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Alzheimer's: What a performance!

10 July 2009

A group of 30 students from Graveney School in Tooting visited the Institute of Psychiatry this week as part of a public engagement project to learn about Alzheimer’s disease. The event is part of a larger arts and biomedical science project involving Professor Simon Lovestone and The Opera Group who have developed a full-length opera exploring dementia.

The day started with seminars by Professor Lovestone who introduced the students to the effects of Alzheimer’s and Dr Angela Hodges who continued by highlighting the causes of the disease. Professor Lovestone said ‘It was delightful to work with the Opera Group on this project with Graveney School. We invited the students into our labs to see research in progress and helped provide a day of learning by providing materials that enabled them to examine for themselves the neuropathology of Alzheimer’s.

The students visited the Institute’s brain bank, laboratories and mock scanning suite to learn about MRI technology, get to grips with experiments and spinning strands of DNA.

The session ended with academics, pupils and teachers discussing the morning’s events over lunch. Mr Finch, Head of Science at Graveney School said ‘The students were amazed by many of the aspects of Alzheimer’s that they learned about today. It sparked some interesting discussions in particular about the emotions they felt when lying on the MRI scanner, which will surely be important in informing their performance pieces.’

This phase of the program takes the project into schools across the UK where pupils put together an operatic performance of their own based on what they have learnt. The pupils at Graveney School performed their mini operas this week in front of an audience including Professor Lovestone, and Vernon Coaker, Minister of State for Schools and Learners. Professor Lovestone commented ‘It was simply delightful to see the outcome of the student’s work where they presented a tremendously moving synthesis of music, drama and science. They demonstrated a really sophisticated understanding of the disease and its impact on families. I hope they will go on to develop both their science and arts interests and I wish them well for the future’.

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