9 May 2019

Engaging high school students in BRCA research and concepts of novel cancer therapies

Outreach, Public engagement and Dissemination

PhD fellow Timo Reisländer took part in a public engagement event at University of Oxford

- by PhD fellow Timo Reisländer, University of Oxford

Recently, I had the chance to showcase my research in front of high school students.

I took part in a training course offered by the Department of Oncology at the University of Oxford. During the course, I developed a table-top display which illustrated my research into BRCA and the design of novel cancer therapies. Finally, I delivered this exhibit to 126 school students aged 16-18 years.

 In particular, I let the students race against each other ‘repairing’ DNA by using both their hands to puzzle together DNA pieces. Each hand represented a BRCA gene/protein. Mutant carriers had to wear a bulky glove on one hand.

To illustrate loss of heterozygosity, the students had to wear a glove on each hand. It took them a similar amount of time to ‘repair’ DNA with one free hand or with two free hands. On the contrary, wearing a glove on each hand took them much longer to repair. This illustrated that a cell with 1 or 2 copies of BRCA is capable of repairing damaged DNA whereas loss of both copies of BRCA abrogated the cells ability to repair the damage efficiently. In order to motivate them to ‘repair’ as fast as possible, I rewarded the fastest students with chocolate prizes.

 Following up on the demonstration, I explained  why our research matters and how interesting and meaningful our work is. The students were extremely curious and asked intelligent questions. This opportunity was also very rewarding for me, since these students were so interested in science and considering a scientific career themselves.