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A Packed Day…

Firstly, pictures from yesterday:

In front of the capitol…

The Magna Carta!
Unfortunately, no time for tourism today! As soon as we finished breakfast we were out the door, headed to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There we met with Dr Battey, Vice Chair of NIH’s stem cell task force. He went over the new stem cell policy under the Obama Administration and the regulations for derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). For those of you who are unfamiliar with stem cell research, here’s a brief overview. Human embryonic stem cells are immortal celllines derived from fertilized human eggs, now known as a zygote. At the stage when the zygote is still a mass of identical cells, known as a trophoblast, the cells are harvested and used to create cell lines for use in research. Stem cells are useful because of their ability to differentiate into any type of cell in the human body. Clearly, the methods of obtaining human stem cells have ethical concerns and are quite controversial, resulting in this hot debate in science policy.

It was particularly interesting when the conversation turned to induced pluripotent stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) were developed in 2007. Basically, an already differentiated cell from an adult human is injected with four genes with a virus. These four genes make the cell undifferentiate and become a stem cell again, which now has the ability to differentiate into one of many cell types. The methods for obtaining iPSCs are clearly much less ethically debatable than those for obtaining hESCs. However, iPSCs and hESCs have different capabilities and applications in research.

The differences between the two cell types was something I never knew and I truly enjoyed the entire discussion. I’ve only gone over what I found most interesting here; I’m sure nobody’s interested in the entirety of my barely legible notes.

Next was the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where we met with Daniel Poux. He explained some of the fellowships that AAAS provides in order to bridge science/technology and policy. We also got insight from some current fellows of the program: how they came to be involved in the program, what they’ve done so far, what they plan on doing afterward. It was great and we got information on many other science policy fellowships that we could explore after completing a PhD.

Today concluded with a visit to the Pentagon! This is the first time the DC Science Policy Trip has gone to the Pentagon, so it was an exciting experience. We got great views of the courtyard, saw Ground Zero Cafe, and were allowed to take pictures in front of a podium, with the Pentagon logo behind us. I think that’s the one picture that everybody on the trip took. Inside the Pentagon we met with John Andelin, formerly with the Office of Technology Assessment, and Fay Peng, leader of the Biological Threat Reduction Program. Both were Caltech alumni and happy to share their experiences with us. We got a good overview of how each one ended up in Washington DC, their impressions of the system, and advice for getting into science policy.

Clearly, the entire day was full of educational fun! I may have focused on Battey’s talk in this post, but that was just because it was the one that interested me the most. I have notes from all sessions, so if anybody’s interested in hearing more about something, just leave a comment!
Tomorrow we look forward to meeting the Caltech lobbyist, Michael Ledford, and then flying home!

Elaine To