stem cells in their environment

Stitch n Stem

May 2019

by Alice Vickers, PhD student

In April 2018 the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine (CSCRM) was awarded funding from the King’s Public Engagement Small Grant Scheme. Led by Jessica Sells, our Public Engagement Officer, we have organised a series of stem cell embroidery workshops called “Stitch ‘n Stem”. Images of stem cells and stem cell structures which have been generated by researchers in our department are used as embroidery templates and attendees are taught about stem cells while learning a transferrable skill.

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Our “Stitch ‘n Stem” sessions are based upon the 1940s “Stitch ‘n Bitch” meetings where individuals would gather together over knitting or other needlecraft and discuss ideas and issues. We collaborated with the fashion brand Wool and The Gang who delivered a tutorial of how to embroider, then whilst the attendees worked on their embroidery, there was an open discussion about stem cells and stem cell research. CSCRM researchers present at the workshops discussed their research and its direction to hear the opinion and thoughts of attendees and, where possible, include them in the planning of future projects. The attendees were also given a general introduction to stem cells and stem cell research, as well as a tour of the CSCRM to view the research laboratories and learn about the work that we carry out.

So far, these workshops have been held at Guy’s Hospital Cancer Survivor’s Day, the King’s Health Partners Summer School for sixth form students as well as multiple workshops at the CSCRM, reaching over 1,000 people from a broad range of backgrounds and ages.

The embroidery has been a fantastic medium to instigate open discussions between the attendees and CSCRM researchers. Our conversations have provided valuable insight into how members of the public perceive stem cell research. Whilst the school-age attendees had learnt about stem cells in their science lessons, most others had only heard about stem cells through the media. They were often surprised to learn about the many different types of stem cells and the broad range of applications they hold. I think it’s great that stem cells are firmly on the school curriculum now, however the embroidery workshops have highlighted to me how important it is to engage the public with scientific research first-hand. Especially since basic research doesn’t often make the headlines, we must not be reliant on the media to be the public’s source of scientific knowledge.

Below is an example of images generated from my research (top) and Alexis Lomakin’s (bottom) and the embroidery templates for them. The embroidery is a great way to illustrate stem cells and their internal components, and provides an interactive visual aid for people to understand their applications.

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