I’m a Scientist Get me Out of Here!

danielfovargueDan Fovargue is a researcher on the FORCE imaging project in the Department of Biomedical engineering. Here he describes his experience taking part in I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!”

This post originally appeared on the King’s Engaged Research Network blog. 

Why did you want to engage the public? 

I recently participated in an I’m a Scientist: Get me out of here event. Past events had piqued my interest, as I was drawn to the opportunity to explain and think about a range of topics in science. The competition aspect of the event also seemed really fun. So this time around, when I saw that they were running a medical physics zone I was especially keen to join, knowing that the focus would be on topics related to my research.

I work on MR elastography, which is an imaging and engineering method for non-invasively measuring tissue stiffness. Although this is a method with much potential, it is still somewhat unknown, especially in the public. It seems then, that elastography could benefit from some outreach and exposure, so I was additionally motivated to participate in this event.

 I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here! logo

Who did you engage with and what did you do?

The events are competitions between five scientists focusing in a certain area. The scientists answer questions from students (years 7-12) both by posting responses on a website and by discussing during live chat sessions. The students vote for a scientist based on how the scientists answered their questions. The most common questions covered the why’s and how’s of becoming a scientist. These were followed by an assortment of science questions across many disciplines, including the cool (black holes, artificial intelligence) and the controversial (big bang, evolution, climate change).

Of course, there were plenty of questions related to medical physics. One helpful feature of the competition was that the scientists had profiles with information on their research (as well as hobbies). This way, the students could tailor questions to each scientist, including asking about their specific work and research. However, the philosophy of the event is to allow any question to be asked, so the students don’t have to stick to science. This results in another category of random and silly, but usually interesting, questions. 

What was the impact?

Fortunately, I got to answer lots of questions about how elastography works, what we can apply it to, and how it improves diagnoses. I even had a few rather insightful questions regarding the specifics of the physical processes in elastography, mostly questioning what types of mechanical waves can be seen with MRI and how this relates to measuring tissue stiffness. I also had the opportunity to highlight the work of other members of the elastography research group at KCL and other collaborators. I think the students were impressed that people I work with are currently applying elastography to a broad range of diseases like heart failure, breast cancer, and liver fibrosis.

Hopefully, even the students who aren’t currently too interested in science were able to get something out of this event. Part of the point is to simply show that scientists are normal enough people and break down the walls of the ivory tower. I tried to take this to heart, so I made sure to be myself and discuss a variety of topics with the students. 

How did it influence your research/you as a researcher?

Explaining my research and other scientific topics in this format was challenging but very rewarding. It was interesting to go from a meeting with my PI to answering a year 8 student’s question on elastography. The students also asked a lot of big picture questions, like where my work fits in with cancer treatment in general. I had to do some reading on cancer during the event to answer these questions appropriately which, in turn, gave me a better appreciation and understanding of the clinical side of medical physics.

During the live chat sessions there was very little time to plan out answers. I would read a question, try to think of a clever response, spend a few seconds writing, sometimes read back over it, and then move on to the next question. I usually like to think very carefully when explaining concepts, but the pace here did not allow for this. So, although, these 30 minute sessions could be exhausting, they really helped me improve my ability to explain concepts quickly and increase my confidence while doing so. There was just no time to second guess myself.

Overall this was a really fun experience. Oh! And I won!

If you’re interested in taking part in I’m A Scientist yourself, take a look at their website: https://imascientist.org.uk/  

Taking part in a research study: a different perspective

Jenny Cook
Dr Jenny Cook

Dr Jenny Cook is a Research Associate at King’s College London studying the impact of engaging publics with health research.

I am a researcher in Public Engagement for King’ College London and the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre, part of my job role is to promote taking part in clinical research to the general population.

So last month I decided to practice what I preach and took part in a research study at the Division of Imaging Sciences and Biomedical Imaging based over at St Thomas Hospital. The study is called the iFind project which stands for intelligent Fetal Imaging and Diagnosis.

The study, funded jointly by the Wellcome Trust and EPSRC aims to improve the accuracy of routine 18-20 week screening in pregnancy, by bringing together advanced ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, robotics and computer aided diagnostics.

So when I realised I was eligible to take part, for a couple of extra hospital visits, I thought it would be for a good cause!

I had worked previously with the iFind team to engage different audiences with the project as educational and interactive sessions using a pregnant tummy mannequin and the ultrasound machines for the King’s Health Partners Summer School and International Clinical Trials day.

I emailed them for more details and was put in touch with a very friendly Research Midwife who sent me over a patient information pack and some available dates.

I arrived at the Clinical Research Facility on a grey drizzly morning and was met by Josie, a friendly researcher who ran through some final consent and information forms with me. She reassured me about the practical details of the study, like who would be present and how long each part would last.

I went into the Ultrasound room and was met by three people; a research sonographer, one fetal cardiac clinician researcher and another working on the imaging robotics part of the project.

They talked me through the images they were collecting and explained what they meant and why they were important to the study. They also showed me how they can create the 3D images using the new software and at the end printed me out five pictures for me to take home.

Since taking part in iFind, I was also contacted to take part in another study, this time using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to look at fetal brain development in the Developing Human Connectome Project. The aim of this study is to map the baby’s brain development before and after birth to understand better how the brain grows and how problems may arise.

This involved coming into St Thomas’s post-natal scanning department and spending about 60 minutes inside a big MRI machine. I have to admit, it was quite noisy and cramped in there, but the imaging team were fantastic and reassuring. I had music in my headphones, plenty of pillows and came out a couple of times for a quick break. After the scan, Laura from the team went through my images with me and showed me a video of my baby moving in my stomach and the different parts of her brain. They also sent me links to the images, so I can keep them.

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A saggital view of Jenny’s baby’s brain

The results of these images and scans in the future will contribute to a database of images that will help research. By understanding the potential benefits of using imaging and detecting more problems before birth, they hope to provide better information to parents and their doctors, and allow babies to get access to the treatments they need as soon as possible after they are born.


If you are interested in participating in the iFind project or any other fetal studies please contact: gst-tr.fetalbookings@nhs.net.
For further information on the iFIND study please contact: iFIND@gstt.nhs.uk

Student’s Mission to Improve Prenatal Imaging in Rural Bangladesh

Faisel Alam, a Masters student from the division of Imaging Science has been working with a new charity launched by KCL students to improve access to medical imaging for pregnant mothers in rural Bangladesh. He’s just returned from a trip to the country where they worked alongside local medical professionals leading seminars on best practice and offering access to healthcare to patients who otherwise may not have been able to receive it.

Maternal Aid Association (MAA) is a grassroots student led charity striving to improve situations in resource-poor settings such as Bangladesh, to bring about safe, effective, high quality maternal healthcare. This is the first overseas trip MAA have taken with the aim of providing high quality long-term sustainable maternal care in rural areas of Bangladesh. MAA has established strong links with British healthcare professionals, Bangladeshi universities, medical professionals and healthcare students in Bangladesh.

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The trip was led by Faisel Alam, MRes Medical Imaging Sciences postgraduate masters’ student at King’s College London. Faisel received a scholarship from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and completed his MRes research project on access to medical imaging across the developing world, using maternal care in Bangladesh as a case study. This project was completed under the supervision of Dr Gregory Mullen, Senior Lecturer in Imaging Biology and Professor Philip Blower from the Division of Imaging Sciences and Biomedical Engineering.

The team of student volunteers spent two weeks working alongside Bangladeshi healthcare professionals from the Sylhet Women Medical College, MAG Osmani Medical College and in varying hospital settings. While there, the team also prepared and led a seminar on maternal care at Sylhet Women Medical College using evidence-based best practice and reflections from their international volunteering experiences. The team participated in three days of health camps at Balaganj, Sylhet – offering free basic health checks in parts of rural Bangladesh. This reached hundreds of local residents that would otherwise not normally have access to basic healthcare.

The team also received basic sonography training from Mrs Susan Halson-Brown – the MSc Ultrasound Lead, and had planned to deliver basic sonography using a portable ultrasound device to pregnant mothers in a rural village in Bangladesh. However, the team faced difficulty delivering the ultrasound station due to unforeseen circumstances around securing trained and qualified sonographers at the rural village health complex from the local hospitals. Nonetheless, this is an area the team will be developing and expanding on in future years.

MAA was founded by Aqil Jaigirdar, a 3rd year King’s College London medical student, and the team comprises current King’s College London healthcare students supported by Professor Janice Rymer, Vice President for the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and Dr Daghni Rajasingham, Consultant Obstetrician Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Follow their progress on Snapchat @MaaCharityUK, on Facebook facebook.com/maacharityuk and on Twitter @maacharityuk or view footage from their health complex in a rural Bangladeshi village, Balaganj.425714415_83114_4162099666314729615

The Weighting Game

David Lloyd_crop
David

One of the most important things to get right when imaging an unborn baby is the fetal weight. How do we know the fetus is growing as it should be unless we know how big they are? How can we know that the heart, or brain, or lungs, are developing normally, unless we can compare them to the rest of the body?

Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy as just popping the baby on a set of scales. They are floating in water, attached to a placenta via a long umbilical cord, surrounded by a muscular womb, and – oh yeah! – their mother. So any time we guess how much the fetus weighs, it is just that: a guess.

The most commonly used formula to estimate the fetal weight was developed in the 1980s by Dr Francis Hadlock, using ultrasound to measure the head, abdomen and thighs, and guessing the weight of the baby from that. This method can actually be pretty inaccurate – for example, we know that ultrasound can be a bit blurry, doesn’t define the edge of bones very well, and depends on finding exactly the right angles to measure which might not always be possible. Amazingly though, we’ve not been able to find a better way since then; almost every routine scan in the UK will use this method. As my fetal medicine colleague Jackie Matthew put it: “a lot of people think it’s just down to how good the sonographer is – but it’s really not that simple”. Now though, as part of the iFind project, we are working on new ways of estimating the fetal weight which we hope will be far more accurate.

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Zhang & Davidson’s 3D rendering of a fetal MRI

When each of our iFind 2 volunteers attends for an extra ultrasound and MRI scan, we use these to build a three-dimensional “atlas” of the fetus, which will form the foundation for the technologies we develop to screen for fetal abnormalities. Being able to see the baby in “3D” like this is one of the jobs of my colleagues Tong Zhang and Alice Davidson – the latter of whom produced this beautiful rendering of a fetus from an MRI scan. But this image doesn’t just look amazing: it also means we could have a much more accurate way of guessing the baby’s weight than a few blurry ultrasound measurements. Knowing how much space the baby takes up in three dimensions – the fetal volume – means we could potentially estimate far more precisely whether the baby is growing normally.

So that’s a win right? Go iFind! Well… not quite. Unfortunately it’s still not that simple – and that’s where Jackie comes in. Her research has some difficult questions to answer: exactly how inaccurate are these ultrasound techniques? How do we do know? Is MRI really better? How do we prove it? And how does a fetal volume equate to a fetal weight? Is it the same through all nine months of pregnancy?

These are tough questions, but like everyone else at iFind, Jackie is determined to find answers. And when she does, it’s these types of new discoveries that should help iFind get closer to its ultimate goal: using new technologies to improve how we see and understand life before birth.

 

Dr David Lloyd is a Clinical Research Fellow at King’s College London and working as part of the iFIND project. The overall aim of the intelligent Fetal Imaging and Diagnosis project is to combine innovative technologies into a clinical ultrasound system that will lead to a radical change in the way fetal screening is performed.