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The Stem Cell Divide
JULY 2005
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Camilla Lyons

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Stem Cells

    During the early stages of this assignment, I wanted to illustrate teeth and hair as well as the major organs that scientists are investigating for stem cell research and therapy. Since I was working for National Geographic, I knew I could get access to any medical museum in the world. So I wanted to make sure that I went to the best and ended up at the Rudolf Virchow Pathological Museum in Berlin, Germany.
This was the perfect place to photograph a story on stem cell therapy because Virchow, a prominent 19th-century physician, proposed the theory that the cell is the basis of everything. I actually got to work in his former dissection room and photograph some of his original specimens (
View the photograph.)
    Although there are a lot of clinical trials with adult stem cells, it was virtually impossible to
photograph work on human embryonic stem cells because of all the government regulations. It was really frustrating; I had to settle for a photograph of embryonic stem cells in a freezer (see page 20 in the July issue).

    Most National Geographic photographers get a month to prep for their stories and then at least two months to shoot it. But when I got the call for this assignment, I only had what amounted to about a month to finish it. Just four months out of medical school, I had just started
my residency at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, so I could only shoot on my days off. Eventually the chief resident and assistant chair of medicine at the hospital gave me special permission to take time off. They have a fondness for photography, so they told me to go for it. 
    I was really busy trying to get everything done, but I was OK with it because it wasn't that much different than my normal schedule. I'm always on call and only get about four hours of sleep a night.

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