The first meeting of King’s Muscle Lab Student Advisory Panel began with an introduction on what the future panels will consist of as well as some background on the panel. For example, the laboratory was started by Professor John Moxham, to investigate the function of the respiratory and skeletal muscles and how this changes in people with lung disease. I think that it’s an interesting field of research as it enables a group of people from diverse career backgrounds, from physiology to medicine to biomedical engineering, to come together to conduct research. The research team undertakes clinical physiological research in adults and children with and without lung (or other) diseases. After the initial introduction for the panel, the visiting professionals introduced who they were by outlining their career journey from A levels to what they were currently doing. In this meeting the professionals were Miss Claire Pringle, Dr Peter Cho, Miss Hannah Perry and Dr Alexis Cullen. Then we got into groups of around seven people and started the meeting’s discussion topic which was on tobacco and its effects. Each of the visiting professionals took turns to talk to each group.
The discussions within each group were split in four categories, each of which was tailored to the professionals’ specialisation: physical effects of tobacco with Dr Peter Cho; tobacco and the intersection of mental health with Dr Alexis Cullen; public health and tobacco with Miss Claire Pringle; and imaging the effects of tobacco with Miss Hannah Perry. The discussions were initiated by questions from the professionals which people within the groups answered but the discussions were also integrated with expert input from the professionals. In my group the first discussion was with Miss Hannah Perry where we focused on the chemical properties of tobacco. Whilst some people in my group guessed that there were around 200 chemicals within a cigarette, there are approximately 7,000 including over 60 known cancer-causing chemicals. Some of those carcinogenic chemicals are metals or radioactive compounds. It was interesting to discover more of the chemicals inside cigarette smoke other than nicotine and tar. For example, there is also the fatal carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.
The next discussion was with Dr Peter Cho where we discussed some of the physical effects on the body such as breathlessness due to swelling and narrowing of the lung airways and excess mucus in the lung passages. The most intriguing fact we learned in that discussion, in my opinion was the fact that there is permanent damage to the air sacs of the lungs due to scarring from the constant strain from coughing. In the discussion with Dr Alexis Cullen we were stimulated to think about possible relationships between mental health and smoking. For instance, ways in which we could test whether individuals with mental health are more likely to smoke or whether smoking led to and/or worsened mental health. What I found most fascinating was the fact that research needs to be cautious of third factors that could affect the investigation. For example, a third factor could be the socio-economic background of the individuals causing them to either start smoking or affecting their mental health. The final discussion was with Miss Claire Pringle where we discussed ways in which the government could help solve the public issue of smoking. It was interesting because we were made aware of the difficulties of solving such big problems but also discovered that there are some solutions which worked well within certain areas such as banning smoking from certain public areas but didn’t work as well in other areas. Overall, the discussions were great as we weren’t simply told information we were prompted to think and evaluate information regarding the topic. I think that the panel is a fantastic opportunity because we were able to communicate with professionals on subject matters that interested us and gain knowledge from professionals who specialise in that area. Also, there isn’t really any other way to experience this type of learning experience elsewhere. Moreover, it was beneficial as we could learn about possible routes within medicine related jobs as well as discover more roles within the industry.
Iva Koshova, Year 12, Harris Academy Greenwich