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Bringing stem cell research to the next generation of scientists

UniStem Day 2020 was another great success, with high school students visiting Lund University to enjoy a variety of activities introducing them to the fascinating world of stem cell research.
VIdeo: Experiences from UniStem Day 2020

The 6th UniStem day hosted by Lund University kicked off at the LUX Aula lecture theatre, Lund University, where over 200 high school students from over the Skåne region were welcomed by event co-ordinator Assistant Prof. Göran Karlsson and Stem Cell Center Director Prof. Zaal Kokaia.

During the first session of the day, Dr Mattias Magnusson, principal investigator from the Stem Cell and Cancer Stem Cell Regulation group, introduced the students to the concept of stem cells, details of their initial discovery and characterisation, as well as touching on the current state and future direction of stem cell research. Building on this, recent PhD graduate Dr Sara Nolbrandt presented the exciting research field in she has been working during her studies, namely the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD) with cell replacement therapy.

A neurodegenerative disease, PD results in the loss of dopamine signaling neurons in patient’s brains. In cell replacement therapy, human embyronic stem cells (hESCs) are generated from PD patients skin cells. These stem cells are then differentiated into dopamine producing neurons, which can be transplanted into the patient’s brain to replace the dying neurons.

Mattias and Sara
Researchers Mattias Magnusson and Sara Nolbrant

Following this, Dr Daniella Ottosson, leader of the Regenerative Neurophysiology group, held an interactive seminar during which the students were encouraged to find out what PhD is and how to become a research scientist. “This event is very well put together and much appreciated” agreed Emma Andersson and Fredrick Demoling, teachers from Ystad Gymnasium. “The lecture from Dr Ottosson was very well structured and showed the students how it is possible to choose a research career”.

To give the participants of UniStem day a flavour of the different aspects of stem cell research, they were then invited to take part in a number of interactive workshops held in the research labs at Lund BMC.

The ‘Transplant cells into the brain and find them’ workshop introduced students to how scientists are able to study stem cells in brain. After simulating transplanting cells into gelatine brains, they cut the brain samples into slices and visualized them under the microscope. “It’s a great experience”, said Gustav Tollander a student from Lars Erik-Larsson-gymnasiet in Lund, “It’s very interesting to find out more about neural stem cells”.

Unistem Day 2020 workshops
UniStem Day 2020 workshops

“It’s great to be able to visit Lund University and see where research actually takes place, it seems so cool to work in the lab!” said Elinor Jonsson, a student attending Spyken gymansieskola in Lund, participating in the ‘Bioengineering lungs’ workshop. For many patients with lethal lung diseases, lung transplantation is the only option to save their lives. However, there are not enough donor lungs to transplant all patients in need of a new lung. Researchers from the “Lung Cell and Molecular Biology and Bioengineering “ research group showed the students the methods they are using to understand how to build lungs in the lab, with the aim of helping to overcome the shortages of donor tissue available for patients in need of transplant.

This year’s UniStem Day concluded with a Q&A session at the LUX building, during which the sudents could approach PhD students and researchers at various stations to discuss topics such as ‘Where in are the body are stem cells?’, ‘Can we cure cancer using stem cells?’ and ‘Would you eat a stem cell-grown burger?’. Present during this session were representatives from Lund University, providing the visiting students with practical information on opportunities and courses offered by the institute.

When asked for his thoughts on UniStem Day 2020, student Jacob Kahlon reflected “I think being a scientist is interesting to say the least. There is a lot for us to build upon as the next generation and the topics that we have been exploring today are extremely important in curing diseases in the future”.

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