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Airway Cells and Air Pollution Study

A research study which investigated the impact of air pollution on immune cells within children’s lungs by combining research with school workshops.

Students engage in a workshop called Sputum Splatter, facilitated by a medical student from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry
  • School/Institute/Department: School of Medicine and Health, Centre for Genomics and Child Health, Blizard Institute, Centre of the Cell
  • Subjects: Air Pollution, Outreach, Research Sampling
  • Audience: School Groups

The Airway Cells and Air Pollution (ACAP) study investigated the impact of air pollution on immune cells within children’s lungs by combining research with school workshops.

The project set up mobile laboratories within primary and secondary schools where students aged between 8 –14 years could provide samples, with parental consent, then take part in science activities and demonstrations developed by Centre of the Cell.

In two years the Centre for Genomics and Child Health team conduicted 38 interactive educational sessions, reaching approximately 900 children, from which 433 sampled immune cells by offering sputum, saliva (DNA) and urine samples. Students also tracked their personal carbon exposure over 24 hours on their journeys to and from school, collecting 60 data sets.

As part of the sessions, students engaged in a range of science activities and demonstrations including shows, workshops and demonstrations exploring the science behind research and answering questions on what air pollution is. The sessions were run jointly with scientists and medical students from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry alongside outreach staff from Centre of the Cell.

The public engagement activity has been critical to the success of the ACAP study as it is the means by which 433 data sets from children were achieved. Schools were very keen to receive the morning workshops and were therefore more forthcoming when signing themselves up to the sampling.
Abigail Whitehouse, Clinical Research Fellow

The schools targeted were largely public, with large numbers from disadvantaged groups within local communities. The sessions aimed to encourage students to view academic research as relevant to their everyday lives, and on which they can have a personal impact.

The team will be going back to schools in late 2015 / early 2016 for workshops updating students on the progress of their samples through a virtual tour of the Blizard Institute laboratories, and will walk through samples being processed. This will also be used to evaluate the impact of the project and ensure continuity of relationships between the research group and the public and schools.

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