The BSGCT held our latest Public Engagement day on Friday 17th 2017 in Oxford. We host at least one Public Engagement Day every year – it’s a chance for school pupils and the general public to hear about cutting edge medical research and to learn about newer areas of science that are starting to find their way onto the curriculum.
The 2017 event took place once again at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. 300 people were in attendance – the majority were GCSE and ‘A’ Level students from local schools, although a significant percentage of the audience were adults interested in learning from the expert speakers.
The day began with an introduction to gene therapy from Dr Simon Waddington (University College London). His overview of the discipline explored ways in which gene therapy has been represented – often inaccurately – in the media and by Hollywood.
The morning session also included talks from Rafael Yanez-Munoz (Royal Holloway, University of London), who explained why gene therapy was so important for the 8000 ‘rare diseases’ which affect less than one in 2000 people; and an introduction to stem cell therapy from Jo Mountford (University of Glasgow), who covered some of the key breakthroughs of the last decade.
At lunchtime, we held one of our popular ‘Meet the Scientist’ activities – with scientists on-hand to offer advice and encouragement to those considering degrees or careers in science.
Lunchtime also included hand-on activities, with the new ‘build a virus’ stand proving a particular highlight. We also had representatives from the Royal Society of Biology, the Structural Genomics Consortium, the Progress Educational Trust, and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics – all of whom were on-hand to give advice and explain their role in supporting medical research.
In the afternoon, attendees learnt more about a specific application of gene therapy – using stem cells to treat eye conditions, with a talk presented by Rachael Pearson (University College London).
The final two presentations included a talk from Oliver Timmis from the AKU Society, who explained the importance of engaging patients in clinical research projects; and a talk from Dr Karin Straathof (University College London), who demonstrated how immune cells could be used to treat cancer.
The final session of the day was a panel discussion, with all the guest speakers on hand to answer questions from the audience. The wide-ranging debate started with a question regarding the implications of Brexit on scientific research, with some interesting ideas presented from the audience and panel alike.
The 2017 Public Engagement Day was another hugely successful event, with thought-provoking questioning and stimulating debate provided by students and the general public. Many thanks to all the speakers and organising committee for making it happen – and stay tuned for information about future Public Engagement Days from the BSGCT.