The European Union (EU)-funded project EuroStemCell has created a central online hub for information that is helping organisations and people around the world better understand stem cell research and how it can benefit society.
“There is a real appetite for the latest and most complete information on stem cell research,” says project coordinator Clare Blackburn of the University of Edinburgh, in the United Kingdom. “We are providing this information in a clear, but not oversimplified way,” she explains.
EuroStemCell project united 90 European research partners into a single platform that engages with the public about this emerging science. The project’s Toolkit and Resource Directory represent a “one-stop shop” of resources that, according to Blackburn, “may be the world’s leading collection of its kind.”
“The public can count on our information being authoritative,” says Blackburn. “So not only are we countering misinformation, but we are also promoting better decision-making,” she adds.
The centrepiece of the project is a website that presents research and other information in six major European languages – English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish – making it accessible to about three-fourths of EU citizens. The premier reference of its kind in Europe, the website received about 700,000 hits in its first three years of operation. The website stimulates dialogue within the stem cell research community through blogs, interviews and commentaries.
The EuroStemCell team also capitalised on social media channels to reach younger audiences and incorporated user feedback into the website.
EuroStemCell project’s partners have participated at more than 154 public activities attended by more than 72,000 people in 13 countries. Information is also produced for teachers and public speakers. “Our rule is that anyone can use our resources,” explains Blackburn, “as long as they acknowledge us and link back to our website for the latest information in the field.”
For Blackburn, crafting clear factsheets and overviews on various topics was only possible because the project united scientific, ethics and other experts from across Europe. “We need these different opinions to be able to provide a full picture and support scientists to engage effectively with non-specialists. That is what we have done and what we hope to continue to do,” she says.
EuroStemCell project also contributed to the ethical and societal debate that surrounds stem cell research, though Blackburn believes it is not up to the project’s scientists to determine what is right or wrong. “These decisions have to be made by individuals,” she says.
Overall, EuroStemCell has enhanced knowledge-sharing among researchers, raised the public profile of stem cell research and presented career opportunities to young scientists.