A few of us from Antisense had the privilege of attending TEDx Newcastle, an initiative set up to mimic the TED programme and promote “ideas worth sharing” in local communities. From clinical geneticists to talented saxophonists, and science communicators to yoga enthusiasts, the day was packed full inspiring and extraordinary talks.
The programme kicked off with Prof Sir John Burn taking us through the tricks that Aspirin has up its sleeve for preventing not only stroke and heart attacks, but also for reducing the risk of cancer. The salycilate component of acetylsalicylic acid is thought to induce apoptotic cell death mechanisms of the tumourgenic stem cells within cancers such as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome. It’s thought that Aspirin works to downregulate the inflammatory processes linked to cancer development as its normal function is to downregulate the prostaglandin response by inhibiting the COX-2 pathway. CaPP3 trials are underway which aim to establish whether very low doses of aspirin (100mg) could be just as effective as current 600mg doses as reducing the risk of HNPCC manifesting as colorectal adenocarcinomas.
Another fascinating talk was given by the science writer Dr Matt Ridley who discussed how the discovery of discovery and the invention of invention are perhaps the most important findings in human history; findings which sparked our early inherent curiosity. He highlighted how the human race’s rise to dominance may be due in no small part to our obsession with swapping. From swapping objects in childhood to swapping and sharing ideas in adulthood, this exchange of knowledge and thus subsequent expansion of the collective intellect is what drove biological and technological evolution. It’s perhaps the amalgamation of ideas which come together to form the different component parts of today’s technology, Ridley argued, and as such societal changes are driven more by the collective knowledge of the many rather than the individual intelligence of the few.
Actor and director Gordon Poad then came on to discuss the value of drama in science communication and research. He explained how theatrical performances can act as a portal for underprivileged individuals to access the higher levels of the education system that may otherwise be unobtainable due to the power that literal, numerical and logical reasoning have on the ability to enter university. By engaging youngsters in dramatical adaptations they are able to exchange ideas in a literary context akin to effective communication of scientific research.
The audience were then thrust into the playful world of rehabilitative neuroscience. Prof Janet Eyre explained how games and play were vital tools in allowing children to regain motor control after a devastating stroke. She described how short periods of play where a child was encouraged to use both their fully functional and impaired hands. Using no other intervention, the regain of dominance of a once dominant but impaired limb was observed. She also described how the loss of motor control, like that seen in older age, could be overcome in paediatric stroke victims by rewiring of the visual cortices in an attempt to compensate for the loss of motor function. Prof Eyre was passionate about how the fun that children have playing when they’re young should be replicated and reinforced in older age to help overcome the consequences of stroke.
The day was rounded off expertly by popular science communicator Steve Mould who described the challenges he faced trying to explain weird scientific phenomena to lay audiences. In particular he told us of his struggles to explain polymer chemistry and how metallic beads on a chain weirdly self-siphon out of a beaker. It was incredible example of how such a simple demonstration can spark sure intrigue and curiosity.
All in all TEDx Newcastle was out and out success and was greatly received by an enthusiastic and engrossed audience.
Check out our own takes on some of the ideas discussed at TEDx: