Stem Cells and Social Justice

Chamany, Katayoun. Associate Professor of Biology, Department of Natural Sciences and Math; Balinsky, Warren. Associate Professor of Health Services Management; Pettinger, Michael. Assistant Professor, Religious Studies and Literature; Rubin, Lisa, Assistant Professor of Health Psychology and Gender Studies; Snitow, Ann, Associate Professor of Literature and Gender Studies, Director of Gender Studies, Wargaski,Julia, Assistant Professor of Communication Design, The New School, New York, NY.; Newstetter, Wendy, Director of Learning Sciences, Georgia Tech University, and Asch, Adrienne, Director of the Center for Ethics, Yeshiva University.

This interdisciplinary non-majors course provides a balanced view of the biological, ethical, legal and social justice dimensions of stem cell research. Readings span feminist, religious, and disability rights perspectives and promote and expansive world view. Info graphics serve as learning tools to aid students in their temporal and spatial understanding of stem cell biology as well as trace the history of stem cell-related technologies and policies that govern this area of research. A student-centered learning approach using role-play and case studies threads the course curriculum and asks students to use evidence to consider the benefits, risks, and trade-offs involved in social policy-making surrounding the use of human bodies, embryos, eggs, and cells in research. Students also generate outreach projects using print, audio, and video media to raise awareness and understanding of stem cell research and its implications for society. Student learning is measured using authentic and performative assessment

c. Instructor's Goals
i. To develop modules on stem cell research that can be used across the liberal arts curriculum by faculty spanning a diverse range of disciplines such that faculty and students see the subject as interdisciplinary and students no longer shy away from the natural sciences and see the discipline as relevant to their academic interests and personal responsibilities.
ii. To develop textual and visual content for curricular modules that integrate cell biology and the social science perspectives of stem cell research
iii. To identify and interrogate the normative assumptions about the practices and policies of biomedical research: that bodies can serve as sites of experimentation or biological resources; that only healthy people can participate in society and contribute to the public good; and that science and technology are the best approaches to solving social problems.
iv. To promote the social justice mission in social policy making in two ways: procedural justice, which asks who participates in the practice and policing of in stem cell research at the lab bench or with regard to human subjects; and distributive justice, which asks who benefits from the knowledge and applications of stem cell research.

d. Student Learning Objectives
Given the breadth and depth of this course, our team defined a set of learning outcomes that we have distilled down to five major categories that include concepts, principles and skills.

1. Differentiate the various methods of developing stem cell lines and the implications for research and therapy. (biology, scientific method, disease and therapy)
2. Categorize and summarize evidence-based arguments for and against the liberalization of hESC and the ways in which policy has been shaped by these competing positions. (policy & advocacy)
3. Recognize the dominant narrative in which scientific research is positioned as progress and question the benefits and dangers associated with SCR as compared to other approaches used to promote social good. (ethical, feminist, disability rights, and religious perspectives)
4. Recognize and correct basic errors in representations of the scientific, ethical, and social dimensions of stem cell research (communication; hype vs hope)
5. Trace the history of: cell research; human subjects research; the forms of compensation that have been used in the past to balance the risks and benefits of research participation; and the formation of new regulatory structures designed to provide oversight of emerging practices.(history)

Learning outcome 1 above is focused on biology and can be broken down in more detail
1. Explain the role of various molecules and structures in the cell that regulate responses to environmental signals, and recognize macro and micro scale effects.
2. Identify the unique characteristics of a stem cell.
3. Gain familiarity with the scientific method by designing an experiment using planaria.
4. Identify natural and artificial sources of stem cells and their role in nature and research
5. Recognize that the different protocols used to obtain stem cells influence differentiation and therapeutic potential (adult, menstrual blood, cord blood, SCNT, parthenotes, PGD, cybrids, iPS)
6. Articulate the benefits and drawbacks of each method's potential in term of differentiation and contributions to basic scientific research and/or therapy.

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