Engaging with dementia: From bench to bedside

Read about a research project we funded into engaging the public with research into the causes of Alzheimer's disease.

Lead Investigator: Dr Dave Lewis

Institution: University of Leeds

Grant type: Dissemination grant

Grant amount: £29,872

Start date: February 2014

Completion date: November 2014 

Scientific Title: Engaging with dementia: From bench to bedside

What was the project, and what did the researchers do?

There is strong demand for the release of information on dementia research, but much of this information is not accessible or engaging to non-scientists. The public have a right to know more about the research that is being conducted in an area of health that affects many people. This project involved engaging the public with research into the causes of Alzheimer's disease currently being undertaken within the Faculties of Biological Sciences and Medicine and Health at the University of Leeds. This was achieved through three main activities. 

The first activity was a combined laboratory session and ethics debate for A-Level students.  This gave them the opportunity to use some of the techniques used in real-life research, and to debate the ethical issues arising from research into Alzheimer's disease.  Held on campus, students were given the opportunity to made electrical recordings from inside the brain cells of snails, and investigate how drugs effect the function of these cells. They also discussed ethical issues as seen by different sections of society.  

Digital learning tools were also created. These were a series of short videos, audio recordings and computer interactives. They helped the audience understand how the brain works and the causes of Alzheimer's disease. More advanced science was also discussed, and audiences had the opportunity to hear researchers talking about their own research. These digital tools were incorporated onto the project website.

Lastly, a two-day interactive exhibition for the general public was organised to engage them with current research at the University of Leeds.  Held within the Arena exhibition space of the Leeds City Museum, 'Healthy Brains @ Leeds', allowed visitors to learn how the brain works and take part in interactive exhibits. They also had the opportunity to discuss ongoing research with scientists and have a go at some of the techniques used in this research. They could also join in the debate on future priorities for dementia research through the 'Thought Wall' or talk to local Alzheimer's Society volunteers.  

What were the key results, and how will this help in the fight against dementia?

Student Engagement 

Two sessions were delivered during the Leeds Festival of Science, with these sessions attended by 33 students from 2 schools. It was also delivered in an extended version over two days during the Faculty Year 12 Summer School, attended by 8 students, in which they also engaged in experimental design before the practical and in post-practical data analysis and presentation sessions. The researchers are also working with teachers who were at the festival to create educational resources and data sets that they can use in their own teaching, which will further engage people with this activity. 

Digital Resources

A series of 24 resources was created, taking the public from the basic science of Alzheimer’s disease and more advanced concepts, to current research taking place at the University of Leeds. These resources were created after consulting with the Society and the Research Network, and were uploaded onto the project website. 

Researchers are now working with the Faculty of Biological Sciences Marketing Team, the University STEM Educational Engagement Team and others, to disseminate these resources to schools and wider society. The researchers will evaluate the success of the resource using feedback and information from the website. The activity’s success will be determined after the resources have been in the public domain for a suitable length of time.

Interactive Exhibition 

The exhibition at the Leeds City Museum reached out beyond the normal museum audience of young families and had over 750 visitors attending, encompassing all age groups. 

Overall, this project achieved its goal of engaging a wide section of the community with the causes and consequences of Alzheimer's disease, and research currently being undertaken into the disease at the University of Leeds. It is hoped that greater understanding within the general public of dementia and dementia research will increase understanding of the condition generally. 

What happened next? Future work and additional grants

The project website will remain live for at least five years, with regular blog updates blog. The open educational resources for schools will then be uploaded onto the 'School's Resources' page. The learning and experience gained from this project will be utilised by Professor Lewis to design and deliver further exciting public engagement activities for other research groups at the University of Leeds. 

Resources used for the project were also loaned to an Arts and Films Festival ('Forget me knot') held at the Left Bank Centre in Leeds on 4th October.

How were people told about the results? Conferences and Publications

The project was discussed in the following Prize Lecture and conference presentations:

Lewis, D.I.  (2014) Preparing students for the world of work, Physiological Society Otto Hutter Prize Lecture, Proceedings of Physiological Society 31, PL1.

Lewis, D.I.  (2014) Embedding public engagement with research into the curriculum. Physiological Society H3 Symposium- Public Engagement as a Pathway to Impact.  

Lewis, D.I.  (2014) Pop-up science: Using students to engage young people with science. Queens Gender Initiative Conference “Promoting STEM Subjects to Girls in Primary Schools”, Queens University Belfast.

A full publication for submission to a peer-reviewed science communication journal is also planned. 

• View the project’s website

• View more information about the 'Forget me knot' festival

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