Biomedical Engineering – Not Just Science Fiction

By Chelsea Reighard, University of Michigan, USA

I remember my first exposure to bioengineering vividly. My love for science started in primary school, when I received a gift subscription to weekly science magazine. One Saturday afternoon I sprawled out on my parents’ living room carpet to read an issue about ‘wacky inventions’. I could not believe my eyes when I turned the page to find a mouse with an ear on his back—a human shaped ear!

While many of these tissue engineering and 3D printing applications seem to be the stuff of science fiction; the innovative medical devices and education approaches are real. I am fortunate to be spending this academic year researching biomedical solutions to clinical problems under the mentorship of Dr David Zopf.

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Summer School in Shanghai

Kyle on Great WallAs part of our new International Associate Membership agreement with the Chinese Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (CSBMB), we helped four of our postgraduate members  attend  the  CSBMB’s Summer  School  in  Shanghai  in  July,  with  our  Society paying for travel and CSBMB covering registration and accommodation costs.

Kyle Fowler (University of Sheffield, UK) was one of the four, and reports on his experience:

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“The 5th International Advanced Summer School was held in the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, and this year the theme of the meeting was RNA biology. The success of the Institute is highlighted by two key achievements: the total synthesis of crystalline bovine insulin in 1965 and the total synthesis of yeast alanine tRNA in 1981.

During my flight to Shanghai I was slightly apprehensive about finding my way from Shanghai Pu-Dong Airport to the hotel; however all signs in the metro and railway stations had English translations allowing me to easily travel anywhere in Shanghai for around 40 pence.

Each day began with a lecture from a renowned researcher from either the University of Toronto or the University of Leuven. Topics such as: alternative splicing, RNAi, RNA binding motifs and computational biology were discussed. I particularly enjoyed the talk on Thursday morning by Dr. Quaid Morris, in which he discussed the application of computational biology to both predict RNA secondary structure and to model the binding of RNA binding proteins to their RNA target. Following his talk I was enlightened to the current challenges faced by the field, and especially the need to model the change in RNA secondary structure that occurs during the binding of an RNA binding protein.

After the lunch break PhD students and post docs were given the opportunity to present their work and receive expert advice from the guest speakers. The day was concluded with a detailed group discussion within small groups. The discussion tended to cover questions about the presented lecture material and personal issues with one’s project, however other topics such as the qualities required to become a professor were often brought up.

During one of the afternoons we were taken on a tour of the laboratories and it became clear to me that in addition to all of the facilities on site, across the river (Pudong area) in The National Centre for Protein Science Shanghai there has been a huge amount of money invested in equipment such as the TitanKrios, which is the most powerful electron microscope in the world.

Following the Summer School I travelled to Beijing with two other students, where we visited sites such as the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. We also did a 6 kilometre hike along the Great Wall.

Overall, the Summer School was very well organised and covered a range of topics in the field of RNA biology. This was my first trip to China, and it most certainly was one that I will never forget. I am extremely grateful to the Biochemical Society and Chinese Society of Biochemistry and Molecular for generously funding my flights, accommodation and meals for the entire week.”

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Are you postgraduate student studying the molecular or cellular biosciences? Join the Biochemical Society and take advantage of our grants to help you attend conferences, both in the United Kingdom and abroad.

Already a postgraduate member? The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Brazilian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology will jointly host the 23rd IUBMB and 44th SBBq Congress in Brazil, 24–28 August 2015. A satellite IUBMB-SBBq Young Scientists Program will be held in the days preceding. Our postgraduate members are eligible to apply for free registration and shared accommodation for both events. Visit the Congress website for more information and to apply. The deadline is 15 October 2014. Biochemical Society members who are successful will also have the opportunity to apply for a Travel Grant of up to £650.

Agreement with Chinese Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The Society is very pleased to announce the signing of an International Associate Membership Agreement with the Chinese Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (CSBMB).  It is hoped that this initiative will strengthen links between the two societies and the molecular bioscience communities in the UK and China as a whole.

Professor Naihe Jing (General Secretary, CSBMB) and Dr Francesco Michelangeli (Honorary Membership Secretary, Biochemical Society) signing International Associate membership Agreement
Professor Naihe Jing (General Secretary, CSBMB) and Dr Francesco Michelangeli (Honorary Membership Secretary, Biochemical Society) signing International Associate membership Agreement

The agreement includes benefits such as offering reciprocal member-rate registration fees for members at the other society’s conferences, annual sponsorship of an ‘International BS/CSBMB Lecture’ and annual support of three Biochemical Society postgraduate or undergraduate members to attend the International Advanced Summer School for Biochemistry and Molecular Cell Biology in China.

The agreement was initially discussed in March when staff and Officers from the Biochemical Society visited Beijing for the Biochemical Journal’s first Editorial Board meeting to be held in China. The agreement was then formalised by an official signing during the recent FEBS Congress in St Petersburg.

Ugandan Science Clubs Get Active

by Jane Thomson, School Projects Manager, Biochemical Society

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The A* Science Club is a scheme for supporting enthusiastic secondary students in Uganda who want to have fun and inspire others through guided science club activities. Our mission is to encourage kids to get into science through providing opportunities for wonder and fun.

Following a fact-finding mission in April 2012 we planned to establish science clubs in 10 schools in the vicinity of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST). The scheme was launched in September 2012 where the clubs were heralded with great fanfare and ceremony at our first A* Masterclass which had a ‘Genetics’ theme.

At the end of the Masterclass, resources were provided to participating schools to help the clubs complete a series of challenges in order to maintain their A* status. Clubs were requested to complete five challenges over a year and submit short reports via the local committee or facebook group for each of the following five categories:

Masterclass Challenge: Send a team of club members to an A* Science Club Masterclass.

Outreach Challenge: Send a team of club members to a local primary school (or invite them to come to your school) for a fun science activity.

Meet a Scientist Challenge: Invite a working scientist to speak to club members in school or arrange to visit them in their place of work.

Debate Challenge: Participate in a debate about a controversial area of science with another school.

Project Challenge: Undertake a project to solve a problem or to make life easier using your knowledge of science.

It was with some trepidation that I returned to MUST six months later to help deliver the second A* Masterclass on ‘The Brain’ (last week) with Dr Nick Dixon, A* Champion from the Society’s Education Committee and Head of Science at Magdalen College School, Brackley. The Masterclass included:

  • Insect Neuroscience: an expert talk from Professor Sadiq Yusuf, Deputy-Vice Chancellor of the Western Campus of the Kampala International University and TReND local partner.
  • Hands-on practicals from Amy Buchanan-Hughes, Lina Munro and Johnmary Kasujja of The African Science Truck Experience TASTE
  • Student presentations and debate on the use of smart drugs

A Champion presents his flower cultivation project for his Project Challenge Bukinda Seminary Science Club and Father Sunday

Armed with Nick’s strawberry-lace neurons, ‘Thatcher effect’ optical illusions and fresh goat brains we felt we had kept our side of the bargain. But had the clubs risen to their challenges? I’ll let you decide…

Nick Dixon presenting a goat's brain to a group of students St Paul's Secondary School Science Club, Bukinda

Thanks to an inspirational Local Ambassador, enthusiastic support from the Society’s Executive Committee and a grant from the Monsanto Fund, the scheme has captured the imaginations of participants and organizers alike. A* Science Clubs have grown from strength to strength over the year since their inception with over 500 student members and 135 Facebook members. We now have a local committee comprising experts in Science Education, Lecturers in Biochemistry at MUST and representatives from the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology. Thanks to continued backing from our Executive Committee, we are confident this model will remain sustainable and hope that others might be inspired to set up similar schemes in other areas.