In Depth

PBS, ‘Independent Lens’: ‘Mapping Stem Cell Research’

This year’s Peabody Awards included recognition for PBS’ “Independent Lens: Mapping Stem Cell Research,” a documentary that took the complicated issue of stem cell research and made it personal. “Dr. Kessler was our way into this issue, because it gets very clouded very quickly around religion,” said Lois Vossen, series producer.

“We felt this was an important way to get to the issue through human beings, through people who are living or dying as a result of decisions being made. It was very personal and still very universal,” she said.

The film tells the story of neurologist Dr. Jack Kessler’s daughter, who injured her spine in a skiing accident. Dr. Kessler turned his energies toward finding a method to repair damaged spinal cords, refocusing his research on developing a therapy using embryonic stem cells to regenerate the damaged parts of the nervous system.

The Peabody Awards board wrote, “Neither scientific facts nor ethical complexity nor emotional drama was sacrificed in this documentary about a neurologist who took up stem cell research after his beloved daughter suffered a spinal injury.”

While Dr. Kessler’s story was the driving force of the film, there was also real scientific information and data in the film. “There was still a lot of meat on the bones, a lot of medical and scientific information. Also, for better or worse, the news can only do so much. We were able to devote a lot of time to stem cell research,” said Ms. Vossen.

Beyond its broadcast on PBS, “Independent Lens” traveled with the program. “This film was featured in our community cinema program. We went out to 50 cities across the country and showed it in community centers and libraries, art museums, etc., followed by a panel discussion after every one of those screenings so that local experts on all sides of the issue could weigh in,” said Ms. Vossen.

“Independent Lens” created a “Mapping Stem Cell Resear” Web site, as well, packed with information to support the film, including a myth-vs.-reality section.

“The broadcast is essential and important, but to make sure that people have more information and correct information—that’s what it’s really all about,” said Ms. Vossen.