From left to right: Peder, Henrik, Isha and Christofer are very happy with the placement at the research group Experimental Cancer Therapy. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

Advanced microscopy on the timetable

The Ullern students visited the Core Facility for Advanced Light Microscopy at Oslo University Hospital.

This article was first published in Norwegian on our School Collaboration website.

How can we learn more about cancer cells by using advanced microscopes?

A microscope is an important tool for scientists in many different branches of research. In February, four first-year students from the Researcher programme at Ullern Upper Secondary School got to test multiple different microscopes at the Core Facility for Advanced Light Microscopy, The Gaustad node, at Rikshospitalet (Oslo University Hospital).

Isha Mohal, Peder Nerland Hellesylt, Christofer Naranjo Woxholt and Henrik Eidsaae Corneliussen are sitting in a small, rectangular room, which belongs to the research group Experimental Cancer Therapy at Oslo University Hospital.

“If you sit next to me, you can see better what I am doing,” says Emma Lång to the students.

Emma Lång is a researcher at the research group Experimental Cancer Therapy. She explains to Henrik and Isha how the advanced microscope, connected to the computer behind her, can record videos of living cells. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

Emma Lång is a researcher in the research group Experimental Cancer Therapy. She explains to Henrik and Isha how the advanced microscope, connected to the computer behind her, can record videos of living cells. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

It is the second day of the work placement for the Ullern students. Lång will show them how she is setting up a very special microscope with the somewhat cryptical name “ImageXpress Micro”.

The microscope is so special that it is the only one in the entire Oslo region and Eastern Norway. The unique thing about the microscope is that it creates videos of thousands of living cells over a long time period. This enables the researchers to understand more about how the cells move.

This is important knowledge in the research on cancer and wound healing, which this research group is working on.

The students sit down beside Lång and follow what she is doing closely. The microscope is entirely automatic, so all the settings are done on a computer. Later the same day, the students will use the microscope themselves to record videos of cells that they have been working on from the day before.

Learning from practical work

This is the first work placement for the students from the Research programme – and they are really enjoying it.

“It is fun to see what the researchers are doing and to try it out ourselves in practice,” says Peder.

“We have done some work with pipettes and worked in the laboratory at school, so we are already familiar with some of the practical handiwork. It is fun to try it out in a real research setting,” says Isha.

She likes that the placement gives some insight into what a career in research and cellular biology can be like.

“I am more interested to work in cellular biology after this placement, but I haven’t decided anything yet. I think we are learning things in an exciting way. It is practical learning and not as theoretical as it is usually in school,” says Peder.

“I absolutely see this as an opportunity to become a researcher. It is great to have so much science subjects as we have on the Researcher programme,” says Henrik and Isha agrees.

“I am very interested in the natural sciences. We have a lot of theory in school and it is fun to come out into the hospital and into companies to see how researchers work – and to try it out ourselves,” says Isha.

Christofer also thinks it is interesting, but he is more interested in data and other general subjects.

“That’s great, Christofer,” Lång says. “Research needs more people with good data knowledge. Do you see the computer over there? It costs NOK 100 000 and it will be used to develop machine learning and a technique called ‘deep learning’ on the data produced from our microscopes. Maybe in a few years time, computers will be analysing the microscope images and videos that we are recording now.”

Images of cells

Yesterday, Isha, Peder, Christofer and Henrik worked on cells in the laboratory. They learned a technique to fixate cells. Then, they coloured the cells with antibodies that turn blue when they bind to the core of the cell and with a protein called actin that turns green. Actin performs several functions in the cell, it is both inside the cell structure and functions as threads of communication between the cells.

Stig Ove Bøe leads the research group was visited by the four students from the Research programme at Ullern Upper Secondary School for two days. Here, he is preparing the images of skin cells that the students worked on the day before. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

Stig Ove Bøe leads the research group that was visited by the four students from the Research programme at Ullern Upper Secondary School for two days. Here, he is preparing the images of skin cells that the students worked on the day before. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

Now, the students are looking at the results uploaded to a computer in an advanced image editing software program that can visualise the cells as two- or three-dimensional.

“These are the skin cells you coloured yesterday. Can you see that the cells make up one close network? The reason for this is that it is skin and it is supposed to be impenetrable. Can you also see that the single cells act differently at the edge than closer inside? It is our job to explain why and how,” Bøe explains to the students.

The students look and nod with interest.

After the placement, researchers at Rikshospitalet (Oslo University Hospital) have worked more on the images and videos that the students created.

These have been delivered to the students and will be used when they make a presentation of the placement and everything they learned to the rest of the students at the Research programme.

You can see the cell image below.

A three-dimensional image of the skin cells that the students have coloured. Photo: Emma Lång

A three-dimensional image of the skin cells that the students have coloured. Photo: Emma Lång

What is cell migration?

The research group “Experimental Cancer Therapy” led by Dr Stig Ove Bøe at Rikshospitalet are researching how cells move, which is called cell migration in scientific terms.

Cell migration plays a central role in many of the body’s physiological functions, such as the immune system and wound healing. Cell migration is also essential for cancer, since cancer cells can spread from the location of the tumour to other organs of the body.

Cells use different mechanisms to migrate. They can move as single cells or they can move collectively. Thousands of cells can, for example, cooperate so they can move in the same direction.

The research group uses many different microscopy-based methods to research cell migration. They are also developing new video methods to study living cells in microscopes.

The research group is also responsibly for the daily running of the Core Facility for Advanced Light Microscopy at Oslo University Hospital. The facility gives other research groups in the Oslo region access to and guidance of the use of advanced microscopy equipment.

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Students from the media and communications program at Ullern Upper Secondary School helped to create the podcasts Radium and Utbytte at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2019.

Students helped create podcast

Students at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference.

Our school collaboration project inspires science and health communication.

Ullern students were thrown head first into a live work environment this week. They gave technical assistance to the making of the podcasts Radium and Utbytte at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2019.

All the students are currently studying the media and communications program at Ullern Upper Secondary School, including a class on sound design. As an extra subject, they also started their own youth companies Marconi Media UB and Audio Mind UB.

Radium held a podcast marathon together with the DNB podcast Utbytte at this year’s conference, with six different sessions, interviewing CEOs and investors. Throughout the day, the Ullern students were expected to sound check, record, and edit the podcast – all on their own.

The students attended a planning meeting one week earlier. They also arrived the evening before to rig the set: a glass studio in the middle of the conference area.

The participants in the podcast Radium and Utbytte at DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2019 in the glass studio.

The Ullern students helped to rig the podcast studio the night before the conference.

“It is a really nice experience, because we are thrown into the real word and do things in practice,” Andrea Asbø Dietrichson from Marconi Media UB explained. “We have to do everything ourselves, even though we are beginners, but we are learning!”

“It has been interesting to hear what they are talking about (in the studio) and learn how it is to work during such a big event,” Theo Rellsve from Audio Mind UB added. “It is the largest event we have been to, with lots of people and things happening all the time. We are happy to take part!”

Ullern students recording the podcasts Radium and Utbytte at DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference

The Ullern students had to think on their feet to solve problems while recording the podcast.

 

The aim of the school collaboration project between Ullern Upper Secondary School and Oslo Cancer Cluster is to inspire students to develop their talents. One aspect of the project is to give students a taste of what real working life is like.

“Personally, I would like to work in media,” Andrea said. “It is really inspiring to be here. Media and communications is a broad subject, but sound design is something not a lot of people know.”

“Audiomind has a clear vision about our future as a company. We are happy that we can get this experience and use it towards developing the company further,” Theo said. “… And create the best podcast recording company in Norway.”

Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen, Communications Specialist for Radforsk and one of the persons behind the podcast Radium, was very satisfied with the work the students had performed. She gave them a top score.

“They have everything under complete control,” she said. “It is really fun to see their learning curve. They only studied sound design for a few months, but they have already helped at two live shows and they are always calm and service-minded.”

Student helping in the glass studio.

Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen was impressed by how helpful and service-minded the students from Ullern were.

Want to find out more?

 

From left to right: Simone Mester, PhD student at UiO, Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen, CEO of Ultimovacs, Jonas Einarsson, CEO of Radforsk and Janne Nestvold, Laboratory Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, met the Ullern students of the researcher program.

Meet the mentors

The mentors of the student research program at Ullern Upper Secondary School meet the students for the first time.

Read the questions and answers from when the students at Ullern Upper Secondary School met their mentors for the very first time.

In the middle of October, 32 students at the researcher program at Ullern Upper Secondary School got to meet their four mentors for the next year. After a short introduction, there were many questions from the students to the mentors. It took an hour and a half before their curiosity settled down and it was time for pizza.

Simone Mester: “I am a former student of Ullern Upper Secondary School and now I am doing a PhD in molecular biology. In the long term, I could imagine working in the private sector developing pharmaceuticals.”

Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen: “I am a doctor and worked many years in Lofoten. After that, I worked some years as a surgeon in an emergency room, before I began working for a large German pharmaceutical company called Boehringer Ingelheim. Eight years ago, I became CEO for Ultimovacs. Ultimovacs are trying to develop the worlds first cancer vaccine.”

Jónas Einarsson: “I am a doctor, and did the first part of my medical degree on Iceland, because my grades weren’t the best. Then, I worked many years as a general practitioner in Lardal, before moving to Oslo and becoming the manager of the first private hospital in Norway. In parallel with this, I did a degree in economy and management at BI. Finally, I became the CEO of Radforsk, who among other things, initiated the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and this school collaboration.”

Bjørn Klem: Bjørn is the fourth mentor, but he was unfortunately ill during the first meeting. Janne Nestvold, Laboratory Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, came in his place. Nestvold has a PhD and has worked as a researcher for many years.

 

After the introductions, the teachers at the researcher program, Ragni Fet and Monica Flydal Jenstad held a short presentation of the upcoming work with the mentors.

Then, there were several questions from the audience.  We were really impressed by the amount and quality of the questions, that concerned both education, job opportunities and, research and development, which both Kongstun and Mester are a part of. The questions rained down and the answers came in a session that continued for over an hour and a half. You can read some of them below. Then it was time for some pizza and mingle.

The next time the students and the mentors will meet will be in the beginning of December. The students will meet in the mentors’ workplaces and see with their own eyes what they do on an everyday basis.

 

Questions and answers:

What kind of medical specialisation does Jónas and Øyvind have?

“We are both general practitioners and have not specialised. You do not have to.”

 

What kinds of jobs can you do after you are finished, Simone?

Simone: “I can do a postdoc to become a researcher in academia. I am still a student while I am doing my PhD, but I receive a salary. It is normal to do two postdocs, then you can become group leader or professor. I don’t think I will follow that route, I would much rather work in a private company or start something myself. I think that seems more exciting.”

Jónas: “Simone will get a job immediately in one of our companies if she wants it.”

 

Are there many developments every day to find a cancer vaccine?

Jónas: “It takes time, so the short answer is no.”

 

What is the greatest challenge with the cancer vaccine that Ultimovacs are developing?

Øyvind: “To make it work? A good and difficult question.”

Øyvind explained further about the development and testing of the vaccine at Ultimovacs.

 

What is your PhD about, Simone?

Simone: “I develop technology that prolongs the half-life of medicines. It is a patient-focused PhD, since it is a big inconvenience for the patient to take medicines often, but I hope we can succeed in prolonging the half-life so that patients can take the medicine once a week or once a month.”

 

What should one study if one wants to work with medical development or pharmaceutical development?

Jónas: “Molecular biology, physiology, IT, physics, chemistry, biology, statistics  – there are many opportunities.”

Øyvind: “In our company, we have physiologists, doctors, protein chemists, dentists and pharmacists working right now.”

 

When you went to upper secondary school, did you know that you would be doing what you do today?

Jónas: “I chose the natural science, but did not know anything else.”

Øyvind: “I only knew I wanted to study natural science.”

Simone: “I was thinking about studying a medical degree, but I am happy that I chose molecular biology.”

Janne: “I thought about becoming a researcher and thought it seemed exciting. You should absolutely think widely and not just the easiest solution when you are still in upper secondary school. You will benefit from that when you begin to study at university.”

 

Have you always been interested in biology, or was there something special you saw that made you excited about it? 

Jónas: “Yes, always.”

Øyvind: “Biology in itself is very fascinating. There is so much we do not know, like where memories are stored in the brain, for example. We know very little about how the body works, so that is very fascinating.”

 

The cancer vaccine you are developing, will it work against all cancers or only specific types of cancer?

Øyvind: “It will work to treat and protect against most cancer types.”

 

What did Bjørn do in PhotoCure, the company he worked for before becoming manager for Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator?

Jónas: “He was Head of Research. He is a very smart guy, and he has also worked a lot with the regulatory side.”

 

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From left to right: Bente Prestegård, Project Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster, Henrikke Thrane-Steen Røkke, student, Peder Nerland Hellesylt, student, and Ragni Fet, Teacher at Ullern Upper Secondary School are happy to see the launch of the researcher program.

Educating the cancer researchers of tomorrow

Bente Prestegård from Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ragni Fet from Ullern Upper Secondary School with two of the students in the research program.

Ullern Upper Secondary School and Oslo Cancer Cluster are paving the way for students to become the researchers of the future.

A new program has been launched this autumn for Ullern students who wish to learn how researchers work. It will qualify students for university studies and specialise them in biomedical research, technology and innovation. It is the only researcher program for upper secondary school in Norway.

“The researcher program at Ullern will be a place where students are encouraged and guided to become independent students, with a need to explore, an understanding of methods and a desire to learn,” said Ragni Fet, teacher at Ullern Upper Secondary School. “They will learn to gather good and reliable information, they will do research in practice through varied experiments, and they will gain real insight into job opportunities in the research industry.”

The program is a joint initiative between Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School, who have been collaborating since 2009. This has offered students in the natural sciences, health, media and electricity special opportunities to learn science subjects outside a traditional classroom setting.

“The purpose of launching a researcher program at Ullern Upper Secondary School is to recruit the researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs of the future,” said Bente Prestegård, Project Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster. “We know that these jobs are needed, and we want to teach students about what it means to be a researcher or entrepreneur. With better insight into the professions, the students will be able to make a safe career choice.”

 

With a passion for science

About 30 students have already begun this unique program at Ullern Upper Secondary School. One of them is Henrikke Thrane-Steen Røkke.

“I chose the researcher program because I personally enjoy studying the natural sciences and innovation, and I wanted more of those subjects. I had entrepreneurship as an elective at secondary school and thought it was a lot of fun. I think it seemed very exciting and wanted to learn more,” Henrikke explained. “I hope I can gain insight into what it is like to work as a researcher. I hope we can see and experience a lot of it in practice and to work in depth with some subjects in certain areas.”

The program is especially well suited for students with an interest in the natural sciences, such as Peder Nerland Hellesylt, who also recently begun the program.

“I applied to this program because I have always had an interest for the natural sciences and mathematics,” Peder said. ”I think this program is very interesting because we aren’t just sitting and writing, but get practical tasks too, for example experiments.”

 

Mixing theory with practice

Ullern Upper Secondary School is located right next to The Norwegian Radium Hospital, The Institute for Cancer Research, The Norwegian Cancer Registry and the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, with its over 30 big and small companies. The students are therefore never far from world class researchers. This offers the unique opportunity to take advantage of the co-localisation and use mentors from the research milieu in the teaching.

“Through the collaboration with Oslo Cancer Cluster, we will obtain external lecturers to the class rooms; bring the students to multiple, exciting innovation companies and laboratories; and the students will attempt real research experiments themselves. We are raising the level and are ambitious for the sake of the students,” Ragni Fet said.

 

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Emmy and Benedicte learned about research into neuroscience and how to use modern medical technology, such as CRISPR, when on work placement with researcher Marianne Fyhn and her colleagues at the University of Oslo. Photo: Monica Jenstad

Learning about the human brain

Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School arranged a work placement for students to learn about neuroscience at the University of Oslo.

Four biology students from Ullern Upper Secondary School spent two great days on work placement with some of the world’s best neuroscientists at the University of Oslo. In Marianne Fyhn’s research group, the students tried training rats and learned how research on rats can provide valuable knowledge about the human brain.

The Ullern students, Benedicte Berggrav, Lina Babusiaux, Maren Gjerstad Høgden and Emmy Hansteen, first had to dress in green laboratory clothes, hairnets and gloves. They also had to leave their phones and notepads behind, before enterring the animal laboratory where Marianne Fyhn and her colleagues work. Finally, they had to walk through an air lock that blew the last remnants of dust and pollution off them.

On the other side was the most sacred place for researchers: the newly refurbished animal laboratory. It is in the basement of Kristine Bonnevies Hus on the University of Oslo campus. We used to call it “Bio-bygget” (“the bio-building”) when I studied here during the ‘1990s.

 

Researcher Kristian Lensjø showed the four excited biology students into the most sacred place: the animal lab.

It is the second day of the students’ work placement with Marianne. The four biology students, who normally attend the second year of Ullern Upper Secondary School, have started to get used to their new, temporary jobs. They are standing in one of the laboratories and looking at master student Dejana Mitrovic as she is operating thin electrodes onto the brain of a sedated rat. PhD student Malin Benum Røe is standing behind Dejana, watching intently, giving guidance and a helping hand if needed.

“We do this so we can study the brain cells. We will also find out if we can guide the brain cells with weak electrical impulses. This is basic scientific research. In the long term, the knowledge can help to improve how a person with an amputated arm can control an artificial prosthetic arm,” Marianne explained.

“The knowledge can help to improve how a person with an amputated arm can control an artificial prosthetic arm.”

Dejana needs to be extremely precise when she connects the electrodes onto the rat’s brain. This is precision work and every micrometre makes a difference.

 

Training rats

The previous day, Maren, Benedicte, Lina and Emmy helped to train the rat on the operating table on a running course. Today, the Ullern students will train the other rats that haven’t had electrodes surgically connected to their brains yet.

“We will train the rats to walk in figures of eight, first in one direction and then the other”, the students explained to me.

We remain standing in the rat training room for a while, talk with Dejana and train some of the rats. Dejana tells me that the rats don’t have any names. After all, they are not pets, but they are cared for and looked after in all ways imaginable.

“It is very important that they are happy and don’t get stressed. Otherwise, they won’t perform the tasks we train them to do,” says Dejana. She and the other researchers know the animals well and know to look for any signs that may indicate that the rats aren’t feeling well.

“It is very important that they are happy and don’t get stressed.”

I ask the students how they feel about using rats for science.

“I think it is completely all right. The rats are doing well and can give us important information about the human brain. It is not okay when rats are used to test make-up and cosmetics, but it is a whole different matter when it concerns important medical research,” says Emmy and the other biology students from Ullern nod in agreement.

 

Understanding the brain

Marianne is the head of the CINPLA centre at the University of Oslo, where Maren, Benedicte, Lina and Emmy are on work placement for two days. Four other Ullern students, Henrik Andreas Elde, Nils William Ormestad Lie, Hans Christian Thagaard and Thale Gartland, are at the same time on a work placement with Mariannes research colleague, Professor of Physics Anders Malthe-Sørenssen. They are learning about methods in physics, mathematics and programming that help researchers to better understand the brain.

“CINPLA is an acronym for Centre for Integrative Neuroplasticity. We try to bring together experimental biology with calculative physics and mathematics to better understand information processing in the brain and the brain’s ability to change itself,” says Marianne.

Physics, mathematics and programming are therefore important parts of the researcher’s work when analysing what is happening in the rat’s brain.

If you think that research on rats’ brain cells sounds familiar, then you are probably right. Edvard and May-Britt Moser in Trondheim received the first Norwegian Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2014. The award was given to them for their discovery of a certain type of brain cells, so called grid cells. The grid cells alert the body to its location and how to find its way from point A to point B.

Marianne did her PhD with Edvard and May-Britt, playing an essential role in the work that led to the discovery of the grid cells. Marianne was therefore very involved in Norway securing its first Nobel Prize in Medicine.

 

The dark room

Another room in the animal section is completely dark. In the middle of the room, there is an enormous box with various equipment. In the centre of the box, there is a little mouse with an implant on its head.

In this test room, there is an advanced microscope. It uses a laser beam to read the brain activity of the mouse as it alternates between running and standing still on a treadmill.

The researcher Kristian Lensjø is back from a longer study break at the renowned Harvard University and will use some of the methods he has learned.

“I will train the mouse so that it understands that for example vertical lines on a screen mean reward and that horizontal lines give no reward. Then I will look at which brain cells are responsible for this type of learning,” says Kristian.

The students stand behind Kristian and watch the mouse and the computer screen. When the testing begins, they must close the microscope off with a curtain so that the mouse is alone in the dark box. Kristian assures us that the mouse is okay and that he can see what the mouse is doing through an infra-red camera.

“This room and the equipment is so new, we are still experiencing some issues with the tech,” says Marianne. But Christian fixes the problem and suddenly we see something on the computer screen that we have never seen before. It is a look into the mouse’s brain while it runs on the treadmill. This means that the researchers can watch the nerve cells as the mouse looks at vertical and horizontal lines, and detect where the brain activity occurs.

 

Research role models

The students from Ullern know they are lucky to see how cutting-edge neuroscience is done in real life. Marianne and her colleagues are far from nobodies in the research world. Bente Prestegård from Oslo Cancer Cluster and Monica Jenstad, the biology teacher at Ullern who coordinates the work placements, made sure to tell the students beforehand.

“This is a fantastic and unique opportunity for students to get a look into science on a high international level. They can see that the people behind the research are nice and just like any normal people. When seeing good role models, it is easier to picture a future in research for oneself,” says Monica.

“This is a fantastic and unique opportunity for students to get a look into science on a high international level.”

Monica and Marianne have known each other since they were master students together at the University of Tromsø almost twenty years ago.

“I know Marianne very well, both privately and professionally. She is passionate about her research and about dissemination and recruitment. She also works hard to create a positive environment for her research group. Therefore, it was natural to ask Marianne to receive the students and it wasn’t difficult to get her to agree,” says Monica.

Back in the first operating room, Dejana and Malin are still operating on the rats. They will spend the entire day doing this. It takes time when the equipment needs to be found and sterilised, the rats need to be sedated and then operated on as precisely as possibly. It is past noon and time for lunch for Marianne, Kristian and the Ullern students on work placement.

Before I leave them outside Niels Henrik Abels Hus at the Oslo University Campus, I take a picture to remember the extra-ordinary work placement. And not least: to store a picture of the memory in my own brain.

 

Finally, time for lunch! From the left: Emmy Hansteen, Benedicte Berggrav, researcher Marianne Fyhn, Lina Babusiaux, Maren Gjerstad Høgden and researcher Kristian Lensjø. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

 

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Cathrine Wahlström Tellefsen gave a talk to teachers on how programming can be used to teach science subjects in upper secondary schools.

Introducing programming to the curriculum

Programming is not only for computer hackers, it can also help teachers to engage their students in science subjects and inspire start ups to discover new cancer treatments.

 

Almost 60 teachers working in upper secondary schools in Oslo visited Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and Ullern Upper Secondary School one evening in the end of March. The topic for the event was programming and how to introduce programming to the science subjects in school.

“The government has decided that programming should be implemented in schools, but in that case the teachers first have to know how to program, how to teach programming and, not least, how to make use of programming in a relevant way in their own subjects.”

This was how Cathrine Wahlström Tellefsen opened her lecture. She is the Head of Profag at the University of Oslo, a competence centre for teaching science and technology subjects. For nearly one hour, she talked to the almost 60 teachers who teach Biology, Mathematics, Chemistry, Technology, Science Research Theory and Physics about how to use programming in their teaching.

 

What is KUR? KUR is a collaborative project between Oslo Cancer Cluster, Ullern Upper Secondary School and other schools in Oslo and Akershus. It aims to develop the skills and competence of science teachers. Every six months, KUR arranges a meeting where current topics are discussed.

 

Programming and coding

“Don’t forget that programming is much more than just coding. Computers are changing the rules of the game and we have gained a much larger mathematical toolbox, which gives us the opportunity to analyse large data sets,” Tellefsen explained.

Only a couple of years ago, she wasn’t very interested in programming herself, but after pressures from higher up in her organisation, she gave it a shot. She has since then experienced how programming can be used in her own subject.

“I have been a Physics teacher for many years in an upper secondary school in Akershus, so I know how it is,” she said to calm the audience a little. Her excitement over the opportunities programming provides seemed to rub off on some of the people in the room.

“In biology, for example, programming can be used to teach animal population growth. The students understand more of the logic behind the use of mathematical formulas and how an increase in the carrying capacity of a biological species can change the size of its population dramatically. My experience is that the students start playing around with the numbers really quickly and get a better understanding of the relationships,” said Tellefsen.

When it was time for a little break, many teachers were eager to try out the calculations and programming themselves.

 

Artificial intelligence in cancer treatments

Before the teachers tried programming, Marius Eidsaa from the start up OncoImmunity (a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster) gave a talk. He is a former physicist and uses algorithms, programming and artificial intelligence every day in his work.

“OncoImmunity has developed a method that can find new antigens that other companies can use to develop cancer vaccines,” said Eidsaa.

He quickly explained the principals of immunotherapy, a cancer treatment that activates the patient’s own immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells, which had previously remained hidden from the immune system. The neoantigens play a central role in this process.

“Our product is a computer software program called Immuneprofiler. We use patient data and artificial intelligence in order to get a ranking of the antigens that may be relevant for development of personalised cancer vaccines to the individual patient,” said Eidsaa.

Today, OncoImmunity has almost 20 employees of 10 different nationalities and have become CE-marked as the first company in the world in their field. (You can read more about OncoImmunity in this article that we published on 18 December 2018.)

The introductory talk by Eidsaa about using programming in his start up peaked the audience’s interest and the dedicated teachers eagerly asked many questions.

 

Programming in practice

After a short coffee break, the teachers were ready to try programming themselves. I tried programming in Biology, a session that was led by Monica, a teacher at Ullern Upper Secondary School. She is continuing her education in programming now and it turns out she has become very driven.

“Now you will program protein synthesis,” said Monica. We started brainstorming together about what we needed to find out, which parameters we could use in the formula to get the software Python to find proteins for us.

Since my knowledge in biology is a little rusty, it was a slow process. But when Monica showed us the correct solution, it was surprisingly logical and simple. The key is to stay focused and remember to have a cheat sheet right next to you in case you forget something.

 

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