When he was in elementary school, Aaron Kling saw a TV show about paraplegics.
“I asked myself, ‘If we can get over so many injuries, how come these people can’t get over their injuries?’ ” recalled Aaron, now a senior at Cleveland High School in Clayton.
He was frustrated with science’s limitations, but a few years later he heard about stem cell research, and he found himself hopeful that one day paraplegics and many others could benefit from this emerging field of medicine.
When it came time for Aaron to start planning his senior project, he knew stem cells would be his focus. And it didn’t take him long to figure out how he wanted to present his research. He had far more to say than would fit on a trifold (a favorite format for many seniors), and even a paper wouldn’t quite cut it. So he decided to write a book.
The finished product, “A Stem Cell Primer,” was given “exemplary” status after Aaron presented it at his school, and it lives on as an e-book for Kindle. Mindful that stem cells’ potential to help people sparked his interest in the first place, he said he’s donating proceeds from sales of the book to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.
In its 60 pages, the book “goes over the basic knowledge of stem cells,” Aaron said, and discusses potential applications, areas of current study, political concerns and the future of the field. It explains that stem cells “are identical to conventional cells biologically, but they possess one key difference that sets them apart: they are pluripotent,” Aaron writes, defining “pluripotent” as having the ability, with the correct stimulation, to grow into any type of cell that makes up the human body.
Much of the book contains Aaron’s own research and insights, but he wanted to include other, more authoritative voices, too. So he included interviews with Benny Chen, director of the Division of Cellular Therapy at Duke University’s Department of Medicine, and Raluca Dumitru, director of the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Core at the UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.
“It really is probably a better idea to hear from the actual professionals in the field themselves,” Aaron said, “to kind of feel the pulse on how the field is doing.”
Aaron got in touch with Dumitru when he was more than halfway through the book and in search of a mentor for the project. In addition to interviewing her for the book, he asked her to review what he had written so far.
“She really, really gave me a lot of great directions to go in,” he said.
Dumitru said she was impressed when Aaron contacted her and excited about the opportunity to help.
“I personally think that in sciences we have to inspire and motivate the young generation,” she said, “and when I received Aaron’s email I found it the right opportunity for me to talk to someone that will hopefully become a stem cell scientist about stem cells.”
She helped him cut the book’s content down to a manageable size, Aaron said, and offered firsthand knowledge about the future of stem-cell science.
Dumitru said she was impressed with his work – and she hopes to see more of it.
“I hope his interest in the stem cell field will only grow from now on and I hope that he will become one of the leaders in this field,” she said. “He has the drive and the curiosity – the foundation of every good scientist.”
Aaron’s interest in science started from a young age.
“Its always just kind of been there,” he said, recalling that “when I was a kid I used to read anatomy books for fun. I don’t even really know why. I think it just fascinated me how the human body works.”
His work on this senior project has convinced him that stem-cell research should be his career path, he said, and he might have another book in him, too.
“This has really been a great experience,” he said. “It’s been difficult, but the end result is probably one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done.”
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