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Kids learn how their DNA can make them hate sprouts

18/09/2017
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Students at schools in Oxfordshire are learning more about their DNA during the country's first Genomics Week (18-22 September 2017) - including why it might make them dislike Brussels sprouts!

The week of coordinated activities is being run by the Oxford NHS Genomic Medicine Centre, which is based at the Churchill and John Radcliffe hospitals.

Genomic healthcare scientists from Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust are going into four schools in the county during the week of 18 September to showcase exciting new developments in the use of DNA sequencing in healthcare.

During these hands-on workshops, the students will do genomics-related tasks to find out how our DNA makes us who we are, and how small changes can have a big impact.

Jennifer Whitfield, Training and Education Lead for Oxford GMC, who has organised the schools sessions, says: "Oxford is a real hub for medical research, including in the area of genomics and DNA sequencing, and we think it's important to make young people in our local area aware - in a fun, accessible and interactive way - of the amazing things we now know as a result of our knowledge of genetics.

"For example, some young people can't stand the taste of sprouts and other green vegetables - well, there's a genetic reason for that, and it's all down to our DNA," Jennifer explains. "Students can make a bracelet showing their own sequence and compare it with their classmates."

The first school to take part in the GMC sessions was St Gregory the Great Catholic School in Oxford. Later in the week, the team will visit Henry Box School in Witney, Didcot Girls School, and Cheney School in Oxford.

Paul Wileman, Assistant Principal at St Gregory the Great school, said: "The school and its students are very grateful for today's visit by Jennifer and her team. Our pupils are hard-working and dedicated and these are the sorts of careers that we'd like to expose them to, and this is invaluable for giving them some aspiration about where to aim in the future, and for giving them the chance talk to people who are actually living the roles that they're learning about."

Jennifer says: "There's a wide variety of scientific careers available through the NHS. Oxford hospitals alone employ over 700 healthcare scientists. Through school engagement, we aim to showcase some of the career opportunities available to young people and highlight the potential of genomic technologies to change the landscape of healthcare in the NHS, something that is likely to affect all of us in future."

The activities are part of a package developed to align with the GCSE curriculum as a resource for teachers, and can be used to introduce the concept of genetic disorders and explain how the NHS is using whole genome sequencing to help patients.    

OUH was designated a Genomic Medicine Centre by NHS England in December 2014 to carry out the 100,000 Genomes project, a national project that aims to sequence genomes of people with a rare disease, plus their families, and patients with cancer.

The aim is to create a new genomic medicine service for the NHS, which will develop new tests and hopefully provide better diagnosis and treatment for those with these conditions.

The Genomics Week, which culminates in Jeans for Genes Day, also includes activities at the Churchill Hospital, such as information stands and a talk for oncology nurses.

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