Using a stem cell’s journey to teach kids science

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As far as Aldo Pourchet is concerned you are never too young to learn about stem cells. Aldo should know. He’s a molecular and cellular biologist and the co-founder and CEO of Omios Bio, which develops immunotherapies for cancer, infectious and inflammatory diseases.

Aldo Pourchet

And now Aldo is the author of a children’s book about stem cells. The book is “Nano’s Journey! A Little Stem Cell Visits the Heart and Lungs.” It’s the story of Nano, a stem cell who doesn’t know what kind of cell she wants to be when she grows up, so she goes on a journey through the body, exploring all the different kinds of cell she could be.

It’s a really sweet book, beautifully illustrated, and written in a charming way to engage children between the ages of 5 and 8. I asked Aldo what made him want to write a book like this.

“I was interested in providing very general knowledge such as the principle of life, the basic logics of nature and at the same time to entertain. It was very important for it not to be a textbook.

“Why Stem cells? Because it is the most fascinating biology and they are at the origin of an organism and throughout its life play an essential role. They evolve and transform, so they have a story that unfolds. An analogy with children maybe. It’s easy to imagine children are like stem cells, trying to decide who they are, while adults are like differentiated cells because they have already decided.

“For the kids to appropriate the story, I thought that humanizing cells was important.  I wanted children to identify themselves with the cells and especially Nano, the little girl main character. It’s a book written for the children, in the first place. We tell the story at their level. Not try to bring them up to the level of life science.

Aldo says right from the start he had a clear idea of who he wanted the lead character to be.

“I think the world needs more female leaders, more female voices and influence in general and in every domain. So quite early it became natural for me that Nano would be a girl and also would have a strong character, curious and adventurous.

“Blasto came later because I was looking for a companion to share the adventure with Nano. Blasto is a fibroblast so he is not supposed to leave the Bone Marrow but fibroblasts are everywhere in our organism so I thought it was an acceptable stretch.

The drawings in the book are delightful, colorful and fun. Aldo says he had some ideas, rounded shapes for the cells for example and a simple design that reflected the fact that there are no lines in nature. Illustrator Jen Yoon took it from there:

“Based on Aldo’s direction and imagination, I envisioned the style like drawings on a chalkboard. Soft curves with rough textures. After that everything went smoothly. Following Nano’s journey with my iPad pencil, it felt like a boat ride at an amusement park.”

The books are written to be read aloud by parents, adults and teachers to kids. But, spoiler alert, we don’t find out what cell Nano decides to be in this book. She’s going to have more adventures in other books before she makes up her mind.

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