Interview With Organizers of Tomorrow’s Berkeley Stem Cell Meeting

Berkeley Stem Cell ConferenceI’m really looking forward to this Saturday’s Berkeley Stem Cell Meeting. You should go! Tickets are just $5 and the lineup is great.

This looks to be one of the best stem cell meetings in Northern California this year.

Below is my interview with the organizers giving some background and perspectives on the meeting.

1. What is the inspiration for this first conference?

Our chapter saw the conference as an opportunity for scientists, policy makers and patients to share not only the advances in stem cell research, but also the potential it has to transform modern day health care. We imagined this as a space where innovation and inspiration could come together and where the diverse stem cell stakeholders could join to foster a stem cell community. We wanted to provide the public with adequate information about the latest developments in this field and at the same time emphasize the importance of making science accessible to public discussion. Contemporary science seems increasingly inaccessible and impenetrable to the non-expert and needs translating, without which it sometimes becomes difficult, if not impossible, to follow its developments. Therefore as conference planners we wanted speakers to make their knowledge more accessible to those without a scientific background. We promote community members teaching each other and sharing their visions. We hope this will inspire new collaborations and connect us better as a community.

2. How did it first germinate and become a reality?

The chapter at Stanford held a successful conference and the idea of hosting our own stem cell conference has been brewing for a few semesters.  However, the spring 2013 semester was the first opportunity we got as a club to concretely piece our ideas together. Before we could begin our search for speakers, we had to sit down and consolidate ideas on what this conference meant to us, what was our vision. Then began the search for a widely accessible venue, speakers of varied backgrounds and perspectives, and graduate students who would be willing to present their work in-progress from institutions all over California. We started the process closer to home by seeking out Bay Area scientists and then expanded our network with the references of Joe Riggs, SSSCR Founder, and Laurel Barchas, the Cal SSSCR Chapter Founder. Many of the speakers we invited we met at last year’s World Stem Cell Summit in Florida. We strive to embody the same spirit as the World Stem Cell Summit – Connect. Collaborate. Cure.

As soon as our speakers and poster presenters were confirmed, we put together an advertising plan. After all, the audience is the last and most essential contributing factor in the success of a symposium like this. This plan consisted of designing a conference webpage and logo that aptly played into our vision of the conference. We soon began to target the Cal student body by having Cal SSSCR members put in a plug for the conference at the beginning of each large science/ and or bioengineering lecture. Along with extensive flyering across campus and at nearby high schools, we submitted bi-weekly announcements of the conference on the email list serves for all major science departments. We utilized the advertising reach of CIRM and Berkeley Stem Cell Center as well as social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get the word out.

3. Is this a collaborative effort of the SSSCR-National and SSSCR-Berkeley as well as the Berkeley Stem Cell Center?

Making this conference happen was a collaborative effort with Cal SSSCR, the Berkeley Stem Cell Center, and National SSSCR. This conference could not have been possible without the valuable advice and suggestions from people in all of these organizations. We cannot thank our mentors and colleagues enough for all the ways they made this possible.

The UC Berkeley SSSCR chapter and the Stem Cell Center have been aligned from the beginning, since the stem cell program began. Faculty from the Bioengineering department helped start and sustain the course, which was implemented by SSSCR undergraduates through the Democratic Education at Cal program. This chapter is part of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center, and many of our members work with faculty as student researchers.

National SSSCR gives continuous support to come up with event ideas and carry them out. Joe Riggs and Laurel Barchas are scientists and patient advocates who built this organization to allow engagement between students and scientists.

The Stanford SSSCR put on a great conference this year, and we appreciate their input. It is great to have other chapters to work with, and National SSSCR facilitates these collaborations. Additionally, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) funded the conference, and they have been an important collaborator of SSSCR for years. Together, we wrote the State Stem Cell Curriculum and are continuing to produce stem cell teaching resources. We believe in the “students teaching students” model; older students (undergraduates and graduate students) teach younger students (high school) on a volunteer basis. The benefits are two-fold; the younger students learn about and get excited for the most current work in regenerative medicine, and the older students get teaching experience and practice engaging with lay people. CIRM enabled a grassroots effort to engage young people with regenerative medicine. This conference is a perfect meeting ground for students, researchers, educators, patients, and anyone with an interest in stem cells.

4. How big will the conference be?

We are hoping to get about 150 people at this conference, and hopefully reach our target audience number of 300 people in upcoming years.

5. Do you plan to hold it on a yearly basis?

We hope that this first conference will lay the groundwork for an event of national reach to be held annually, and which would provide a unique platform for all major players in biomedical research: research laboratories, medical centers and the pharmaceutical industry.

6. What’s your definition of a stem cell community?

On the ground level, the stem cell community includes everyone due to the great impact that stem cell research has on the medical field. On a higher level, the stem cell community directly impacts people of various fields such as science, academia, policy, and economics. We wish to bring students together in interdisciplinary conferences such as this one.

Responses by:

Mansee Desai

President | SSSCR – UC Berkeley


Aradhana Verma

Former President | SSSCR – UC Berkeley

Undergraduate Representative | SSSCR – International

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