Science is demanding as well as exciting. Dish Life, the final of four Cambridge Shorts films, compares the task of raising stem cells in the lab to the challenge of looking after a gang of unruly kids. In conversation with real-life children, scientists show how tricky it is to work with these ‘super cells’.

Stem cells are the stuff of life – but what’s it like to work with them in the lab? To unlock the secrets of how stem cells diversify into the different parts of our body, and pave the way to medical advances, scientists need to culture dishes of living material.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds: stem cells flourish only when they are happy. They need lots of food for a start. Because they excrete waste matter, the medium they live in needs replenishing. As they multiply, cells need splitting up so that they have enough space. Before long they’re hungry (and grubby) all over again.

Caring for stem cells, day in, day out, is a bit like looking after a gang of growing children. Dish Life employs a conversational style and enlists a group of real kids to explain some basic science. The scientists are the endlessly-patient parents and the cells the sometimes-unpredictable kids.

The film opens a window on to the life of a scientist working with stem cells: life has to be organised around the demands of the cells. If stem cells are round and shiny, rather like Christmas tree decorations, they are healthy. If they are flat or spiky, they might be dying.

In an engaging and light-hearted way, Dish Life illustrates the high level of commitment required to work successfully with living cells in research that contributes to the development of new treatments for degenerative diseases. Being a scientist is fulfilling – but it’s also a lot of hard work.

Dish Life has won third place in the Raw Science Festival in Los Angeles.

Dish Life is one of four films made by Cambridge researchers for the 2016 Cambridge Shorts series, funded by Wellcome Trust ISSF. The scheme supports early career researchers to make professional quality short films with local artists and filmmakers. Researchers Dr Loriana Vitillo (Stem Cell Institute) and Karen Jent (Department of Sociology) collaborated with filmmaker Chloe Thomas.



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