Healing broken hearts in “Science in the Classroom”

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Last 9th December, Cristina Villa del Campo, postdoctoral researcher in the University of Oxford, participated in “Science in the Classroom” in the Spanish School Vicente Cañada Blanch in London. Her talk was entitled “Regenerative cardiology: Learning how to cure broken hearts”. 

What is a career in research about? What is cardiovascular regeneration?

Through Cristina’s story, the students were able to learn the ins and outs of a career in research. Cristina explained her short stays in a lab during her university studies, as well as the doctoral thesis or postdoctoral stays. She also told them about the global dimension of science, how scientific publications work and how research is funded. With all that, Cristina aimed to “demystify some ideas and misconceptions regarding what a scientist is about and how research is performed”. 

After this introduction, Cristina spoke about her research in heart development and cellular regeneration. She made use of videos and pictures from different experiments in animal models and artificial organs. Thus, Cristina told how the heart of the zebra fish or at the early stages in the mouse embryogenesis can regenerate itself from any lesion, implying that a better understanding of how these cellular processes work could eventually have a therapeutic application in human patients who have suffered cardiac arrests. She said “I was surprised by the genuine interest for my experience and their amazement about the things that I shared with them. I was very happy for their curiosity and the quality and quantity of questions they asked”. 

A debate about the use of animals in experimentation that foster critical thinking

To bring the session to an end, Cristina also wanted to trigger a debate about the use of animals in biomedical research. The researcher compared some numbers about the use of animals in different industries and explained the rules of animal experimentation. The students eagerly participated in the debate challenging their own ideas under the scrutiny and full attention of Cristina. 

Lorenzo Melchor, organiser of “Science in the Classroom” and FECYT scientific coordinator at the Spanish Embassy in London, said “Cristina, with her communication skills, has excited every student from the very beginning. Not only has she made them understand how the researcher career works, but also she has encouraged them to develop their critical thinking”. Precisely, Cristina reckoned “I am very glad to have been able to foster their critical thinking and, even, to inspire some students”. 

Also as a guest speaker attended Gonzalo Capellán, Counsellor of Education in the Spanish Embassy Education Office in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Gonzalo said “Cristina’s talk has been very educational and interesting for everyone. The students did not stop asking questions and Cristina’s answers were always very clear, illustrative and appropriate to their age”. Gonzalo had been in one session of “Science in the Classroom” before and, after Cristina’s talk, he stated that the programme “has become essential within the portfolio of complementary activities of the Spanish School Vicente Cañada Blanch. Its continuity is worth it because it provides student with a view of the scientific world and the professional market outside the classroom”. 

Cristina also learned from her experience in the programme. She ensured “in the day-to-day routine in the lab, it is very easy to lose perspective of what motivates you. This visit to the school has allowed me to approach my job from a different view to be able to communicate it. I have the feeling that I have learnt to look at my career and my research with a fresh perspective”. Cristina was grateful for her participation and said that “’Science in the Classroom’ fulfils the important mission to bring scientists, engineers and other professionals closer to students in a rewarding experience for everyone”. 

About “Science in the Classroom”

“Science in the Classroom” is a programme organised by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the Office for Cultural and Scientific Affairs of the Embassy of Spain in London, by which a scientist or an engineer per month visits 14-18 years-old students in the Spanish School Vicente Cañada Blanch in London until the end of the term. This programme began in the year 2015-2016 and continues with its second edition during 2016-2017. It is also supported by the Spanish Education Office in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the Spanish School Vicente Cañada Blanch, and the Society of Spanish Researchers in the United Kingdom (SRUK/CERU). “Science in the Classroom” is embedded in the FECYT line of action related to the promotion of scientific culture and dissemination, and support for internationalization of Spanish science. 

About Cristina Villa del Campo

Cristina holds a Degree in Biology by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 2009 and a PhD in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Biomedicine and Biotechnology, by the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in 2014. Her doctoral thesis focused on cell competition in the developing and homeostatic heart, and was performed in the Spanish National Cardiovascular Research Centre (CNIC) under the supervision of Dr Miguel Torres Sánchez. Since 2015, Cristina works as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physiology Anatomy and Genetics of the University of Oxford, with Prof Paul Riley. Cristina is author of scientific manuscripts in specialized journals (Cell Rep, Blood, etc.) and she is very active in science outreach activities: winner of “I’m a Scientist. Get me out of here!”, volunteer in the Natural History Museum of Oxford and STEMnet Ambassador. In 2016, she also participated in the shadowing scheme between scientists and diplomats of the Spanish Embassy in London and FECYT “Ambassadors for Science”.


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