Cardiac, Body Biology, Neuromuscular and Bioengineering/Liver

by Michelle Gehlman-Teeter for iLoveKent

The scientists at Mill Creek Middle School brought their A-game to get kids interested in science on December 15. They came from the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM) with enough labs to cover four school periods.

This is the third year ISCRM has come to Mill Creek with labs, and it’s the biggest year so far.

“The first year it was only one science class, last year it was the whole eighth grade [for one period], this year [it’s four periods that] the eighth graders rotate through,” said Mill Creek site coordinator for Communities In Schools of Kent,  and organizer, Marit Murrry.

Each room had a theme: Cardiac, Body Biology, Neuromuscular and Bioengineering/Liver. Marit Murry’s Father, Dr. Chuck Murry, is the Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Biology and Interim Director of the ISCRM. His lab is, among other things, trying to use stem cells to fix damaged heart cells. This is his third year participating in this program arranged by Communities In Schools and his Lab ran the Cardiac room.

As he introduced the scientists in his lab, people from all kinds of backgrounds, he pointed out to the kids that clearly “science is an international thing.” After showing the class some video of working heart cells they have created in the lab, he and his team had hands on demonstrations for the kids.

There was a race to pump the “blood” into a container the fastest, getting hooked up to a heart monitor, using a bike pump to inflate real pig’s lungs, and getting to touch real human heart and lungs while comparing the healthy and unhealthy ones. It was surprising to see most of the kids leaning in to touch the organs with their blue gloved fingers with interest, instead of turning away in disgust.

“That’s what smoking does to your lungs,” said Murry as he revealed the diseased lung. The murmurs following made clear the students understood this side lesson as well as the main one.

There were three other UW Labs involved this year: The Stevens Lab ran the Bio-engineering and Liver room, the Mack and Regnier Labs ran the Neuromuscular room, and the Sniadecki Lab ran the Body Biology room. Some of the highlights in the rest of the rooms were: getting electrodes attached to one student’s arm, while another student made their arms move involuntarily; pulling DNA strands out of a strawberry, and looking at the view from a digital microscope.

The media tends to make stem cell research confusing. Many people are not clear on what stem cells really even are.

Ian Murnaghan from explains, “Stem cells have key features that separate them from other types of cells. They are…Unspecialized and renew themselves by dividing…Able, under specific conditions, to become cells with specialized jobs (e.g. nerve cell)…When a stem cell divides, the new cell can become a different cell with a more specific function, such as a heart cell, or it can remain a stem cell.

“Stem cells are vital to humans… Stem cells also have therapeutic potential for creating tissues. The waiting lists for organ donation are overwhelming and many people die whilst waiting for an organ transplant. Certain types of stem cells may also provide a source of cells to treat a broad range of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, burns, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”

Renee Murry, Public Policy Manager of Youth Development Executives of King County, (and Marit Murry’s mother), said “It’s great having kids exposed to this science.  They [the UW Labs] are only twenty miles away, but they may not be exposed to it otherwise.”

The Labs brought all the students UW Medicine t-shirts and bracelets as mementos to this fun learning day.

Chuck Murry said as he was setting up, “it’s a fun chance to have some community involvement. Most of us work in a lab or teach older people. It’s great seeing through the kid’s eyes the first time they see it, how cool science is, showing them how it relates to health, and to remember why we love all of this.”


Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter is a writer and photographer from Kent, Washington. Michelle is a contributor to She loves to find interesting places to go and fun things to do and share them with her readers. Click links to see her writing, photography or Facebook page.

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