During a one-day event organised by stem cell researchers at the Faculty of Medicine, 200 upper secondary school pupils from Skåne got the chance to immerse themselves in the world of stem cells. At the annual UniStem Day, held on 15 March, Lund University researchers shared their knowledge, invited the pupils into their labs and talked about the opportunities and challenges of current and future stem cell research.
UniStem Day is part of a major initiative within the EU to increase young people’s knowledge about stem cell research. Malin Parmar, professor of cellular neuroscience, was the initiator of UniStem Day at Lund University. Since it started in 2015, she has succeeded in motivating some 50 colleagues at the Stem Cell Centre to get involved in the event. One of them is Göran Karlsson, who was responsible for this year’s UniStem Day.
“Everyone involved has done a tremendous job and the feedback from the pupils has been very positive. I am pleased that there was such good interaction between the researchers involved and this group of very inspired upper secondary school pupils. Everyone seems to have had a lot of fun,” says Göran Karlsson.
Among other things, the pupils listened to stem cell researchers Malin Parmar and Mattias Magnusson, who talked about what stem cells can be used for at present and, above all, their potential uses in the future. Malin Parmar’s lab focuses on re-programming skin cells to become nerve cells, which could, for example, help people med Parkinson’s disease. The hope for the future is that diseased nerve cells could be replaced by healthy nerve cells cultivated in the laboratory.
Then it was time for the pupils to visit the labs at the Biomedical Centre, BMC, to see how research is conducted in practice. The pupils did some laboratory work together with doctoral students from the stem cell graduate school.
Mattias Akke and Michael Finjan from the Cathedral School in Lund visited Malin Parmar’s lab. Supervised by doctoral students Fredrik Nilson and Sara Nolbrant, they saw cells undergoing the re-programming process.
“It’s very interesting”, says Michael Finjan. “We are in the science stream so we have a good basis, but we are learning new things today. We are seeing how research is actually done.”
Mattias Akke, whose ambition since early childhood has been to become a researcher, thinks that the day provided an important insight into how research works, and UniStem Day did nothing to alter his ambition.
Michael Finjan has not previously considered a career as a researcher. He thought that it was mostly just a lot of work.
“But today I realised that it can be fun. They seem to really enjoy it!”
“Taking science to schools – Borrow a scientist”
This is the fifth year in a row that stem cell researchers have organised UniStem Day and the interest has been greater than ever. While this is very gratifying, it is not possible to receive more than 200 pupils.
Therefore, the stem cells researchers are adopting a new approach this year to reach out to more pupils.
In the project “Taking science to schools – Borrow a scientist”, 12 doctoral students from the Research School in Stem Cell Biology will visit six schools in Skåne. The project is part of the graduate school’s Professional Development programme, a one-year study programme that aims to complement doctoral studies.
“The programme includes research communication within the framework of the University’s external engagement – why it is important for both society and for researchers”, say Christine Karlsson and Jenny Hansson, the initiators of the programme.
Among other things, the doctoral students at the graduate school have participated in a workshop with Ulf Ellervik, professor of chemistry at the Faculty of Engineering (LTH), who has a passionate interest in, and long experience of, sharing knowledge with the general public.
The aim of both UniStem and “Taking science to schools – Borrow a scientist” is to stimulate young people’s interest in stem cell research and give them an insight into everyday research. At the same time, the doctoral students get good practice in communicating their research in a form adapted for the general public.