Page URL:

Comic Review: Hope beyond Hype - A Story of Stem Cells from Discovery to Therapy

11 June 2012
Appeared in BioNews 660

Hope beyond Hype: A Story of Stem Cells from Discovery to Therapy

By Jamie Hall, Ken MacLeod, Edward Ross and Cathy Southworth

Published by OptiStem

Download this comic (.pdf 35.4MB)

'Hope beyond Hype: A Story of Stem Cells from Discovery to Therapy' by Jamie Hall, Ken MacLeod, Edward Ross and Cathy Southworth

Stem cell research isn't a topic you'd expect to see in a comic book, particularly when the aim is to give a realistic insight into the subject, avoiding hype and sensationalism. But that's exactly what 'Hope Beyond Hype', a graphic novel telling the story of stem cell research from discovery to therapy, intends to do.

OptiStem, a large European consortium of stem cell researchers, wanted to go beyond just explaining their work to the public, so hit upon the idea of a comic. Scientists often struggle to convey their work in an understandable, realistic but inspiring manner, so this format seems like a fresh and novel way to approach this problem.

The comic begins with the attention grabbing tale of two young boys who were badly burned in a fire. They survive thanks to pioneering treatment where a small piece of skin was taken from each boy and grown in the laboratory to produce healthy new skin for grafting. This true story seems even more remarkable when you discover that it happened in 1983 – at that time it wouldn't be surprising if it had simply been the scientist's dream treatment, to be made available ten years down the line.

The authors then go on to explain the basic biology of the stem cells that are the basis of this successful treatment. They highlight the difference between embryonic stem cells and adult tissue stem cells, a welcome distinction that is often lost in the strong emotive arguments regarding the use of embryos in research.

After further examples of success stories, the process of taking a basic discovery from the lab to the clinic is described. While shown in the context of stem cell research, almost all of what is presented would apply to many biomedical fields. Much emphasis is placed on the time and money required, and it feels as if a concerted effort is being made to bring down expectations from the sensationalist headlines often reported in the media.

A somewhat tongue in cheek illustration depicting a woman as both a young student and an elderly researcher sat in front of the same microscope emphasises the amount of time put into many great discoveries. As a research scientist myself, I could particularly relate to the dead ends and unexpected questions another scientist contemplates, with his head in his hands.

In a nod to some of the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells, an illustration of an embryo is shown above the caption: 'And as with any compromise, not everyone is happy with the decisions that are made'. This is just one way the comic discusses stem cell research in the context of wider society.

I was particularly pleased to see the issue of animal research was not glossed over. The necessity of this research often goes unreported, through fear of turning people against the work as a whole. Here it is presented in an accurate and positive light, showing why the field needs it, and the tight animal welfare regulations.

Issues from the scientist's perspective are also touched upon, highlighting the growing need for scientists to demonstrate that they are thinking about the social and economic impact of their work well in advance of it becoming a reality.

At ten pages long, 'Hope Beyond Hype' is a good introduction to the subject of stem cell research, but people more familiar with the field won't find anything new here.

The attractive illustrations work well, and add life to the topic, particularly in the drier parts about the scientific process. The use of real success stories showcases the potential of the research, and reminds us of the goals behind some of the less 'exciting' work.

I did wonder if some of the issues - such as embryonic stem cells - could be explored further, or if it would have been better to spend more time on the basic principles and scientific potential of stem cells, rather than the research process itself.

However, as a general introduction to a wide range of issues, 'Hope Beyond Hype' does a good job. It is accurate, realistic and doesn't sensationalise. I imagine the format will help with public engagement, in particular education, and it provides the reader with most of the main issues to consider in the debate.

The comic is available as a free pdf or can be purchased in hard copy on the website. The authors hope to add interactive videos and other content soon, which one hopes will expand on many of the issues they have touched upon in this first edition.

Hope Beyond Hype: a story of stem cells from discovery to therapy
EuroStemCell |  27 October 2021
30 September 2013 - by Dr Gabrielle Samuel 
This event was designed to promote debate about how and when fertility research should be reported in the media, and to ask the question 'where does the responsibility lie to ensure that such reporting is not hyped?' And that it did...
29 April 2013 - by Nina Chohan 
Visually gripping and engaging new methods are increasingly used to convey scientific principles and developments to the public. The journal Science and the National Science Foundation annually hold an international competition to recognise the best examples of projects that bring scientific information to life....
1 October 2012 - by Ailsa Stevens 
'What's up with Lorraine?' is a comic book about six superheroes - each with their own body-inspired superpowers - who live on a faraway planet called Mediland, which resembles key parts of the human body...
16 July 2012 - by Daniel Malynn 
As a viewer I do not ask for much from a show; just to be a little informative, maybe some whimsical anecdote - I did not even get this from this short film. Instead, what I got was two and a half minutes of footage mostly of people opening doors and looking 'sciency' behind weird music....
6 June 2012 - by Maren Urner 
A stem cell technique to treat the common bone disease osteonecrosis is being pioneered at Southampton General Hospital in the UK...
28 May 2012 - by Ana Pallesen 
Two patients with corneal blindness have become the first people in the UK to have stem cells transplanted into their eyes in order to restore their sight...
12 March 2012 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
Stem cell therapy may remove the need for organ transplant recipients to have lifelong drug treatment to combat the risk of rejection, which would dramatically improve patients' quality of life...
21 March 2011 - by Ailsa Stevens 
When Tim is stuck on his biology homework, his brilliant scientist and inventor uncle has the perfect solution: an invention that allows a teacher to project their thoughts directly into the brain of their pupil. 'Oh, if only' I hear every teacher and science communicator gasp. Wouldn't projecting science messages into children's minds make our lives a whole lot easier?...
10 May 2010 - by Ailsa Stevens 
I'm going to come clean from the start. My experience of comics is limited to precisely one example: 'Preacher' by Gareth Ennis and Steven Dillon - the story of Reverend Jesse Custer, a beatnik Texan cleric who is accidentally possessed by a supernatural deity during a freak accident. Needless to say, the storyline bears little resemblance to 'Alisa's Tale' - the story of a young woman with a restricted growth condition known as achondroplasia...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.