Cinzia Imberti is a 2nd year PhD student in the Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering. Her research is about the development and evaluation of radiotracers for PET imaging. Here she talks about her involvement in an outreach activity all about chemistry.
On 17 February March 2016, the Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering opened its doors to around 40 secondary school students (years 11-13) from the London area. They were curious to learn more about chemistry in a medical setting and interested in pursuing scientific studies. This event was part of the larger Outreach event: “Discover Chemistry at King’s College London” organised annually by the Department of Chemistry, now in its third year, under the supervision of Dr Helen Coulshed.
During their visit to St Thomas’ Hospital, the students were able to gain an insight into molecular imaging and understand the key role of this applied field of chemistry in diagnostic medicine.
A tour of our Imaging Chemistry and Biology Laboratories highlighted to the students some of the processes involved in the development of radiotracers, from chemical design to radiolabelling, in vitro testing and in vivo/ex vivo evaluation. Finally they had the unique opportunity to visit the PET Centre where Dr Colm McGinnity and his colleagues talked them through clinical PET imaging as the ultimate goal of radiotracers development.
Poster session with current PhD student
Poster session with Head of Department
Students visiting PET Centre
Tissue culture lab tour
There was an opportunity for students to network with some of the research staff over a cup of tea, actively discuss some of the current research displayed in the posters and ask questions about our careers.
The division’s contribution to Discover Chemistry has been brilliantly coordinated by Julia Torres for the past two years. Therefore, when my supervisor, Professor Phil Blower, asked me to take over the organization, I appreciated how much work me and my colleagues would have to put in to make it a success. What I did not anticipate was the sudden sense of realisation I felt when hearing the enthusiastic feedback of the students. To have inspired these young men and women to undertake scientific studies, or at least to look at the world through scientific eyes, made this event an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience for everyone who took part in it.
Carlotta Taddei is a 2nd year PhD student in the Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering. Her research is about the development of radiopharmaceuticals and radiochemicals for medical diagnostics and research. Here she talks about her involvement in an international collaboration and her secondment in Amsterdam. I am part of a project called RADIOMI which is supported by the Marie-Curie Action Innovative Training Networks and has the goal to provide training to produce new talent and innovation in radiochemistry for molecular imaging. The emphasis of this network is focused on training scientists to develop and carry-out innovative radiolabeling with short half-life positron emitting isotopes such as Fluorine-18, Carbon-11 and Nitrogen-13. These novel and improved methodologies will be trialed in the synthesis of known and new radiotracers, such as small molecules, peptides and libraries of biologically active labelled compounds.
Currently I am part of a group of 15 fellows, 13 Early Stage Researchers and 2 Experienced Researchers. We gather together with our supervisors, advisory board and associate partners every 6 months. During these international meetings we present our individual reports and receive valuable feedback on the ongoing research and suggestions for our future work. So far, there have already been 3 RADIOMI Schools and International meetings, with additional courses at the partner universities. Next meeting will be in November 2015 at CIC BiomaGUNE San Sebastian in Spain with the distinguished international Molecular Imaging Workshop 2015.
As part of the RADIOMI project, the ESR fellows have to carry out research projects in collaboration with the other RADIOMI partner universities, so-called secondments. Our department hosted Aleksandra Pekosak and Ulrike Filp, two ESR RADIOMI fellows from VUmc Amsterdam, during June 2015. We carried out a small research project on carbon-11 chemistry related to our PhD topic. This work continued at VUmc during my secondment period there in August 2015.
Before I arrived in Amsterdam, I was looking forward to carrying out radiochemistry work in a different institution to gain more skills in this field. Personally I think it was a very interesting and fruitful experience. Planning and performing radiochemistry work in a different radiochemistry centre having different rules was good training for me. Luckily we managed to obtain some good preliminary results on our research topics in order to continue our work at our corresponding institutions and strengthen the collaboration between the two partner universities.
I really enjoyed this secondment because it gave me a better understanding of team-work and time-management which can be really useful skills in my research field. In the future I hope to have similar work experience to this and grow my international collaborations so that my research can have an impact in this fascinating field.
Dr Samantha Terry, a post doctoral researcher in the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology recounts her experience of attending a conference in Vienna.
I was recently invited to submit an abstract to go for an all-expenses paid trip to Vienna as part of the Young Investigator’s Meeting of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine (EANM). I am not one to turn down any offer to travel the world for free, especially not if I get to combine it with meeting other people my age who also work as scientists in the field of nuclear medicine. I was pleased to find my abstract on “Monitoring therapy response with radionuclide imaging” was accepted and was even more pleased to find out that I am still considered young at the age of 30!
So, thanks to the funding provided by the EANM and the British Nuclear Medicine Society, I got to go to Vienna! I had only ever been once before and that was in the wintertime when the weather was so bad all I could manage was to test various hot chocolate establishments and bakeries for Sachertorte. Yum… Sachertorte…
During this trip however, the weather was glorious with on average a temperature of 35 degree Celsius. I even managed to find the famous Henry Moore sculpture called ‘Hill Arches’ in front of the Karlskirche, which last time took me two hours to find and even then it was covered in a box with an image of the sculpture!
Back to the meeting; what a great meeting this was. The age range of the 17 participants (ignoring the excellent organisers and chairs Marion de Jong from Erasmus University Medical Center and Tony Gee from King’s College London) was 28-32. Here we all are (I have circled myself but it’s not my best picture!)
The talks were all part of the greater topic “new tracers from bench to bedside” and participants were not only from different disciplines, namely clinicians, physicists, biologists, technologists, and (radio)-chemists, but also from a range of countries, including the UK, Portugal, Belgium, South Korea, Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands.
The organisers as well as the Young EANM Committee member Nevena Ristevska created a great set of talks; the only downside was the rather sweltering room in which the talks were held. It didn’t help that the air conditioning unit was initially set at full blast to warm the room! The topics ranged from using radionuclides for imaging to therapy, in phantom models, in vitro, in vivo to clinical work. The prize for best presentation went to Ingrid Bakker, currently a PhD student from Erasmus UMC, the Netherlands who showed that gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) analogues, when radiolabeled with an isotope called Gallium-68, could aid the diagnosis of patients with prostate cancer by PET/CT imaging by targeting the GRP receptors.
The meeting was a fabulous opportunity for us all to talk about our work and research interests and get feedback and ideas. Not only that but we were able to talk about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ stuff, such as issues with supply, why this generator is a pain and radiolabeling efficiencies are not always 95% or more.
I would recommend this meeting to every young scientist doing science even remotely related to nuclear medicine. Where else would you be able to create your own network of colleagues and friends who are dotted around the world and yet have similar interests, travelled to places you have/would like to go to and have similar worries and obstacles?
Dr Michelle Ma is a Research Associate within the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology, King’s College London. Herwork focuses on designing new pharmaceuticals that can help diagnose cancer. Michelle took part in Soapbox Science, a public outreach platform for promoting women scientists and the science they do. She stood on a soapbox on the Southbank on 30 May engaging passers-by with her research on whole body diagnostic imaging.
In late May, I participated in Soapbox Science, an event that puts female scientists on Soapboxes for an hour in the bustling London area of Southbank on a Saturday afternoon. There are two overarching aims: 1) to have female scientists discuss science face-to-face with members of the public who would normally not attend science festivals; and 2) increase the visibility of women in science. I’d been tasked with standing on a box, talking about chemistry, radioactivity and diagnostic imaging, and keeping random members of the public interested enough to stay at the foot of my box. Basically, I was busking science!
Saturday afternoon came around and I jumped onto my soapbox. The crowd from the previous speaker was still in attendance so I hijacked their attention by being as noisy as possible. I asked them some questions, they answered politely back, and with the help of some props and some volunteers from the crowd, I demonstrated how whole body diagnostic imaging works, and the role that chemistry plays in this. (You can read more about my research in a previous blog post). A discussion with the crowd started to open up, and this was really the part of the afternoon where we started to engage with the public. There were plenty of questions, all of which were considered and really relevant to the frontiers of research in this field. My audience seemed to have understood everything I’d talked about but there were things that they wanted to know more about: how do you define what is diseased tissue in an image? What is the “cut-off” point in contrast? Why don’t we screen everyone in the population? How do you choose a radioisotope? If a radiopharmaceutical clears through the kidneys, how do you find out if there is disease in the kidneys? Where does radioactivity come from?
Overall, I had a marvellous time and everything about my experience was very positive. The other speakers were fantastic, the science was diverse and we were not short of attention from passers-by.
As a result of my participation, I was invited to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Public Attitudes to Chemistry launch. My own experience, coupled with the findings and strategies discussed at the launch really enforced some key public engagement messages to me.
Firstly, it is critical that chemists can explain the impact of their chemical research on society. It is not enough that a chemist, or any scientist for that matter, can explain in simple terms what they do on a day-to-day basis. For the science to have a lasting impression on an audience, the audience must appreciate what the endeavour is actually delivering.
Secondly, the public are the shareholders in public investment in science, and so specific questions that the public raise during such events are likely to be directly relevant or fundamental to the future impact that the field will have on society, particularly in medicine and the health sciences. This is a terrific thing! If the public are asking the same questions as researchers themselves, then public engagement can be used to leverage and secure public investment in science.
For these reasons alone, it is important that the scientific community supports events like Soapbox Science. However, I also had a tremendous amount of fun talking with my audience as well as meeting all of the other scientists and volunteers involved!
Dr Michelle Ma is a Research Associate within the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology, King’s College London. Herwork focuses on designing new pharmaceuticals that can help diagnose cancer. Michelle has been selected to be part of Soapbox Science, a public outreach platform for promoting women scientists and the science they do. She will be standing on a soapbox on 30 May on the SouthBank between 2-5pm, where she’ll be talking about “Lighting up disease with new chemistry: whole body diagnostic imaging”.
This blog post was originally published on Soapbox Science website.
Soapbox Science encompasses many things that are stupendously exciting: breadth of science, sharing science, science communication and women in science. I’m excited about all of these things, because they are integral to what I do as an early career scientist. I’m a research chemist and my work focuses on designing new pharmaceuticals that can help diagnose cancer. Doing this work doesn’t just involve standing at a bench, mixing different chemicals in odd-shaped glassware. I need to be able to talk to doctors, pharmacists, physicists, biologists and other chemists, and we all need to be able to understand each other.
I first became interested in chemistry, and more broadly, science, at the age of twelve, when I first learned about molecular structure and how it defines the properties of all the things in my life – the air I breath, the desk I sit at, the chocolate I will invariably buy to accompany my lunch, the taste buds and nerve responses in my brain that allow me to appreciate aforementioned chocolate! Later in my schooling, my biology teacher described biological systems and mechanisms to the class in clear but intricate detail. DNA, proteins, evolution, ecosystems – all of this revealed a mesmerising world that was actually rooted in reason and hypothesis testing.
When I finished my high school in Australia, I began studying for my Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Queensland where the wit and enthusiasm of my lecturers revealed the elegance of chemistry to me. I became enamoured with the multitude of colours typical of metal chemistry, and the role of metals in medicine. I undertook my PhD in chemistry at the University of Melbourne, researching how radioactive metals can help diagnose cancer. Essentially, my job was to design a molecule that would get the metal into a tumour. Once the radioactive metal is at the tumour site, the emitted light provides an image that tells doctors a tumour’s location and size and what stage the cancer is at. Such research provides doctors with diagnostic tools that help determine the most effective course of treatment for a cancer patient.
Upon completion of my PhD in Australia, I was awarded a travel fellowship to undertake research work overseas for two months. My current supervisor, Professor Phil Blower, had recently examined my PhD thesis and seemed really interested in my research, and so I elected to spend a couple of months in his laboratories at King’s College London. These particular laboratories are very well equipped for radiochemistry, and they are located at St Thomas’ Hospital, across the river Thames from Big Ben and Houses of Parliament. I was quite astonished to find myself undertaking research in a landmark location surrounded by such tremendous facilities! I enjoyed the work and the laboratory environment immensely and so I applied for fellowships to conduct my research at King’s College London on a more permanent basis. I was lucky enough to land a Newton Fellowship from the Royal Society and a Marie Curie Fellowship from the European Commission that brought me back to King’s College London. I’m still working in the same area of chemistry – using radioactive metals to image cancer – and I’m still awed by the elegance and colourful aesthetics of chemical systems. For me, making hitherto non-existent, unknown molecules and then studying their unique properties is definitely the most enthralling aspect of chemical research. Waiting to see evidence of a new molecule flash up on a computer monitor is nerve-wracking, exciting and ultimately, when that bit of evidence does appear, absolutely exhilarating.
I’ve loved my time as a research career in chemistry to date, and I owe a great deal to supervisors, mentors and collaborators who have all inspired me thus far. All of these people are marvellously creative, astute and intelligent people, but there is one thing that bothers me – the overwhelming majority of these people (at least 90%) are men. Ultimately, I want it to be normal to attend a scientific conference and observe that the plenary speakers represent the diversity in the general population. Soapbox Science is lifting the profile and visibility of women in science, and such efforts are going to be seminal in addressing the gender imbalance and any persisting gender bias.
Within the Division, I encourage academics, post docs researchers & PhD students to take part in engagement activities to talk about their research and to also listen to what the public think. Here Dr Samantha Terry, post doc from the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology reflects on her experience of taking part in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here‘.
In my scientific career to date I have shied away from outreach projects and science communication other than posters and talks at conferences and the odd chat on the train with someone who asked “What do you do for a living?”. I think this is probably due to a mix of shyness, lack of the plethora of opportunities you can find at King’s, and me thinking that somebody more clever surely should do it instead of little old me.
So, having started at King’s last summer I caught the outreach bug, which ultimately led me to participate in “I am a scientist, get me out of here”. When I mention it to people I cannot help but say it like Ant and Dec do on the ITV programme “I am a celebrity, get me outta heeerrreee (echo!)”, followed by a jungle theme tune.
“I am a scientist” is a two-week free online event where school students and us scientists chat. The competition is split into 14 zones according to types of science. As my research involves using radioactivity to image and treat diseases such as cancers, I was put in the Medical Physics Zone with four other scientists who work in similar fields such as scanning patients with magnetic resonance imaging. Students can post online questions at any time they like but the schools also book a 30-minute slot to chat LIVE with us online. It is basically an X-Factor-style competition where students judge the scientists and vote to keep their favourite in the competition. The winner gets £500 to spend on further public engagement.
I would recommend every scientist out there to apply for this competition, as it was such fun. Students asked a whole range of questions, some of which I could answer. Other answers I have to admit I had to use Google for; luckily my fellow scientists in the Medical Physics Zone admitted the same. Questions included:
“What do you think science will achieve in the next 100 years?”
“In your whole lifetime, what do you wish to achieve and how will it affect the world?”
“When will cancer be cured?”
“What do you think about animal testing?”
“If someone consumed a high amount of iron and a room was magnetised, would it kill them?”
“What precautions do you take to avoid being affected by the radiation?”
“What type of puppy would you get?”
“Do you believe in God?”
“How is time structured?”
“Is Stephen Hawking alive and have you met him?”
“Have you had your teeth whitened?” – apparently my photo was a bit too overexposed…
Being a scientist I obviously could not skip the data analysis. Keywords from the live chats, with the size of the word representing its frequency, included physics, science, and work. Money, life, and animals also came up often.
As you can see from the table below, the Medical Physics Zone had the most students of all the zones and the most live chats. It was a competitive zone where all scientists contributed a similar level of answers (see below).
So, I know you are dying to know how I did – DID I WIN? NO! Unfortunately on day 9 of intense online chatting, I got the following email: The first scientist evicted is… Samantha Terry. Harsh; it is not unlike the X-Factor.
Nonetheless I would recommend this experience to everyone as it really helped me develop my communication skills and gain a completely fresh perspective on my work and on being a scientist in general. It was also truly inspiring to see so many students, be it future scientists or not, with such inquisitive minds. So, sign up now; the competition is currently open for applications from scientists for the next round in June! Do it.