Kirsty Ferguson from the Pollard Lab was recently chosen to present her research in the Houses of Parliament during STEM for Britain 2020.
In November I received a newsletter from the Biochemical Society advertising a unique opportunity to communicate research to parliamentarians at the House of Commons. Communicating research effectively is a vital skill for any scientist and so I jumped at the chance to practise this in such a special setting.
The first stage of the application involved writing a poster abstract, describing my work to a non-scientific audience. I was delighted to then be selected to exhibit a poster on 9th March in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences session, one of five key disciplines covered by the event.
Like the submitted abstract, the posters exhibited were to be understandable by a lay audience. I enjoyed thinking about how to present my work in a different way to conventional academic conferences and experimenting with designs to make my poster both informative and visual.
In the Pollard lab, we work on the most aggressive type of adult brain cancer called glioblastoma. Tumour regrowth after conventional treatments is fuelled by a group of ‘brain cancer stem cells’. These cells frequently have abnormally high levels of certain ‘molecular switches’ that control when genes are turned on or off, and, as a result, divide uncontrollably.
My poster ‘Fighting the FOX factor fuelling brain cancer’ described my work on a molecular switch called ‘FOXG1’. As molecular switches such as FOXG1 are notoriously difficult to target directly with drugs, we are working to understand how they function to drive brain cancer stem cells (i.e. which genes do they control and which factors do they cooperate with?). Using the latest technologies, such as CRISPR, we can increase or decrease the levels of FOXG1 in healthy and tumour brain stem cells grown in the lab, and monitor the effect.
At the event I learnt of the breadth of biosciences research being carried out across the UK, from the evolution of antibiotic resistance to 3D printing teeth for research and teaching. I had the chance to speak to both MPs and leading scientists about my research and I enjoyed the challenge of concisely communicating my key messages. This was also a wonderful opportunity to highlight the important work being done in the Pollard lab at CRM, especially pertinent following the establishment of the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission.
I would highly recommend this event to other early-career researchers looking for opportunities to broaden their network and communication skills, and gain a rare opportunity to speak to politicians and policymakers.
Kirsty Ferguson is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Pollard Lab.