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Stem cell stories

Professor Anthony Hollander

Professor Anthony Hollander University of Bristol

22 May 2009

A pioneer of stem cell research finds time to engage with the public and the media.

“Most of us will be ill at one time or another in our lives,” says Professor Anthony Hollander. “Working in medical research gives one a particularly close link to everyone else for that reason. I see no barriers: I will talk to anyone who’s interested.”

Professor Hollander is a pioneering stem cell biologist and Professor of Rheumatology and Tissue Engineering at the University of Bristol. In November 2008, a multinational team of which he was a member made history – and headlines – by successfully completing the world’s first transplant of a whole organ grown from stem cells. In a lifesaving operation, Claudia Castillo, a young Spanish woman, received a new windpipe tissue-engineered from her own bone marrow cells.

The worldwide attention on this story has intensified Anthony’s already extensive public work. He regularly engages with everyone from schoolchildren to groups interested in science or ethical issues and gives interviews to the press, television and radio.

Media attention has led Anthony into unusual territory for a scientist. “Normally we only talk about our science, but now I’m being asked more about myself and what motivates me,” he says. This has brought up some surprising memories, including the story of a nine-year-old Anthony’s letter to the Blue Peter television programme; read about it in this BBC article. “As scientists we’re sometimes viewed as another species, or as ivory tower types,” says Anthony. “I’ve recently decided I’m on a bit of a mission to break down that stereotype by showing that I’m a human being. If I embarrass myself occasionally in the media in doing this, so be it!”

Since there are professional science communicators whose job it is to explain science to the public, why does Anthony, a working researcher, take the time to do engagement? “In the end, the best person to explain my science is me. You may lack some finesse, but you gain in conveying the raw excitement of what you’re doing. Of course, there’s room for both: you need the professional communicators, the Lord Winstons of this world – although he knows his own field very well, of course – but there is also room for some of us involved in aspects of science that the public are very interested in to get out there and talk about it. And, frankly, I enjoy it!”

 

Further information

Professor Anthony Hollander can be contacted by email at a.hollander@bristol.ac.uk.