Ann Tsukamoto: The Truth about Stem Cells

May 3 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Combating Classism

When you have a baby in 2019, you’ll be asked if you want the stem cells collected from the umbilical cord and saved upon delivery. The idea is that as more research develops, stem cells could potentially have the ability to help a family. But here’s the thing that I’m sure won’t surprise you one bit: it’s expensive.

It got me thinking that even down to microscopic levels, privileged folks’ lives are seemingly more valued than the lives of the less fortunate. There are ways to combat classism, especially at work: Consider an income-based, sliding scale for membership fees, or the cost of services. Foster an environment in which employees can talk about their financial struggles. Most of all, don’t assume everyone has as much as you do.


It was just a handful of years ago, in 2013, when scientists used human skin cells to create the first embryonic stem cell. What that means is there’s slow-growing research and no absolutism regarding how stem cells can help a variety of health conditions. There are four types of stem cells, one of which is essentially a blank slate and has the potential to turn into any other kind of cell. Science is cool, y’all.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Dr. Ann Tsukamoto, Inventor, Scientist & Stem Cell Researcher

Dr. Ann Tsukamoto is an inventor and stem cell researcher. She does the work needed to advance our understanding of what stem cells are and how they can be used in the future. Back in the 90s, Ann was one of the scientists who discovered human blood stem cells, and then invented a way to isolate them.

Blood stem cells, simply put, are considered bone marrow. I’m sure you’ve seen calls for the bone marrow registry or bone marrow transfers. Ann’s co-patented invention has given hope to those with blood cancer. It’s no wonder she’s been called a woman innovator who has “changed our world.”

With a dozen patents under her belt, Ann has committed her life to using science for good. When she was studying for her PhD at UCLA, there was no way she could’ve known just how much of a history-making researcher she’d be. In the late 90s, she joined the first stem cell company, called SyStemix, and later joined another company dedicated to this particular area of research, aptly called StemCells, Inc.

Stem cells are not without their controversy; the company StemCells, Inc. has since shut down, as it had trouble passing clinical trials. There’s a business-like element to scientific research, because funding is given to develop, test and even administer new ideas. But if the results aren’t as booming as you’d hoped, it’s financially irresponsible to continue onwards.

As Ann and most other researchers can attest, when spending your life discovering the previously undiscoverable, there are highs and lows. The imperative thing is to remember the highs and learn from the lows. By waking up every day with a passion and mission to perhaps save someone’s life, Ann is a reminder that we should do what we can for others.


Our quote today is by Princess Diana, who is remembered for her goodhearted and giving nature. But, interestingly enough, not even a princess could do it all. At one point, she was a patron or president of about 100 charities, until she reduced the number of organizations she was involved in to a mere six. She said:

"I don't go by the rule book. I lead from the heart, not the head.”

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