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Stem Cells

Are Stem Cells the Basis for Immortality? - Nov. 6, 2012

Fact and folklore alike have explored the idea of an everlasting and healthy life. This quest demonstrates a desire to understand the body’s full potential. Because of the stem cell’s ability to aid in the production and reprogramming of cells, there has been much discussion about whether stems cells hold the key to immortality. On Nov. 6, 2012, three leading researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and The University of Toronto debated whether stem cells hold clues to sustained health.

With standing room only Dr. Derek van der Kooy, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, introduced the hot topic of stem cell research, providing a glimpse in to the history, the current advancements and the issues on the horizon.

Joining van der Kooy were two of SickKids leading scientists in the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology Program, Dr. Janet Rossant, Senior Scientist and Chief of Research, and Dr. Freda Miller, Senior Scientist. Both Rossant and Miller joined in a friendly debate on the question of whether or not stem cells are the basis for immortality. Each side gave persuasive arguments and raised points about the science, ethics and social impacts of such a promising area in health science. Throughout the night David McGown, VP Public Affairs at CIBC, played the able host and moderator on behalf of the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs.

Stem cells were discovered in Canada by Dr. James Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch and researchers in Ontario continue to be among the most highly cited in the world. The healing potential of stem cells is incredible and treatments already in use include transplants for leukemia and burn patients.

Over 100 guests participated in the event, as votes were taken throughout the night to determine the winning side of the debate and establish if people changed their minds on the question – “Are Stem Cells the Basis for Immortality?” through the course of the discussion. The latter half of the evening featured a Q and A session where audience members challenged van der Kooy, Rossant and Miller with questions such as the possibility of storing stem cells for later use, the ethics of prolonging life, and the accessibility of treatment in developing countries.

In the end all scientists agreed that the real purpose driving stem cell research is not immortality, it is to help improve the health of humans as they age.

Dr. Freda Miller,
Senior Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology, SickKids; Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto; Canada Research Chair, Developmental Neurobiology; Howard Hughes Medical Institute, International Research Scholar
Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research, Senior Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology, SickKids; University Professor, Departments of Molecular Genetics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Toronto
Dr. Derek van der Kooy,
Professor, Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto
Moderator: David McGown, Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs