The Heart Uncovered: the people behind the thought

Image credit: BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Science (University of Edinburgh).

ASCUS, the UK’s largest publicly accessible laboratory supported by the Wellcome Trust, has contributed immensely in demystifying ‘research’ as it goes on in laboratories. At a new event titled “The Heart Uncovered: Cardiovascular Science Open Session”, ASCUS is hosting PhD researchers Rebecca Wafer, Teodora Aldea and Emmanouil Solomonidis from University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science on October 21st 2017 to conduct an open session where the visitors will get the opportunity to both stain tissue samples and observe pre-stained samples under the microscope.

As a singular cause of around a quarter of all deaths in the UK, cardiovascular disease is fast gaining prominence in the world of science as something that needs to be studied in greater detail. Obesity, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are some of the many risk factors of this complex condition. In Rebecca’s own words, “The Centre for Cardiovascular Science at University of Edinburgh aims to ‘discover better ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating cardiovascular disease’. The centre conducts research across a number of themes, including metabolism, renal & hypertension and vascular injury & repair.”

Using zebrafish as a model organism, Rebecca studies how the morphology of adipose tissue i.e. the number and size of adipocytes, the cells that store fat, is genetically controlled. Emmanouil investigates the mechanisms of formation of blood vessels following a heart attack using a mouse model. He ascertains that “results will guide future investigations into how these mechanisms of blood vessel regeneration can be manipulated and used in clinical strategies to treat cardiovascular disease.”

In talking about how their model systems are good for studying cardiovascular disease, both Rebecca and Emmanouil emphasise on the genetic similarity of these organisms to humans. Furthermore, they exploit the fact that both these organisms present pathophysiology similar to human disease conditions upon genetic manipulations. When asked about what prompted them to organise a session like this for the public, here is what the organisers had to say:

Rebecca: “We were prompted to organise the session to demystify and showcase the ways in which biomedical research is conducted. Thanks to research, the UK death rate from CVD had fallen by more than three quarters since 1961. However, CVD still causes an average of 435 deaths per day in the UK, with over 110 of those losing their lives being under 75.”

Emmanouil: “As Rebecca mentioned, cardiovascular disease is by far the number one killer worldwide. Despite CVD causing thousands of deaths, vast improvements in therapeutics have occurred due to research and I think it is very important for people to be aware of that. I was really interested in organizing an ASCUS session with CVD as a theme as I think there is a disconnect between laymen and researchers mainly because of the difficult jargon. I feel it is our responsibility to make scientific concepts understandable for people across all ages to attempt to bridge that gap.”

There is often a gap in the transfer of knowledge between scientists and the public due to the gap in language and jargon. Members of the public do not understand the specifics used by scientists to explain their research. I was curious about whether the organisers of this even expected visitors to have any prior knowledge and understanding of the disease and the methods they were going to use for demonstrations. Rebecca replied: “No prior knowledge of science will be required and all aspects of the session will be explained in a way that anyone can understand.”

Finally, when asked about what they would expect the visitors to take away with them after the session in terms of knowledge and experience, here is what they said.

Rebecca: “Our major goals are to show people what scientific research actually entails.  I would like people to take back with them the idea that science isn’t always as complex as it first seems and that it can be accessible. I would like them to gain the experience of doing some hands-on science themselves.”

Emmanouil: “Sometimes when people ask me what is my routine every day in research it is difficult to explain! Here, my main goal would be to show people examples of experiments that can be understood by all, that take place in a research institute every day. Moreover, people will be able to do these experiments themselves and understand key scientific concepts about cardiovascular disease and research.”

The session is designed to reach out to individuals of all age groups and the organisers, Rebecca, Teodora and Emmanouil, will all be present and happy to answer any questions about the disease or the scientific methods used in laboratories to study it. For more details on the event and to register a place for yourself, please click on the following link and do turn up with friends and family to spend an afternoon living the life of a scientist.

This article was written by Aishwarya Sivakumar and edited by Bonnie Nicholson.

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