As researchers, it is our duty to transmit our passion for our work, to tell the rest of society about the challenging problems we are addressing, and the very exciting pathways we are taking to tackle them. This duty became an extremely fulfilling experience on 4th May 2016, when we had the chance to directly transmit this passion to the Duke of Edinburgh and to guests at a reception that was held at Buckingham Palace.
The reception was organised by Action Medical Research, a charity that funds a project about the use of computational models to improve surgical decisions at our Department of Biomedical Engineering. The event brought together the trustees, the donors and the researchers funded by the charity. As researchers, we had the chance to meet the altruist people that are making our progress possible and to directly thank them for their support. We provided them with a wide portfolio of research activities that are being conducted in order to improve the life and health of children, which is the focus of Action Medical Research.
The event was perfectly organised, down to the last inch. His Royal Highness is an extraordinary person, with 94 years on his shoulders, and sharp to provide a speech, to meet each of the 100 guests that were in the room, and to follow our scientific explanations of our research. We heard some very nice words from Prof. David Edwards, reminding us of the importance of medical research and the charity’s work to save and change the lives of sick and disabled babies and children.
We would like to thank once more Action Medical Research, its altruist donors, and everybody that is making our research work possible!
Dr Lauren Fovargue is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Heart & Vessel Modelling group of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at King’s. Her work focuses on personalised computer simulations of patients who qualify for pacemakers to predict whether or not they will improve, since currently pacemakers don’t yield long term results in 35% of patients. Understanding more about how the heart functions will enable her and the VP2HF project to predict if surgery really is the best option.
In late February, my colleagues and I took part in the Science Museum’s Lates event as scientific experts in ‘How to Mend a Broken Heart‘. Currently, there is an exhibition in the Science Museum’s ‘Who am I?’ gallery under the same title which highlights the work done in 3D printing of complex hearts for surgical planning at King’s College London and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals. The Science Museum Lates are a great opportunity for adults to enjoy the exhibits and special interactive events of a great museum (without any children to compete with!) and since I’d enjoyed these events as a participant I was keen to go as a collaborator.
We had a range of cardiovascular experts, from clinical to basic science and from those who interact with patients to those who interact mainly with their computer. Although we’re all linked through the use of imaging in our research, the patient groups we focus on are diverse, like fetal imaging or modelling for dilated cardiomyopathy patients. However, we were all interested in talking about heart and imaging research and had a selection of 3D printed hearts to play with, thanks to our 3D printing colleagues here at King’s.
Personally, I’m a researcher with a computer and by the time patients come to me, I can only see their ID number and MRI images of their heart. My research focus is on predicting whether a person who needs a pacemaker is going to get better, since about 1 in 3 people implanted with one don’t improve. To do this, I mainly utilises tools from maths, physics and computer science to create predictive personal computational models where I can simulate what happens when they get a pacemaker. However, I’ve found that ‘I’m a mathematician who creates computer simulations of hearts’ is not a good conversation opener and I was nervous that I’d have a hard time interacting with people visiting the museum.
Luckily, we had the 3D printed hearts. I knew the purpose of the hearts was to draw people’s attention and bring them in, but I significantly underestimated how helpful they were for me to engage with the public. As a computational scientist, I am sometimes very shy, but the 3D printed hearts gave me a guaranteed way of opening a dialogue with people who looked interested. I learned that starting with ‘Would you like to hold a 3D printed heart ?’ didn’t yield the normal responses of ‘I didn’t like maths’ or ‘I was never good at maths’ but instead peaked peoples curiosity and interest.
After getting over my original nerves, the evening flew by and I had an incredible amount of fun. It was very interesting to have conversations with people of diverse backgrounds and answer all sorts of questions.
We were a team of 8 researchers* and collectively we must have spoken to over 500 visitors in just a few hours. I think people appreciated hearing about how their own heart worked, what makes other hearts malfunction, and getting a picture of what the edge of research looks like. Additionally, I also found it very rewarding to actually feel like an expert for an evening since in research, there are not many days where you feel like an expert. The nature of the job is to push the limits of knowledge so most days you come into work under-qualified for what you need to achieve. People were not only interested in the 3D hearts but in my area of research, and it’s always helpful to practise explaining complicated science without relying on field jargon. Although I may have disappointed someone when I clarified that not all people who have surgery get their heart printed, the public enthusiasm overall was really inspiring. Overall, talking with people about their heart and circulation system was a welcomed change and a really nice chance to remember the impact research can have on our society.
Despite being exhausted from talking (and listening) non-stop for nearly 3 hours it was a really great experience and I would definitely do it again.
* Staff from King’s taking part included: Benjamin Sieniewicz, Samuel Vennin, Liia Asner, Markus Henningsson, David Lloyd, Alberto Gomez, Mari Nevis, Lauren Fovargue and Alice Taylor-Gee.
Nick Byrne is a medical physicist who works for Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals and within the Cardiovascular Imaging Department at King’s. His main research looks at methods of manipulating cardiac MRI data to fabricate 3D printed heart models that can help cardiologists plan treatments and surgeries for patients with structurally complex heart diseases. Nick took part in Skills London 2015, a careers fair for 15-24 year olds at the Excel Centre in London, where over 7,000 students took part. Nick was joined by Dr Kawal Rhode and PhD student Shuangyi Wang, both from the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
I was recently part of a team of NHS employees who attended the Skills London fair at the ExCel Centre. This is the biggest jobs and careers event for young Londoners, in its own words, aiming to bridge the gap between what young people enjoy doing and what they could potentially do as a career.
We were a mixed group of nurses, paramedics, researchers and scientists, and were there to showcase the wide variety of career opportunities in public healthcare. As the fifth largest employer in the world, we were never going to be able to represent all NHS job roles, so were lucky to also have staff from NHS careers on hand to help us out.
Initially I was concerned that our at least superficially simple stand of leaflets, literature and a few 3D printed heart models might be outshone by some of the flashier exhibits such as the rock climbing wall, penalty kick speed gun and pedal-powered smoothie makers. However, although I found myself considering a career change to animal handling, we soon had a great many school students and young people (15 to 24 years old) approaching us with a real interest in working in the NHS.
We had enquiries from potential future doctors, clinical psychologist, nurses, midwives, dance therapists, scientists, surgeons, paramedics and geneticists to name but a few. I certainly learned a lot about the different routes into the various jobs we were exhibiting but also about just how many different roles are available in the health service. I also had the chance to talk to people about my own research work in 3D printing and enjoyed testing out the GCSE students on their recently acquired knowledge of cardiac anatomy.
It was great to see so many young people keen to learn about the relevant paths into their chosen career in healthcare. I was impressed by the number of clued up students who already knew the best route to take, both into and throughout, their chosen career path, and was happy to help those who were not so sure. We will certainly be in safe hands in the future!
When I was in school I unfortunately was never introduced to Healthcare Science (HS) careers through any outreach events. I was very lucky though to have been introduced to Medical Physics as part of my A-level physics, which is where it all started. Outreach events are not only used to promote HS careers but encourage and inspire young people to enjoy and take Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) classes. I’m not planning to be a famous science communicator and don’t plan on being the next Brian Cox but I do take every opportunity I have to talk to students about the importance of HS in the current medical era and try and pass on my never ending enthusiasm for it!
Outreach events co-ordinated by IPEM are very organised and everything you might need is provided! Whether it’s a projector and a screen for your presentation or a portable ultrasound scanner and a phantom! All you need is your enthusiasm, excitement and personal experiences from how you came to choose what you are doing now to what your daily job involves! I have prepared and developed a small PowerPoint presentation on what I do as a trainee clinical scientist and use it whenever necessary. I always try and take some bits and bobs of decommissioned medical physics equipment and show them to students. Practical and interactive events are always more successful I believe.
I won the I’m a Scientist (IMAS) Get Me Out of Here Medical Physics zone which came with £500 to spend on outreaching! I must admit it was a lot more intense than I thought it would be! This was an online X-factor style competition where four other medical physicists and I answered students’ questions through live chats and offline questions, which we could answer later on at our own convenience. We all love number crunching and statistics, right? Well, the Medical Physics zone had the most students and live chats of all zones! My profile page had 2,022 views and as you can see in Figure 1 I tried to answer as many questions as possible and participate in as many chats as possible. Figure 2 shows the words that were most used during the chat sessions! I think this figure sums up really well the type of questions we were most asked. Figure 1: Scientists activity pie chart
Figure 2: Cool keywords display from live chats!
The questions were so varied from ‘Can you weaponise your research?’ to ‘How far do you think the benefit outweighs the risk when using radiation for medical treatment?’ so be prepared for anything and everything! I must admit that I was caught unprepared at times and I had to ‘Google it’ when it came to non medical-physics specific questions. One of the best feelings was when a student said that we helped them see the importance of science and what they are learning at school and will think about a profession in HS!
The Science Museum Lates event was a totally new experience for me on the other hand! Why? The audience was the general public and this involved adults! I made sure I asked their profession before I started talking to them about the dangers and uses of UV rays or how light is used for blood pressure monitoring in hospitals. In this way I could adjust my use of science jargon and not waste their and my time if they already knew about it all. All in all it was a great experience and I often found that the public was so interested in medical physics that conversations drifted away to other areas of the profession. The impression I got, which I think we all know by now, is that not a lot of people know about this career. The reactions I got when explaining what clinical engineers and medical physicists do was truly rewarding!
You get the chance to meet a lot of people as well and the networking throughout the process is invaluable! Last but not least – CV! Participating in outreach events undoubtedly indicates that you enjoy your profession and is proof of your effective communication skills. For those who don’t worry about jobs and have them completely secure I have 3 letters for you, CPD! For trainees I have two words for you, professional competencies! Conclusions and Discussion On a personal level I find that being even able to talk about this profession from personal experiences is amazing. I am very lucky to be able to be a part of healthcare science.
I learn new things every single time! You learn how to communicate science at all levels! Not only at international or national conferences which you would do in your day-to-day work. It is a process of learning to explain something in very simple terms and using your own but also the audience’s everyday experiences and knowledge to help understand the importance of healthcare science and grasp the concepts used. At the end of the day we are helping deliver healthcare science to the general public and we should be able to communicate our work to them. Not only will this give recognition to our work, which most of the time is hidden in the background, but will also hopefully inspire future generations!
Dr Christina Malamateniou is a Lecturer of Perinatal Imaging in the Department of Perinatal Imaging and Health, part of the Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering. She organised a morning of talks and activities, showcasing King’s top quality clinical research to a local primary school.
There has never been a more exciting time for children to engage with the latest clinical science developments than now: new, more powerful and sophisticated MRI scanners are being built, a multitude of advanced imaging techniques are being developed-to study normal development and disease as early in the course of life as possible, starting (literally) from the womb(!); 3D-printing and robotics have brought visualisation and understanding of complex pathologies to a totally new level and genetics promises to disentangle the mysteries of human life!
My colleagues at King’s College London and I are passionate about both our clinical research and science and it was exactly this passion that we wanted to instil to 25 ten-year-olds from Heath House Prep School when they visited us at King’s College London Waterloo Campus at the end of summer 2015.
It was a pleasant morning at the Franklin Wilkins Library and I started our day describing how MRI scans are done in our department (Perinatal Imaging and Health) and how the clever imaging we use can make a difference in the quality of life of the very premature babies; children giggled when they saw for the first time how a fetus moves inside his mummy’s tummy and they had the chance to play with an inflatable full size MRI scanner too (a.k.a. the Giant Doughnut, “wow, now I can see why it makes such a loud noise, it is huge!”, kids remarked during the break).
The children then got a chance to learn cool facts about the most amazing, tireless muscle of our body: the human heart and got excited with the robotic arms that Dr Kawal Rhode and his PhD student Shuangyi Wang have constructed to study it. During the break kids saw, and even hold, 3D printed copies of human hearts and they got to guess which one belonged to a premature baby!
Dr Claire Thornton took the baton to introduce us to the magic of genetics and what better way than helping the children learn how to extract DNA from the most fragrant fruit of the summer: strawberries. The students were absolutely thrilled with all the lab equipment they got to use and they amazed us with their questions and eagerness to learn more. We could clearly see some little scientists in the making there!
After an inspiring morning, the children were introduced to our library facilities and academic study during a fun-packed event, carefully planned and organised by our amazing library staff. Mrs Beata Gędłek and her wonderful team navigated the children in the library quiet zones, discussion rooms, study pods (with kids commenting that they looked like coming out of a star wars movie!) and they organized a fun book treasure hunt, with books relating to the morning talks. Kids were divided into 5 groups (Medicine, Biology, Genetics, Robotics and Physiology) and they were like little science detectives as they looked for the specified books using maps and clues carefully prepared by the library staff. They then presented their results and answered questions in the high-tech touch-screen newly installed computer room in the library. There were all smiles when they were awarded their library super-user certificates and KCL gifts at the end of the day.
What an eye opening experience for the children and great fun for us too; kids were asking the most amazing questions, participating and engaging with science, their eyes lighting up with enthusiasm. They were clearly overwhelmed by the amazing facts they learned during our fun interactive workshop. Their feedback says it all: “That was the most amazing visit of our school this year”, “I learned about babies born early and strawberry DNA”, “I didn’t want the day to end!”, “I think I want to become a scientist after all”.
The success of this event and the smiles on children’s excited faces was the best reward for us all. It was also a great way to advertise the multidisciplinary top quality research that takes place everyday at King’s College London across many different departments. I am indebted to all the people who enthusiastically came along and shared their passion in doing research and teaching science to these young inquisitive brains. I guess for us all there is only one question: “When is the next time we can do it again?!”
Today we visited the Imaging Department at King’s College London at St Thomas’ Hospital. The Communications and Engagement Manager Alice Taylor-Gee, did a fantastic job at lining up different activities to showcase a diverse range of imaging modalities and lab techniques.
The King’s Imaging department is very engaged and lots of the researchers are working to communicate their research and inspire young people.
In the morning the students were introduced to members of the Imaging division and their research project and outcomes with presentations. We met Chris Kelly who works on perinatal brain imaging using a technique that can visualise diffusion to define the edges of neurones and map them. We also heard from Alberto Gomez who spoke about how robotics is being developed to provide a more sophisticated ultrasound to be used on pregnant women to scan their unborn babies.
Dr Samantha Terry (soon to be lecturer!) talked about different types and sources of radiation. She actively demonstrated how DNA damage can occur due to radiation using a rope and scissors and then detailed how her team harnesses this power and a complicated tracer/inhibitor to selectively fight prostate cancer cells.
During the afternoon, the students rotated around three labs. Firstly the students went to a lab with Enrico, Brett and Rick who work with radioactive tracers and examines the effects of hypoxia on cardiac perfusion. A very tiny rat’s heart was connected up to perfusion equipment where it continued to beat. This allows the researchers to change stimuli and heart conditions and examine the effects.
In order to understand more about the cellular changes that can take place under hypoxic conditions due to brain injury in pre-term infants, Claire and Ana from the perinatal lab talked about understanding cellular changes by extracting and examining DNA.
In this session, we extracted DNA from strawberries using extraction buffer and isopropanol and measured the DNA concentrations to compare strawberries. Surprisingly it doesn’t relate to strawberry size in our groups!
Different imaging methods can be used to visualise different parts of the body, comparing CT to examine bones versus MRI to identify liquids. The students went down to the clinical oncology departments at St Thomas’ to the MRI machine and managed to correctly identify several scanned images of items under the MRI machine.
“On Wednesday we spent the day learning about imaging; it’s a really interesting field because scientists from all parts of science are needed to improve the imaging techniques we use today. At school, they teach us very little about medical imaging and for that reason I learnt lots. Because of the summer school, I now understand the basics of a PET, CT, X-Ray, MRI and ultrasound scan, and was able to see an MRI and ultrasound scan in use. One way cardiologists are able to prepare for an operation now is through 3D printing; scientists print out hearts in plastic to see how they can operate. For me, this was really fascinating because I was able to see the structure of a real heart and learn about how medical methods are improving.” Kate Bernal (age 15)
“I’ve attended the Summer School for 5 days at King’s Health Partners. It was an extremely fun experience and I learnt and saw many things. I learnt presentation skills, various amounts of technical skills, and developed an understanding of many features of biomedical research. I learnt clinical scenarios and life support skills at a simulation centre and I sat in on lectures from many professionals; including professors, doctors, and researchers. All of the activities were engaging, and interesting, and educational. I even got to extract strawberry DNA!” Mohaned Al-Bassan (Age 16)
We would like to say a very big thank you to Alice for co-ordinating the activities today and everyone from the Imaging division who gave a presentation, demonstration or provided an activity!
Anita Montagna is a 2nd year PhD student in the Centre for the Developing Brain, Department of Perinatal Imaging and Health here at King’s College London. Her research focuses on long-term brain development of babies born prematurely, using a multidisciplinary perspective, which bridges neuroscience, neuropsychology and psychiatry. Her research is supported by the Medical Research Council.
While my entire department (Perinatal Imaging and Health) is trying to disentangle the mysteries of the early stages of life, my work takes me to a place a bit further downstream. Compared to many people I work with, my role is something like a Mary Poppins of science. I travel around London with a luggage full of toys and video games and I spend most of my day “playing” with children. I study the outcomes of prematurity in childhood and look for possible links between what happens in the premature brain and children’s abilities later on. With a “spoon full of sugar”, I ask kids to perform a series of demanding (and often not very fun) neurocognitive tasks and to exercise their attention for half an hour a day for two weeks. The study is part of a wider project that boasts of a unique database of longitudinal data and for the first time it moves from investigating problems to actually improving the life of these children. Here we offer them an intervention (in the form of a brain training video game) so we can then research into how the brain can change and adapt after prematurity.
It sounds great and epic but the territory is anything but easy.
Firstly, have you ever tried to talk about prematurity with schools and families? What you see is a lot of confusion. Around 50% of children born prematurely show academic difficulties and higher risk of attention and social problems during childhood. However prematurity is not a clearly recognised condition in schools plus families do not know how to consider prematurity in relation to their child’s development.
Secondly, we are asking children to be involved in an intensive research exercise: they are asked to come to the hospital twice, to have TWO –not one but two- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans and carry out brain training for two weeks. It sounds demanding and potentially quite scary! Thirdly, while many families are in battle with their children about how much time to sit in front of a screen, we are explicitly asking their children to play video games (a computerized attention training). Not everybody agrees that video games can be educational!
I am sure you can now vaguely guess what my nightmares are about…How to recruit? How to engage? How to get reliable data? The drop-out rates for this type of study is incredibly high; the child’s motivation is crucial and the family support is essential. Being aware of these issues (and probably inspired by my Mary Poppins side) I thought I had to find a way to involve the general public as an active part of the research process. So I thought I would try public engagement. But not public engagement in the style of a fun coffee break for neuroscientists or a way of ticking the “outreach activities” box on the next grant application. Here, engagement is much more important to me. It sounds something like “no engagement, no participants” or “no engagement, no scans”, in all its possible nuances. So, regardless of the views of some of my colleagues, I scheduled in my diary a weekly appointment for me to take part in outreach activities (just for the record, I also work on weekends plus these activities do not change the amount of hours I spend on my research so my week is pretty much work work work!).
So here some of the activities I am doing along with a bunch of brave colleagues. What better place than our Divisional blog to share them?
In terms of how to recruit children to my studies, I found a trick with schools. I offer workshops about neuroscience and scientific journalism to local schools and in return we have the chance to speak with the parents and their children. It really is so rewarding to see children dissecting jelly brains in my workshops. Many of them come out after the session saying “if you really do this job, can I volunteer for your study?”
For the MRI scans, I have a double strategy! When I go into the schools, I teach the children the principles of MRI and then I ask them to design a fMRI task. At one school, a group of 11-year-olds presented a task about processing unexpected events using images of footballer Wayne Rooney wearing a Barcelona football top! Once the students have built the task, we give them the chance to come and do their task during the research MRI scan and we give them a 3D printed version of their brain and colours to paint it. We will probably end up with an art exhibition of colourful brains!
For the training, it was an adventure. The video games we are using are relatively new and no data exists yet on how a non-premature child would perform. So I took the games to the fore and I ended up working at the Science Museum with a huge number of people. I won a place in the Live Science area, a great corner of the museum where you can do real live science for 15 days (Prof Sarah-Jane Blakemore and many other scientists took part before me!). Well, 700 people tested the video games and about 50 children took part in workshops about educational video games, one hundred children also designed posters explaining the pros and cons of using video games as educational/therapeutic tools and their suggestions. Together with this incredible amount of data, the days in the museum were something like a tour de force of public engagement! I was at the forefront and people could ask me anything they felt like (while I was trying to persuade them to take part in the study!). You cannot image how often I heard questions like ‘What do you do? Why do you do it? Why should I take part?’… A super training in science communication together with the unique chance to create the normative data for the games.
Having said that, I have to remind myself that this is just the beginning of the study and I wish the next time I write on this blog, it will be about promising results! I still have a long way to go so wish me ‘good luck’ and do contact me if you want to be involved (or have a child who might want to!)
Dr Tarique Hussain is a Clinical Senior Lecturer in Paediatric Cardiology in the Department of Cardiovascular Imaging, King’s College London. He is also a consultant at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.
On Tuesday 23 June, the British Heart Foundation held an event at the Houses of Parliament to showcase their work and highlight the need for the Government to protect funding for research. The Government contributes towards the indirect costs of academic research that is otherwise funded by charities: covering expenses like heating and lighting, HR, and general administration. This contribution helps to ensure that the money invested by charities goes directly into funding research, putting them on a level pegging with the UK research councils.
My King’s colleagues Kawal Rhode, Nick Byrne, and I were invited by the British Heart Foundation to showcase some of the pioneering research presently being funded by them so we made the short trip over Westminster Bridge, to talk about some of our research with MPs.
Kawal, Nick and I have all been working with 3D printed models of the heart. It’s now possible to transfer the information from an MRI scan into a plastic model, which surgeons can use to plan the work they are going to perform. For instance, Kawal is working with models of the left atrium. These are used in ablation procedures, where a catheter is inserted into the heart. Surgeons can use the models to set the right angle for the catheter, so that they can put the tube straight in when the heart is opened. This helps to make operations shorter, safer and more efficient. In other instances, doctors can use 3D printed models of the whole heart to see or devise a solution to a complex problem that they might not have been able to solve without the model to work on.
We have just acquired a 3D printer at St Thomas’ so we’re now able to produce our own 3D hearts, which makes them an even more useful and practical resource. We’re also encouraging other departments across the hospital to think about the ways in which they could use this technology themselves.
The hearts always get a lot of attention at roadshows and science fairs, because they’re so tactile and it is easy to understand their use. The audience at the Houses of Parliament was no exception: we spoke to several MPs, some of whom knew a great deal about the issues associated with medical research and some of whom knew very little, but all of whom were very interested in what we did and what we had to say. We even turned up on some of their Twitter feeds!Overall the event was a great experience, and a great opportunity to talk about our work with some of the people making decisions about the future of the health service and the research we conduct within it.
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!
On Tuesday 19 May, King’s Imaging & Biomedical Engineering Division took part in a showcase at St Thomas’ Hospital as part of International Clinical Trials Day, organised by the Biomedical Research Centre. The event (which usually takes place on 20 May annually) commemorates the first ever clinical trial, carried out by James Lind in May 1747, looking at how best to treat scurvy. The day is now marked all around the world to help raise awareness of and celebrate the achievements that clinical research has led to, and to engage with the public on important health research issues.
Imaging technology underpins modern healthcare and allows clinicians to ‘see’ inside the body to diagnose illness, make decisions about surgery and treatment, and to monitor the effects of treatment. Imaging Services support over 400 clinical trials across Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust, across therapeutic areas including cardiology, rheumatology, haematology, orthopaedics and cancer.
King’s Health Partners brings together researchers at King’s College London and hospital staff across Guy’s and St Thomas’ to work much more closely. This helps facilitate sharing of knowledge and ideas, enables new collaborations and ensure that research findings translate into real clinical practice to benefit patients as quickly as possible. It was great to celebrate some of the work taking place across the Division and the Trust, and to show how clinical research enables us to continue to improve services & capabilities.
Some of the research on show included 3D printed hearts which surgeons use to model and plan complex surgeries.
We used a ping pong ball voting system to ask people passing by whether on receiving an imaging scan as part of their care in hospital, they would be happy for the results of those scans to be shared for research purposes? The answer was a loud ‘yes’!
We spoke about various current research projects such as the TOHETI programme (Transforming Outcomes and Health Economics Through Imaging). TOHETI is a three year programme funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. Working across King’s Health Partners and together with healthcare providers across Southwark and Lambeth, TOHETI is addressing a variety of healthcare conditions to ask: ‘Is the right imaging test being performed at the right point in time to ensure the best outcome for the patient?”
The programme includes a combination of introducing and measuring change through clinical research studies and through service improvement work. You can read more online.
We also took this an opportunity to show off some of the exciting work we have been getting up to in preparation for mapping the Developing Human Connectome. We found the day extremely rewarding as it was such a great chance to engage with patients, staff and visitors, explaining our exciting work and how we are exploring the developing brain. Medical research is often perceived as a relatively inaccessible field, so we were really pleased with how interested people were as soon as they realised that we could explain the process of imaging and mapping in understandable terms.
With MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) being the main imaging tool of the project, but often unknown (and sometimes a little scary), we felt it was necessary to introduce people to our very own inflatable, life size MRI scanner. This proved very helpful in bringing the imaging process to life and explaining the ins and outs of the project. There was also plenty of interactive games for both children and grown-ups ensuring entertainment, learning and a good few laughs were had by all.
Overall the day was a great success and we cannot wait for next year!