The "Stem Cell Barbie" Piece

This particular piece has had a long and storied past, originating as far back as my term as an Immunology lecturer during my Ph.D. days (we're talking back in 1997 or so). Essentially, one of things I did (and still do) with my lectures is incorporate graphics that are both visually interesting and academically offbeat, but always with a clear science perogative. I usually like to think of them as "transition" points, whereby it gives the student a chance to break from the monotony of a lecture (which no matter how fascinating the topic, and how captivating you are, will tend to glaze even the most attentive mind after 20 to 30 minutes). Plus, I get a lot of pleasure when I pull off a good teaching session all the while creating a running laugh track in the background.

Anyway, stem cell barbie used to be epithelial cell barbie, and was used for discussions on natural immunity (the first line of defence being your own body's own epithelial barriers).


Years later, and after a still continuing appearance as a t-shirt design for my lab, I had a go at playing around with the joke with a move towards a much larger target - i.e. stem cells.

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"Hey kids, this Barbie might get pregnant!"

"Comes with refrigerated unit to prevent mold."

"Stem Cell Barbie uses only materials from cell lines approved by George W. Bush himself."

"See Barbie scab!"

"Watch her fall in love with Cadaver Ken!"

"Have fun with your religious friends - tell them she's made from embryos!"

"A quality product: only 1 in 4 will get cancer."

"Feels like real skin because it is real skin."

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Although generally met with good reviews at both McSweeney's and Yankee Pot Roast (and I think I even tried Maisonneuve), it basically came up empty, until I had another crack at it by expanding the joke to include other types of Barbies. It eventually made the cut at Yankee Pot Roast as Notes from Mattel's "Future of Barbie®" Brainstorming Session, with the added bonus of some graphic work done by the fine folks over there.

Maybe one of these days, I'll drag out my notes for the "Complement Cascade" lecture - now that was a challenging lecture.

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Epithelial cell Barbie T-shirts? I'd buy one of those.