New exhibit hopes to intrigue next generation of researchers

Delving into regenerative medicine


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Entranced by the video game, a young boy worked at the touchscreen to draw circles around, of all things, stem cells. Other children soon had gathered to watch, then participate, then attempt to take their turn at the game.

They all wanted a chance to earn points by encircling the stem cells, while avoiding other cells that would cost them points.

And to think that elementary school children would be so intrigued by regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.

The Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore unveiled a new multimedia exhibit yesterday that strives to engage children -- and adults -- in the advanced topics that Pittsburgh researchers have been tackling for decades with amazing results, including regrown human fingers and successful hand transplants.

The field of research that long has intrigued humankind now is becoming a reality.

The exhibit -- "If a Starfish Can Grow a New Arm, Why Can't I?" -- took seven years of planning with local researchers, considered to be world experts, joining with educators and science center officials.

The interactive, permanent "Starfish" exhibit is the product of a partnership involving the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, ASSET Inc., the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Center.

The exhibit leads visitors of all ages through basic cell biology to promote understanding of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, while also explaining current applications of the science and what the future holds. The exhibit also addresses ethical issues involved in the science.

Seamore, an animated Elvis look-alike starfish, guides visitors through the complex science to show how some animals can regrow lost limbs and body parts, then traces the process to higher species and humans who have largely, albeit not entirely, lost this regenerative ability.

Exhibits include a cell-puzzle and a cell-matrix station, a stem cell Q&A kiosk, an area where visitors can learn about professionals in the field, and a kiosk where they can register opinions about the ethics of tissue engineering.

Science center officials stress that Pittsburgh -- home of the Salk vaccine and major advances in transplantation and regenerative science -- is the ideal location for the one-of-a-kind exhibit.

John Pollock, a Duquesne University biologist and science filmmaker, produced the video game that attracted so much attention from children. As with other exhibit attractions, the game captures the interest of students but provides scientific background and details in clear language to promote education.

In conjunction with the exhibit, ASSET Inc., based on the South Side, has developed a two-day course to help middle school teachers connect the exhibit and the topics with science curriculum.

The science center will showcase replicas of the exhibit at four and potentially five other science centers across the nation.

Ann Metzger, science center co-director, said exhibits such as "Starfish" help "develop the future work force and ensure we have a scientifically literate society."

"There are 1,000 unfilled positions in research and technology in the region at any time, and exhibits like this one will hopefully inspire the children that visit the science center to explore these science and medical careers and create the next generation of researchers for this region."


David Templeton can be reached at dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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