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.
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!
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!)
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.