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08 February 2021

Introducing young Londoners to stem cell research

The Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine partnered with Access Aspiration to introduce stem cell research to 16-18-year olds in King’s local communities.

A scientific image of green neurons by Ieva Berzanskyte, and on the right it recreated with wires, plastic bottles and fairy lights by a student from the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine/Access Aspiration Half Term Workshop
Ieva Berzanskyte's image of neurons (left) recreated with household objects (right) by students taking part in the half term activities

The Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine (CSCRM) a King's recently partnered with the with Mayor’s Fund for London’s Access Aspiration programme to deliver a week of online activities to young Londoners during school holidays.

During October half term, students took part in talks, lectures, quizzes, Instagram Q&As and craft projects designed to introduce them to stem cell research. These activities also aimed to inspire young people to consider a career in STEM by featuring a diverse range of scientists.

Flexible online activities allowed participants to complete tasks in their own time over the week and allowed the CSCRM to open up sessions to more participants than in-person outreach activities.

As part of King’s commitment to its local communities, 130 students took part from schools in the neighbouring boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster, as well as from schools in 11 other London boroughs.

Jessica Sells, Public Engagement Officer at CSCRM, designed the programme to incorporate activities that did not require screen time, given the increased reliance on the Internet due to the pandemic.

A creative task asked students to recreate images of cells from CSCRM researchers with everyday materials. Students rose to the challenge and created organoids, human embryos and neurons using household objects from paperclips to pipe cleaners.

I rarely get to be creative during science, so this was a nice change to study something I am passionate about as well as use my imagination to replicate real life images of cells.

Student participant

The Access Aspiration Programme is part of the Mayor's Fund for London and works with 16-18-year-old Londoners from disadvantaged backgrounds to provide skills and networks to support new routes into university and employment.

100% of participants in the half term workshops learnt new information, 97% would recommend the workshop, and many felt more inspired to pursue careers in STEM after having taken part.

When asked their opinions of stem cell research had changed as a result of the workshop, 66% of students felt that their opinions had been positively changed.

I really enjoyed taking part as I learnt much more about stem cells in a fun way. I especially enjoyed listening to the lecture which was packed full of information on how stem cells are being using in things like blood transportation to people in need as well as skin grafts, the lecture also outlined the opportunities that have been successful due to stem cells, mainly cancer immunotherapy which shows promising potential for future advances.

Sarai, Harris Academy Bermondsey

Further Access Aspiration workshops are planned for February half term, where students will contribute to CSCRM research by piloting a new Citizen Science project. Students will test an online platform to train an AI to measure actual cell data. Feeding back their user experience of the pilot will to help King’s researchers to shape its development.

The CSCRM will take forward lessons learnt from this online engagement experience to help shape and develop activities for their involvement in the Royal Society Summer Exhibition 2021.

When putting this activity pack together I wanted the students to engage with CSCRM’s research in fun, interesting and active ways, not just reading text on a screen. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. As a Centre we are absolutely thrilled to help support young underrepresented and underserved communities in London to reach their potential, and diversify the field of science. I can’t wait for the next sessions!

Jessica Sells, Public Engagement Officer, Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine

We are delighted to be working with partners such as the Mayor of London’s Access Aspiration programme to share King’s research beyond the laboratory and to create opportunities for young people both in our neighbouring boroughs and across the capital. It’s inspiring to see students engaging with stem cell research with so much imagination, and I’m sure it will spark new ideas and suggest new directions for their future education and development.

Baroness Deborah Bull, Vice President and Principal (London)

In this story

Jessica  Sells

Public Engagement Officer