Last month, our Biobank Facilitator Zoe Davison had a very busy week with our research team from Glasgow University during their exhibition at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London.
From giant vibration plates to a mystery box, there were lots of weird and wonderful ways for people to get involved with our research. We caught up with Zoe to hear all about the exhibition.
Tell us more about the research being exhibited. What is nanokicking?
The theory behind this work is that a retired professor noticed that cells vibrated as they are anchored to a surface and wondered what would happen if the surface was also vibrated. Roll on a few years and the team have discovered that if stem cells are vibrated at 1000 times a second - which they have termed a nanokick - then they turn in to new bone cells called osteoblasts.
How did you and the team bring the science to life?
The exhibit had all sorts of gadgets to get involved with to explain the science. There were giant vibration plates (used for weight loss in the real world!) which visitors were very keen to have a go on to experience how the cells may feel when vibrated at different frequencies. I obviously had to try too!There was a model of a cell to explain why vibrations can make stem cells produce new bone cells. This is all to do with the mechanics of being squashed by the vibrations leading to genes being turned on/off according to the frequency. The team have fine-tuned this and figured out the exact frequency required to turn genes on involved with bone growth! There was also a model to explain how this may be important in bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
There was an app for kids to try to make a bone cell by shaking the tablet at the correct speed. Too fast and they killed the cell and too slow and they made a fat cell. There was also a mystery box that visitors could rummage in, which contained all kinds of orthopaedic implants. This was a lead into explaining that they are hoping to engineer new bone grafts to use in these operations, instead of the cement that is currently used.
How did all this relate to the work that the Bone Cancer Research Trust does?
We were constantly surrounded by people wanting to know about the research. The visitors found the cancer side of this work the most interesting. We funded one of the team, Monica, to look at the difference when normal bone cells are vibrated and when primary bone cancer cells are vibrated. She has found that the normal cells are quite happy to be vibrated but the cancer cells do not like it at all and their growth is slowed. She has also noticed that the more aggressive cancers show more of a slowing than the milder cancers. Although she doesn’t see this to be a treatment in itself, she is looking at what genes are altered when the cells are vibrated to see if she can find new drug targets for better targeted treatments.
We gave out Bone Cancer Research Trust goodie bags, which the children really enjoyed - many of whom said they would think of fundraising for us. The week was such a good engagement opportunity, especially with school children. It also gave me a very useful insight into the research that is being carried out by the team.