The Xplore Health educational programme, a joint initiative of IrsiCaixa and "la Caixa" Foundation, has collaborated with the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) to develop a new virtual experiment to bring secondary school education into touch with bowel cancer research. This multimedia resource allows students to perform virtual research to find a therapeutic target to stop the spread of tumour cells. Involving the use of biopsy samples from a patient who has undergone surgery for aggressive colon tumour, the experiment allows students to discover one of the lines of research pursued by the Colorectal Cancer laboratory at IRB Barcelona.
This collaboration is part of a series of activities that IRB Barcelona and Xplore Health are undertaking to strengthen teachers’ knowledge of current science and to provide resources for the classroom.
The new virtual experiment is available in the Xplore Health module "Down to genes", where other resources on genomics are also offered, including a complementary video called "Identifying cells responsible for metastases", which has been made in collaboration with the same research group.
This resource seeks to encourage students’ decision-making during the course of a real research project—a goal that is in line with that of Xplore Health, namely to promote science education through an investigation-based approach and instill interest in current research. In the first phase, students design the experiment, request approval from the Ethics Committee, and choose the tools they will need to start the research. Once the samples are in the laboratory, the second phase begins, whereby students disgregate the tissue and separate tumour stem cells from health ones. Finally, they analyze the genetic material to identify which genes cause cancer and to determine whether any could serve as a therapeutic target for a new drug.
This new educational resource presents how research is performed in a realistic environment. During the activity, students learn about concepts such as the transcription and sequencing of genes and about their activation and inhibition. They use equipment, such as the cytometer, the sequencer, and the thermocycler, and techniques employed in biomedical research centres.
The virtual experiment has been developed with the help of a large team of experts coordinated by Xplore Health. Science communicators from IrsiCaixa and IRB Barcelona, as well as companies involved in multimedia resources and educational games have contributed to its development. The project director, Rosina Malagrida, coordinated the experiment, and was supported by the scientific communicator and researcher Oscar Martorell, from IRB Barcelona. In addition, the video related to the project was directed by the scientific journalist Marta Espar.