Category: charity

My vine for @JDRFUK’s #TopT1Science – showing what type 1 #diabetes is

I’m volunteering one day a week at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) office in London (they have offices around the UK, and around the world) doing things like updating statistics and other sciencey stuff. This week we’ve got a Summer Science Show going on, where staff and supporters are sharing different kinds of information about type 1 diabetes on Facebook and Twitter, tagged with #TopT1Science.

Today’s challenge is to show what type 1 diabetes is via a photo or a vine (Vine is a free app that lets you record six seconds of video – you can record it all in one go or do ‘stop-start’ and make a little film).

I’ve never used Vine before but thought I’d give it a go. It took me a few goes to work out how to get it to start recording (there are lots of buttons on the screen and none of them seem to do that) but eventually I discovered that just touching the screen made it start recording. After a few false starts I figured out what went were and how it all worked. And… ta da!

OK it’s my first vine, be gentle 🙂


What’s going on here?
A few years ago I was at an event in Newcastle at an event about cell replacement therapies (eg stem cell transplants) and one of the activities for visitors was to make a cell in a Petri dish with plasticine, using different colours for the different bits of the cell. I was talking about research into islet cell transplantation and decided that instead of making a single insulin-producing beta cell I’d create one of the islets of Langerhans that’s found inside the pancreas. These contain several hundred beta cells, and lots of other cell types too, but in type 1 diabetes the beta cells are destroyed by the immune system. There aren’t enough left to produce insulin and so blood glucose levels begin to rise and the symptoms of type 1 diabetes appear.

I wanted to recreate this for #TopT1Science and thought I’d use what I had to hand in the office (no Petri dishes or plasticine). My islet today is made out of a delicious M&S snack* which had lots of things of different colours in it.

If it were an islet of Langerhans, what would it look like once the immune system had destroyed the beta cells (portrayed here by the feta cheese)? Well, a bit like this – with most of the feta cheese gone. Here’s a before and after screenshot.

Before: Islet of Langerhans with a variety of cells present (feta = beta)

After: Islet of Langerhans post-autoimmune destruction of beta cells (feta gone!)


I’m not sure how successful the vine is at conveying ‘what type 1 diabetes is’ but storyboarding it was fun, also eating the props afterwards.

*Tomatoes, Cucumber, Feta Cheese and Olives (with a basil and mint oil dressing) – yum.

Here’s some more information about the different type 1 diabetes research projects funded by JDRF in the UK.

Pancreas and islet facts

  • An adult pancreas contains around 1,000,000 islets which are tiny (Wikipedia says 0.2mm in diameter). Despite this huge number they make up only about 2% of the entire pancreas. The islets are scattered throughout the pancreas and contain several thousand cells clumped together to form a sphere. Their job is to produce a variety of hormones, including insulin. The remaining 98% of the pancreas produces some of the enzymes that digest our food. Hormones are sent directly into our bloodstream, digestive enzymes go into the gut.
  • Islets are pretty complex things – they contain many different cell types, arranged in a particular way, and have their own blood and nerve supply. The insulin-producing beta cells make up the bulk of any given islet and tend to be clustered in the middle – these are the cells that are destroyed by the immune system in type 1 diabetes (which is an autoimmune disorder and separate from type 2 diabetes).



[Job, London] @DiabetesUK, Clinical Advisor x2, c£40k, clos 8 July 2013

You get to go on the telly and stuff as well 🙂

Diabetes UK
Clinical Advisor x2

Job description: Job_Description-Clinical_Advisors_x2

Job Tenure:
» 1 x permanent fulltime post
» 1 x fulltime fixed term contract (until March 2014)

Location: Camden, London
Salary:  Circa £40,000 per annum
Application closing date:  Monday 08 July 2013 (9.00am)
Interview date: July 2013 TBC

Diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges facing the UK today. Diabetes UK is the country’s largest charity devoted to the care, treatment and improvement of the quality of life for people with diabetes.  Our success in supporting people is underpinned by our clear and consistent values relating to high performance, integrity, empowering, valuing others and working together.

Are you passionate about improving diabetes care?  Are you looking for an exciting and rewarding post?

An exciting opportunity has arisen for two clinical advisors to join the Policy and Care Improvement Directorate – one permanent post to cover a retirement and one fixed term contract providing maternity cover.  We are looking for motivated, innovative, enthusiastic team players with excellent communication and organisation skills to join our dynamic team. 

The clinical team works closely with the Head of Care to create the conditions to improve standards of diabetes care and the lives of people with and at risk diabetes.   The team is responsible for the production of high quality clinical and policy information that reflect Diabetes UK’s health agenda and how it relates to people living with diabetes and people working within the field of diabetes care. 

We are looking for a Diabetes Specialist Nurse and/or Specialist Dietitian with at least 4 years clinical experience and at least one years experience working in a diabetes specialist area.  You will have a sound knowledge of diabetes and challenges facing diabetes care and be able to show evidence of professional development. 

The work is varied and no two days are the same.  The post-holder will develop consistent, high quality information and education interventions, share clinical knowledge and indentify needs for care programmes and tools for people living with diabetes and healthcare professionals.  You will be an expert clinical resource for internal colleagues and network with external agencies impacting on the care of people with and at risk of diabetes.

The applicant should be dynamic, forward thinking and work imaginatively.  You should be able to work independently and as part of a team and be flexible while working to tight deadlines. 

In return, we provide Group Personal Pension scheme, Childcare Voucher scheme, flexi-time working, Life Assurance/Death in Service Benefits and enhanced Annual Leave entitlement.

For more information and to apply please visit and complete our downloadable application form. Select the appropriate vacancy and click ‘Apply For Job’. If not registered already you will be required to register on the i-appoint website.

Please ensure you address the essential criteria in your application’s supporting statement. All applications must be made using the form – we cannot accept CVs.

Being a science communicator in a health charity

These are some of my perceptions of the overlapping spheres of science communication and health communication, in the context of working in a health charity which funds research. I suspect this is one that I’ll come back to a few times and edit as things pop into my head. I’d love to give the impression that this arrived fully formed 😉

It seems to have happened quite recently – and I’ve been looking out for it – but charity science communication might now be on the radar of the scicomm (science communication) world in a way that it didn’t seem to be before.

When I ‘entered the world’ of science communication I wasn’t quite sure where I fitted in as I didn’t work in a museum or a science centre and I didn’t do science shows or even talk to people face-to-face. I wasn’t even sure that people working in charities doing science communication activities considered themselves to be science communicators, or at least ‘health information’ communicators.

In case anyone is reading, and is looking for a rich seam of science communication opportunities may I suggest the (AMRC) Association of Medical Research Charities members’ list* which has the contact websites of around 100 charities, all of which fund medical research and most of which will employ people to (1) raise money for research into the relevant condition, (2) answer questions from the public about the condition, (3) answer questions from the media and (4) explain / promote the research that they fund to a non-scientist audience. Of course these overlap considerably.

(1) Fundraisers need to be able to put the research (for which the charity needs to raise sponsorship) into a context that highlights its importance and relevance to the person or group who might donate funds, as well as its importance to people who have the target condition. In a sense it might be a little like a live grant application in some cases!

(2) Some charities may have an information line for the public (including non-scientists, healthcare professionals and students) and people who work in that capacity (me!) get to learn a great deal about the condition and get to flex their (email and letter) writing skills in synthesising a response to send out explaining something in straightforward languge, taking into consideration the level of knowledge of the audience. It also improves your telephone listening skills no end – you might have to ask a few questions of your caller to find out exactly what they want to know and what they need the information for (this can make a big difference to the response).

(3) Most charities have a press officer or even a press team to liaise with the press (or be interviewed themselves), providing journalists with comments from charity staff or briefing staff for interviews. Researchers funded by the charity might liaise with the press through their own university press team but the chances are there will be a coordinated effort between both press teams.

(4) To do this people will go out and give talks, write articles for magazines, write letters and emails in answer to people’s questions, write / edit / proofread information for the website(s), supply information for journalists (typically via a press team) as well as sharing information with colleagues to make sure that they’re up to date too.

I think that’ll do for now…

* Look for link in blue box to download full list of AMRC members.

Disclaimer – all posts are my opinion and not necessarily those of my employer.