Fast-talking stem cell scientists compete in elevator pitch contest

March 26, 2013 | by Darrin Joy

A stem cell researcher steps into an elevator, followed by his congressman, a Wall Street Journal science writer and a wealthy philanthropist. As the doors close and the scientist pushes the button for his floor, the trio turns to him and asks, “So what do you do?”

Stem cells offer vast potential for curing diseases, but can scientists do a quick elevator pitch of their promising studies? Three City of Hope scientists gave it a shot (photo credit: City of Hope) Stem cells offer vast potential for curing diseases, but can scientists do a quick elevator pitch of their promising studies? Three City of Hope scientists gave it a shot. (photo credit: City of Hope)

The next 30 seconds of that scientist’s life could change his career; each of his elevator mates might be crucial to advancing his work. But he’s got to give a clear, comprehensible answer that will have them yearning for more before those doors open again.

When it comes to stem cell research — and the potential breakthroughs that could result — creating a so-called elevator speech is no easy feat. But that was exactly the challenge posed by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state’s stem cell agency. The institute asked attendees of its recent grantee meeting in San Francisco to give their best 30-second speeches about their work. They recorded the pitches and posted them on YouTube.

According to the CIRM contest webpage, the best three would receive “fame, the admiration of their colleagues, and a small prize.”

John A. Zaia, M.D., Aaron D. and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy and chair of City of Hope’s Department of Virology, placed second in the principal investigator (PI) category.

Coming in at exactly 30 seconds, Zaia cut straight to the chase. “Our goal is to cure AIDS,” he said, “so that people with HIV infection don’t have to take medicines for the rest of their life.”

Anica Sayoc from the Department of Cancer Biology tied for third place in the non-PI category.

And Grace Asuelime from the Department of Neurosciences also entered the contest.

CIRM conducted the challenge as a creative and fun way to help scientists better communicate their work to a lay audience. This is especially important in an increasingly competitive funding environment.

 

To watch more contest entries, visit CIRM’s webpage.

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