An award-winning essay by Dr. Sherry Hikita, former director of the Stem Cell Core at UC Santa Barbara, and now a research scientist at Asterias Biotherapeutics, describes her motivation to do stem cell research. The essay is reprinted below:
It was pitch black. My eyes were wide open but I could not see anything. I could, however, smell something delicious. I gingerly felt where the silverware was on the table, but without being able to see, I realized it would be incredibly difficult to use these utensils. Dining with my hands was better. I could at least feel where different foods were on my plate and could feed myself, though identification of the meal was another challenge. This might be chicken. Or pork? There may have been a carrot but the other objects were a mystery. My “Dining in the Dark” meal (hosted by Foundation Fighting Blindness to raise awareness about retinal degenerative diseases) lasted only 30 minutes, but this period of being sightless was a truly profound experience. My motivation to investigate and develop a stem-cell based therapy for macular degeneration has been fueled by the intellectual challenge, the potential of stem cells and the worthwhile endeavor of restoring vision to those who cannot see. But this particular experience turned into a much higher octane fuel. I knew, with great relief, the lights would be turned on soon and I would continue living, with vision. But for those who are blind and vision impaired, there is no such relief. Our servers were vision-impaired people who shared their stories and challenges, while graciously providing advice for the unexpectedly difficult task of navigating a meal in the dark. I did not see their faces but I heard their voices and felt their hopes for research that might enable restoration of sight. These people are my jet fuel and motivate me to keep learning and striving as a stem cell scientist. And the ISSCR and its annual meetings are critical for helping me continuously develop my craft.