2004 Press Releases

08 Nov 2004

Scientists in Cork bring science to society - taking the laboratory to the schoolroom

It is Science Week (8-14 November) and an army of scientists from the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC) at University College Cork (UCC) and at Teagasc will visit schools throughout Cork to spread the message of the magic of Science. This is part of the research centre's education and outreach mission to link science with society.

The APC has a programme of discovery for making microbes work for mankind. Scientists at the centre are enthusiastic and excited about their research and will explain why and what they do in an effort to turn young children on to the intrigue and mysteries of nature and science. The goal is to encourage Irish students to take a greater interest in science. The scientists at the APC feel they have important messages to relay and have devised several imaginative methods for making the science come alive. They range from an interactive computerised videogame which teaches students how bacteria within the human intestine can have beneficial effects on health and how other bacteria associated with infections may have harmful effects. Schoolchildren will be given simple memorable information on general health and hygiene. The scientists have devised cartoons and clever illustrations to relay their messages to children. Linked with this are puzzles, quizzes and a magazine that may all be found on the centres website which has a section devoted to children ( www.microbemagic.com). "We have made education and outreach to society a responsibility for all of our scientists; we believe that if Ireland is to become a knowledge-based economy, a change in attitudes to science is required and we must begin with schoolchildren who will be tomorrow's scientists and economists" said Dr Sally Cudmore, general manager of the APC, at the launch of the science week programme in Cork.

Meanwhile, Professor Fergus Shanahan, Director of the APC and his medical and scientific colleagues took the message to an auditorium packed with patients and their families at Cork University Hospital. Professor Shanahan explained how research into the microbes within the human intestine can help explain how diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis occur and how bacteria can be used in the future to treat the same diseases. Clinical trials to test the beneficial effects of bacteria discovered by scientists within the APC are now underway in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe and additional strategies for harnessing the therapeutic power of microbes are in development. "While we are mindful not to overstate our research results, we are keen to inform patients and others in society of the exciting research that is happening and why we are optimistic that our research can lead to useful new treatments. We also want to educate the public on how scientific reports can be interpreted and placed in context" said Professor Shanahan. The scientists hope to show the public and their politicians that Ireland's investment in research is leading to meaningful advances in education and training that can be translated into several economic and therapeutic benefits for mankind.

The APC is funded by Science Foundation Ireland and by investment from industry; 10% of its budget is dedicated to education and outreach to society.

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