#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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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.

The Quest for Immortality @merseysci with @jpsenescence

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

Pedro Sci BarJP Scibar

Liverpool SciBar is literally science in a bar (or pub).  It takes place in the first floor of the Ship & Mitre.  I gave a presentation on ageing and potential implications to society of retarding human ageing.  There were ~25 people in attendance (the maximum capacity is 30), so it was a good house.  The audience was a mix of young and old, University students and non-experts, men and women.  There were loads of excellent questions, from concerns about the implications of longevity therapies, to questions about diet and health, and even questions about what is possible to learn nowadays about ourselves from genetic testing.  (As an example, I told of how my dislike of coriander has a genetic basis.)  My presentation ended up being almost an extended discussion, which made it thoroughly enjoyable.

TEDxGhent: Genes regulating ageing and the quest for immortality

This is a guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães


TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”. In addition to the main TED event in North America, TEDx are independent TED-like events, which can be organized by anyone who agrees to follow the TED principles. TED and TEDx events address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. The speakers are given a maximum of 12-18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. TEDxGhent in Ghent, Belgium, has now been organized for five years running. It aims “To bring great ideas from all over the world to Ghent and to present local ideas to a larger audience.”

So I was excited about giving a TEDx talk, knowing it would be very different from a normal scientific talk. I was assigned a mentor, to help me prepare my talk. This was very useful because he advised against some of our hardwired scientific instincts, like resist the urge to explain and be cautious about conclusions, have more pictures than text in the slides, give the talk a more personal angle and include many anecdotes and metaphors.

The event itself last weekend was really interesting, with music, poetry, science, art and comedy. Its 700 tickets were sold out. My talk was entitled “Genes regulating ageing and the quest for immortality”, and I tried to give an overview of what we know about genes regulating aging and longevity, from genetic manipulations in worms, genetic determinants of human lifespan and genetics of long-lived species like naked mole rats and whales. Feedback after the talk was really good. Even though I have given many talks for general audiences, including in schools, I definitely learned a lot about giving talks to the general public.

The video  of my talk will be available on YouTube in due course [update Aug 2015: now available]. In the meantime, here is a beautiful sketchnote summarizing my talk.