VOICE course review

Marianne Baker Posted in Engagement 24 September 2013

VOICERecently we ran a course for members of the charity Independent Cancer Patients' Voice.

We welcomed a group of patient advocates to become students here for the week. "Lessons" included some basic cell biology, cancer biology, and clinical trial design.

The morning taught sessions were followed up by afternoon practical sessions including DNA isolation and PCR, cancer cell microscopy, and "bedside to bench" processing of cancer tissue samples and examination of biomarkers.

Evening events included guest lectures from former Director of the Centre For Tumour Biology, Professor Ian Hart, and Lauren Pecorino who spoke about the successes of cancer research and treatment that have improved and lengthened so many lives. Attendees also had a chance to mix with BCI researchers and students in a relaxed social environment.

How did it go?

Feedback from the VOICE students has so far been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone who took part was very enthusiastic about the course:

"Every day my expectations increased and were then exceeded."

"An amazing opportunity which I will probably never get the chance to repeat."

"The practical gave a real insight and huge appreciation of the patience and dedication of the scientists who do this work on a daily basis"

Here's a short video about the course, put together by ICPV:


BCI staff and student participants were also highly praised:

"The best thing about this course was the infectious enthusiasm from the lecturers and mentors."

"I was struck by the conversations with young researchers and their enthusiasm. It gave me an understanding of their different but overlapping research."


In particular the Bedside to Bench session was singled out as a highlight by several students:

"Seeing the breast tissue and analysis was the defining moment of the course."

"A really moving session carried out with respect and care. It changed my view of mastectomy"


Overall students report feeling more confident and knowledgeable about the field, but the benefits of such programmes are not one-way; researchers and students had a rare opportunity to spend time with former and current cancer patients.

Both PhD students and postdocs commented that this experience is valuable in boosting motivation and perspective in the high-pressure laboratory environment. Talking to people with first-hand experience of the diseases we work hard to understand can be hugely rewarding.

"The session where we discussed how chemotherapy agents work in relation to the cell cycle was the best teaching experience I think I've had - moving, informative and productive."

- Dr Richard Grose


Will there be more VOICE courses?

We hope so! The pilot event seems to have been a great success, and we hope to secure funding for further events.

We are now fundraising to help ICPV cover the costs of holding this very successful and well received course, and so we are hosting a Neon Spin Class at the Barbican Virgin Active in their bike studio at 7:45 PM on Thursday 3rd October.


The idea is to wear as much neon clothing and accessories as possible, and enjoy a 45 minute indoor cycling class with a brilliant instructor. Indoor cycling is great form of exercise and you can burn up to 500 calories a class. You are in control of how easy or difficult the class is, and people of all fitness levels are welcome!

Donations of £5 for students and £10 for staff will be requested on the night, or you can donate beforehand here.

There will be prizes for the best dressed individual, and for the best represented BCI centre!

Update: you can see pictures from the event in our Facebook album, and funding has been secured for VOICE 2014.


What was covered on the course?

Basic cell biology:

  • how cells can specialise in different organs through differentiation)
  • Cell growth, division and death

"The lab work really put the lectures into context."

Cancer biology:

  • how cancer is caused by genetic mutation
  • how and why animals are used in cancer research
  • why there are different types of cancer (it depends on the cell/tissue type it originates from)
  • how we can detect cancer, screening programmes and interpreting risk.

"I was really excited to see human cells down a microscope."

Clinical trials:

  • types of trial
  • how to design trials well
  • how to interpret trial results
  • critical appraisal of published work.

"The BCI team were amazing - their enthusiasm was infectious."

"I had a huge childish pride when my experiments were successful."

I think we can all relate to that!

Thanks and congratulations go to all the course organisers and speakers: Bec Hanley and Professor Louise Jones; BCI lecturers and demonstrators Dr John Marshall, Dr Richard Grose, Dr Delphine Lees, Dr Michael Allen, Dr Jenny Gomm, Dr Linda Haywood, Dr Sally Smith, Dr Sally Dreger, and George Elia, and Professor Ian Hart; Dr Peter Saseini from the Wolfson Institute; Dr Lauren Pecorino; and clinical trials lecturers Janet Dunn and Sandra Eldrige. Thanks also to the PhD students who participated and, of course, to our students!

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