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Our Enthuse Partnership

15 Aug 2023

As part of our cancer education programme, York Against Cancer has funded an “Enthuse partnership” which brings together six local secondary schools. The partnership will give local school students more understanding of cancer biology by empowering their teachers and giving them a taste of cutting-edge cancer research.

Cancer will affect half of us in our lifetimes but the disease gets very little mention in the school curriculum, even in biology courses. The partnership seeks to improve cancer teaching in schools by highlighting new teaching opportunities and empowering teachers to feel confident talking about cancer. To fit this into a packed curriculum, Enthuse found concepts teachers were already explaining and demonstrated how they could be enhanced by sharing how the biology changes when things go wrong in cancers.

“I thought the trip to the University of York was a great way to learn firsthand exactly how cancer researchers develop drugs and diagnose patients. The lectures were super helpful and the staff were eager to answer any questions we had whether it was practical, or theory related. I definitely think having the opportunity to use their equipment has excited me about my possible future in science research and given me a chance to see what the career could entail. I would love to be involved in more trips/opportunities like that in the future!” – Fliss (Year 12)

This partnership links the charity and the Jack Birch Unit (York Against Cancer’s flagship research centre) with schools and, most importantly, their teachers. The Enthuse partnership is run by the National STEM learning centre (NSLC), which offers state-of-the-art training in the latest teaching methods for communicating tricky STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) concepts. By giving new training and confidence to their teachers, Enthuse can impact thousands of local students.

An important area Enthuse identified for training the next generation of cancer researchers is improving the provision of practical laboratory sessions. Many schools lack the basic scientific equipment to provide the practical classes that inspire students to become scientists. Others have the equipment but the staff member who knew how to use it has moved on and it now sits collecting dust. Enthuse is looking to find ways to address these systemic problems that limit the potential for York students to develop cancer research careers.

“The experience has boosted my confidence and convinced me to want to take A-Level Biology.” – Jessie (Year 10)

Over the summer term, staff from the Jack Birch Unit have been running practical sessions where local students try to diagnose which patients have a specific cancer mutation. So far, the JBU has taken 80 students into the Department of Biology at the University of York for a day of cancer research.

During the day, they initially teach the students about general laboratory research skills like lab safety and accurately moving tiny volumes of liquid (1/100th of a millilitre). They then move on to focusing their research on one tiny piece of our DNA code by making millions of copies of small pieces of DNA using a technique called “PCR”.

Taking the amplified portion of DNA, they use enzymes to cut mutated DNA into smaller pieces whilst leaving normal DNA untouched. Finally, they can separate the cut mutated DNA from the larger untouched normal DNA using gel electrophoresis. This process allows the students to diagnose their test samples and suggest which of the imagined patients should receive a new “personalised medicine” therapy that targets the specific mutation they were looking for.

“I am interested in a career in medicine and found learning about the science behind cancer fascinating.  A big thanks to all at the University who looked after us so well.” – Phoebe (Year 10)

By the end of the day, Enthuse had doubled the number of students who felt they could speak confidently about cancer biology and the number considering cancer research as an option for their future career.

The Enthuse partnership still has two school terms to run so stay tuned for more exciting news of what they’ve been up to soon!

Read more here.