Imagine having a universal tool to fix any broken part in your house, regardless of how different each part was or how specific the tool would have to be in order to fit what was needed. Now imagine that the house comes with the tool while it’s being constructed, but even when it’s finished, the tool works as a multipurpose fixer in any of its rooms. If your body’s the house, then stem cells are essentially these universal tools that hold the answer to curing many different health conditions by the process of specialization of these cells in order to cater to multiple parts of the body.
Human stem cells, though unspecialized, have the ability to develop into various cells in the body to serve specific functions, and then can go on to divide so as to replenish these cells. Stem cell research allows for a better understanding of human development and how undifferentiated stem cells become specialized cells. It is also possible to gain insight as to how diseases develop and how they can be treated by examining the different aspects of these complicated cells. Stem cells can also offer more information on the efficacy and behaviors of new drugs. More than 70 major diseases and medical conditions that affect millions of people, such as cancer, diabetes, ALS, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and many more could potentially be treated or cured through stem cell research. The many potential benefits of encouraging stem cell development and research at first astounded me, but then inspired me to pursue my own interests involving stem cell research.
However it was for more than this reason that I felt somewhat awed and impressed when I heard the recent announcement by Harvard stem cell researchers. The news that the scientists were able to produce massive quantities of human insulin-producing beta cells using human embryonic stem cells signaled a new stage in groundbreaking developments for both diabetes and stem cells. This incredible scientific advance may lead to an effective treatment for Type 1 Diabetes. It was hearing news of this potential breakthrough during my Visitas that convinced me that Harvard was the place for me. If such an astounding development could be made using stem cells, I wanted to be a part of it and follow in the footsteps of the researchers and scientists that made it possible.
I was only nine-years-old when I learned what about stem cells were and how they might yield substantial medical benefits. In my case, these benefits could better the life of a family friend with ALS. To me, it seemed something out of an old sci-fi movie and I imagined it a tool that could morph into whatever shape or function in order to fit the task at hand. I wasn’t exactly far off, seeing as stem cells stand to differentiate into a targeted function that may lead to cures and treatments for people who previously had a faced bleak outlook on their conditions. Hearing that Harvard stood on the brink of pushing stem cell research into a new area that was previously unexplored made me feel more ambitious and driven considering the various ways that I could be a part of such a project that could potentially save or better the lives of others. It was inspiring hearing how those before me devoted so much to their stem cell research and I knew I needed to be there to witness their progress and to help them in any way that I could.
Harvard holds many opportunities for those looking into scientific research. The Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology offers undergraduates the opportunity to join one of 17 to 20 labs and pursue independent research projects in many areas of interest related to stem cells. The hands-on work offers students more, and better quality, experiences and immensely influences their studies. Having Harvard either provide or assist in gaining the funding for a research project alone is a promising attribute that makes the undergraduate experience at Harvard so appealing. The ease with which undergraduates can discuss research topics with faculty encourages students to go on to develop their own research projects and pursue their interests within the life sciences with the aid of influential mentors.
For those interested in pursuing a concentration involving stem cell research, development, and/or engineering, Harvard offers multiple tracks. While I’m concentrating in Biomedical engineering, I applaud how Harvard’s Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology concentration allows for research as a basis for education. Becoming aware of the multitude of research opportunities available along with the range of courses that offer a comprehensive understanding of human biology convinced me that my ambitions as a biomedical engineer and my interest in research would be best-suited at Harvard. The Bachelor of Arts in biomedical engineering option for my concentration is geared towards preparing students for doing research in labs or attending medical school, while a bachelor of sciences will allow for accreditation as an engineer. However, a number of concentration options offer undergraduates the opportunity to benefit from connections with Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute.
Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute has allowed for a network of stem cell scientists between Harvard and affiliated hospitals and the biomedical industry. In creating such a source of academic support, Harvard encourages the participation of undergraduates in groundbreaking research. Harvard has the largest concentration of biomedical researchers in the world within its community as a result. With stem cell scientists that work with various collaborating departments, Harvard researchers are able to make great strides in the field of stem cell engineering.
The importance of stem cell research along with the multitude of opportunities to pursue the venture make Harvard a stronger community for those interested. With passionate faculty and access to labs and funding, undergraduates are surrounded by ambition and possibilities that influence later research projects. Stem cells may lead to the cure and treatment to such different diseases and medical conditions that prospects are endless. Starting out as a freshman at Harvard, I feel like an unspecialized stem cell being developed to solve whatever problem comes my way.
Final ScientisTalk of the Semester!
When: 4/25, 6-70pm
Where: Lowell Small Dining Hall
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