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