Science with bite

October 29, 2015

I am the Imperial College London scientist who worked on the tooth palace collaboration that was criticised by Simon Singh (“Simon Singh criticises wasteful spending in science outreach”, News, 13 October).

I was introduced to the artist Gina Czarnecki in 2008. Czarnecki asked to come to one of the workshops I run for schools to learn more about stem cells, at which she discovered that in addition to embryonic stem cells, there are mesenchymal stem cells that can be harvested from many tissues, including teeth. Czarnecki was struck by the fact that these valuable sources of stem cells are all classified as clinical waste, hence the name of the project: WASTED.

From a scientific point of view, the translucent palace represents the scaffolds that are used to make artificial organs, and the milk teeth represent the fact that, to do this, scientists still depend on the altruistic donation of body parts.

The success of the palace, in my view, was that it stimulated debate and was accessible to both children and adults. The impact of the project was evident not only in the 1,000-plus teeth that were donated, but also in the media coverage, which raised awareness of this area of science (we were featured on BBC online news, Radio 4’s Today programme and websites such as Mumsnet).

As a scientist, I believe that I have a duty to communicate my research with the public, whether it be through the traditional methods of workshops and lectures or through more innovative ways as exemplified by the palace.

Sara Rankin
Professor of leukocyte and stem cell biology, Imperial College London

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