#Neuroblastology! Stage 1 of the project gets underway

 

Guest post by Hannah Davies

A bit about the project…

We are living longer – which is great – however this also increases the incidence of diseases associated with aging. One such condition is Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that the cost of dementia to the UK economy is expected to be £59.4 billion by 2050. As such there is a drive to improve diagnosis and generate therapeutic agents that will tackle this devastating disease.

This project (supported by a Biochemical society outreach grant) will raise awareness of the societal implications of an ageing population and dementia alongside demonstration and explanation of some of the types of research that is currently ongoing to increase our understanding of the processes of ageing. A key area of research into understanding the ageing brain is development of in vitro model systems to provide an environment to test new diagnostic and therapeutic agents prior to clinical trials. The emphasis of this project is to give students an understanding of the important role that these cell systems can play in understanding the ageing brain.

This project will have two stages. The first stage will involve collaboration with John Dyer at Liverpool life sciences UTC to develop methodology and teaching materials around cell culture models in the context of the ageing brain. The second stage of the project will be to deliver the workshops/plenaries/practical sessions on the ageing brain to other local schools in the area.

Liverpool life sciences UTC is a specialist school for life sciences and has many students aspiring to work in health and science disciplines. Students are assigned to a selected ‘pathways’ that enables them to tailor their school activities to their future aspirations. One aspect of this is the innovation factory where students can design and test research questions. Currently, they are still developing their labs to accommodate the experiments dreamt up by the students using old instrumentation donated from industry and academia. At present, they have equipment suitable for cell culture (CO2 incubators and laminar flow hoods) but they do not have the expertise or reagents to enable experiments with live cells despite interest from many of their students.

Where we are up to…

On Monday 18th January 2016 after several months of discussions and preparation we took proliferating SHSY-5Y (a neuronal cell-line) cells into UTC. Armed with protocols, risk assessments and lab coats we taught some keen and able representatives from years 11, 12 and 13 how to care for the cells in our absence. The students will culture the cells until they have sufficient for their ambitious experiments. With so many students from several years interested they will need to passage the cells several times to get the volume/number required. Just before February half term they will harvest the cells and perform their experiments.  The students were excellent and I have every faith they will do a great job! Wish them luck!!

Look out for updates (#Neuroblastology) to see how they get on and what exciting experiments they have planned…

 

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Range High School students visit the NMR Centre

Guest post by Dr Jill Madine, Research Fellow in the Institute of Integrative Biology (IIB)

On Friday  22nd January chemistry A-Level students from Range High School visited the Institute for a workshop in the NMR Centre for Structural Biology organised by Dr Jill Madine.  The aim of the visit was to gain some practical experience to complement their A-Level chemistry curriculum.  Throughout the day the students learnt about the advantages and disadvantages of mass spec and NMR from Dr Mark Wilkinson and Dr Marie Phelan, learnt to prepare and run NMR samples and how to interpret the data.  Additionally, prior to their visit, as part of a school practical, they have made salicylic acid – a precursor for aspirin. We obtained these samples and collected NMR spectra of their products ready for analysis on the day.  This enabled them to establish how successful their synthesis had been and compare their results across the class. 

Overall a good day was had by all.  Student feedback highlighted that it was good to go outside of a classroom and see how NMR and mass spec are being applied here in the University and beyond across a range of disciplines.  A range of University of Liverpool postgraduate students and postdocs helped with the day providing practical and theoretical advice, including Dr Hannah Davies, Dr Vicky Pedder, James Torpey and Kieran Hand.

The Quest for Immortality – @livuniIIB’s @jpsenescence @WidnesScibar

Guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Integrative Biology

A SciBar is literally science in a bar (or pub).  After giving a presentation at the Liverpool SciBar in November, on Wednesday 13th January I gave a presentation at the Widnes SciBar.  It was a rainy winter night, with Liverpool FC playing Arsenal at the same time, so I must admit my surprise that the room was packed for my talk with over 40 people in attendance.  Although there were a few young people, it was mostly an older audience.  I gave my usual presentation on ageing and potential implications to society of retarding human ageing, and we had an excellent discussion.  Questions varied from basic (“What is this ATCG you keep talking about?” was my favourite) to quite knowledgeable questions like “You’ve spoken about protein-coding genes in ageing, but what about the role of non-coding RNAs in ageing?”

Overall, I had a wonderful time and, later, I also received some feedback from the organiser (Bob Roach), who told me that one person commented:

That talk was perfect in so many ways. His covering of the subject was “deep” enough for everyone to understand and yet still get over the core points of his message. He was relaxed and entertaining and left us awakened to the vast philosophical and scientific importance of the subject. I left the meeting with a feeling of contact with another front line branch of science.

@livuniIIB’s @TheLadybirdman representing @BritishEcolSoc @theASE conference

On January 8th, IIB’s Prof Greg Hurst attended the Association of Science Educators (ASE) annual conference in Birmingham.  The ASE is the annual gathering of primary and secondary educators – teachers, trainee teachers and professionals involved in curriculum design and delivery.

Greg contributed to a one day symposium ‘Science in the Real World’ sponsored by the Society of Biology, with a representative of various learned societies giving 40 minute talks where research in one area of the curriculum is highlighted and updated to its current practice and applications. He represented the British Ecological Society, where he has served on the Education committee for the last four years.

His talk was about the importance of microbiomes in the biology of individual animals, and from this their impact on animal population and communities in natural population. Highlighting first of all how human digestion and physiology is a product of both the animal and the microbes within their gut, he then gave case studies of a wider range of animals where microbial function was even more key. Microbes allow desert rats to feed on the toxic creosote bush in the Mojave, aphids to eat plant sap devoid of amino acids, and tse tse flies to live on blood, that lacks B vitamins. Many ways of life that exist would not exist without symbiosis with microbes.

The talk provoked a lively discussion, with questions ranging from the role of breast feeding in initiating microbiomes (Answer: no man should ever tell a woman how to feed their baby), through to the big question: why can’t/don’t animals carry out these metabolic functions for themselves?

 

 

The BIG Little Event 2016

BIG is a community for individuals who are involved in science communication. They hold a variety of conferences and workshops throughout the year, including the Little Event. The Little Event is a one day workshop for early career science communicators which I was lucky enough to attend after winning the BIG Little bursary. This included registration for the event, travel expenses, and a years membership to BIG. This year’s event was held at Think Tank, a science centre in the heart of Birmingham.

After a very early start, I arrived in Birmingham and made my way across the city to Think Tank. Upon arrival, I was shown into a room with about 40 other budding scientists and science communicators. We came from a wide range of backgrounds (from engine designers to neuroscientists) and were at a variety of different stages in our careers. Some people were still studying (like me) whilst others had been working in science communication for a couple of years. Throughout the day, we were treated to presentations and workshops by people who work in different areas in science communication. In the morning session, we had talks by James Soper (www.thejugglingscientist.com) and Ashley Kent, director of Cheltenham science festival. James Soper taught us the three key questions for effective science presentations

  • What’s the story?
  • Who’s the audience?
  • Where’s the science?

Ashley Kent then described the key factors to consider when organising large events. The afternoon sessions included talks by Brian Mackenwells (Public Engagement Officer, University of Oxford), Toni Hamill (Centre of Life), and Bridget Holligan (Science Oxford). In these talks, we learnt the importance of higher order thinking, and that engagement needs to be Hand-On, Minds-On, and Hearts-On.

Lunch time was spent exploring the centre and chatting with the other participants. As well as allowing us to exchange ideas and resources, our varied backgrounds meant we could exchange interesting facts about the exhibits. A private tour of the science garden showed us that science doesn’t have to be an indoor activity.

A careers session allowed us chat with the organisers and speakers. I spent most of my time speaking to Lauren Deere (manager of Think Tank) who was able to give me some great advice on how to get a job as a content developer in a science museum (my dream job!).

Attending the Little Event was a brilliant opportunity for me to learn the skills needed to become a successful Science Communicator. The chance to meet other early career science communicators has provided me with invaluable advice, contacts, and ideas to help me make the leap into Science Communication when I graduate. It was a wonderful day and I look forward to (hopefully) attending the Big Event in July! The thing that I am most excited about however is my BIG membership, meaning I get free entry into Science Centres across the country!

Work Experience Placement in the CCI

Dania Al-Baden, a year 12 student from Notre Dame Catholic College spent a week in the Centre for Cell Imaging:

My placement was for 1 week in December in the Centre for Cell Imaging at the University of Liverpool. I was able to work with some students who were using the microscopes for their projects and learned how microscopy helps them conduct their research which was very enlightening. Working in the lab has also taught me some key skills such as pipetting very small volumes as well as how important it is to avoid contamination in cell culture.

The staff in the CCI was amazing, friendly and helpful. I worked with Joanna, Joan, Marco and Dave who have all inspired me to carry on my studies with science. I enjoyed my time immensely in the CCI and I would love to come back as well as recommending it to other students who have an interest in this field.