If it were not for the subject matter, a recent class at College Park High School would have been just another science lesson for the students. Instead, their questions quickly crossed into an ongoing national debate.
"Why don't some people want stem cell research to happen?" asked student Rashan Rahimi.
"Really, the debate centers around where the source of the stem cells is," replied UC professor David Schaffer, Ph.D.
Schaffer is a professor of bio-engineering at the University California. His lecture is part of a statewide education program sponsored by the voter-created California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. It covered the science of stem cells, from those cultivated using adult skin cells, to those created from surplus human embryos.
"Some people view this as controversial. Some people view this as ethically acceptable to them. I won't make any judgement about that. My job is to provide the facts to enable people to make their own judgements," Schaffer said.
The students ranged from sophomores to seniors, and varied in what they know and believe about stem cell research.
"I had no clue what it was. So, I was interested in what the whole controversy was about," said student Rachel Validum.
"Me being a Muslim who believes in Islam, I think it's wrong when you kill an embryo," said student Rashan Rhamimi.
"Just curious... Like, if people were just more accepting of it in the past, like how far could we have gone by now?" wondered junior Jeff Oliver.
The 90-minute lecture also focused on the promise of stem cell therapies for ailments ranging from Parkinson's to heart disease. While he has given dozens of lectures on stem cell research, Schaffer says this was his first to high school students, who he points out, will soon weigh in on the issue as voters.
"And, based upon some of the questions they were asking, it encourages me that I was potentially getting through to them and they were walking away from here with some knowledge that they didn't have," he said.
Wednesday was International Stem Cell Awareness Day and CIRM announced winners of its worldwide poetry contest on stem cells. To check out the winning entries, click on the link below.