Saturday, 30 July 2016

Day 3: Scientific Visits, Tim Tams, and Poster Presentations!

This morning I woke up bright and early for the first of  the visits to different scientific establishments across London. This beautiful building is part of Imperial College, and is the first thing I see when I walk out of my halls of residence!

I was very excited to attend the University College London - Haematology and Blood Transfusion Department for today's scientific visit. A large group of us maneuvered our way on the tube, and arrived early enough to walk through the area and have another window of opportunity to share more with eachother about ourselves and our countries.

While we were waiting, a very generous Australian fellow named Jackson pulled out a box of authentic Australian Tim Tams and gave one to myself and fellow Canadian, Corrine. I thought they would be like Tim Tams I've had in Canada, but they were so much better! Apparently it's the "double coat" of chocolate that makes them so irresistable to Australians and many, many others from around the world. 
Once it was time for the tour, we split into smaller groups and my group began in the laboratory shown above. This lab works like clockwork. Connected to the two silver tubes coming out of the wall in the middle of the photo is a pneumatic tube transfer system that travels under the street beside the hospital and brings in blood samples for testing from all across London. After touring the lab above, we were given a tour of another lab that does more specialized diagnoses of sickle cell anemia and beta-thalassemia. The biomedical scientist showed us results from real patient samples and helped us see the differences between normal and diseased states. We then headed to the flow cytometry lab, where the basic science behind flow cytometry was explained, and we again compared normal and disease states, this time for cancer diagnoses. According to our guide, flow cytometry greatly aids in the diagnosis of types of leukemias and lymphomas. 
Next, we made our way to the hospital associated with University College London. On our way, we passed the original hospital that is now the university's elegant library. According to our very knowledgeable tour guide, this hospital turned library is built in the shape of a cross, as it was believed this layout was best for restoring patients' health. Now, students can load their brains with knowledge in this old hospital by diving deep into the books!  
At last, here is the new hospital! Once inside, we toured the cancer center, vending machine-like fridges with blood, and ended our grand tour off with two more laboratory tours: one in the general blood work lab, and the other in the blood transfusion lab. In the blood transfusion lab we held samples of plasma, red blood cells, and platelets. It was so cool to handle the samples and to see the precision in which samples are categorized, tested, checked, re-checked, and stored. This lab alone receives hundreds to thousands of samples a day!
Following the visit to University College London's Haematology and Blood Transfusion Department, we had an amazing lecture by Professor Kevin Shakesheff. He is doing cutting-edge work in his lab on the topic of regenerative medicine. In fact, Shakesheff pointed out that regenerative medicine research is currently being done on almost every tissue type. He showed us videos of early embryos, bringing me back to lectures with Dr. Tony Stea in Developmental Biology. Professor Shakesheff stressed that understanding the first 8-weeks of development would being the key to unlocking the full capabilities of regeneration. I wish he dived into more details, but I appreciated that he showed plenty of videos and gave examples to tie things together. In the picture above, Shakesheff is showing different body parts that have been printed with a 3D printer, such as bones, ears,  and capillaries. 

Fun fact: The very first MRI machine was created at his university (Nottingham University)  in the 1970's! 

After the lecture, all attendees giving poster presentations had an exceptionally early dinner at 4:30pm, followed by a time to set up our posters for an interactive evening of scientific sharing from around the globe. I'm amazed that there are high school students performing western blots, designing PCR primers, and diving into the Baltic Sea to collect plant samples! Others have built robots, studied rare diseases, and investigated cellular stress responses. 

I was so happy to share my research project with many LIYSF participants and judges. One student from Ireland is determined to bring the Genomics Education Partnership to his university! I hope he does and that the GEP research spreads even more.

Tomorrow is another full day bustling with activity, so until then, thank you for reading and for following along my exploration through science in London!

- Vivienne 

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