The Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative (PTEI), along with the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and Boston University, helped more than 120 students from 12 area middle schools get an idea of how to solve various microbial mysteries. Some of the dilemmas puzzling students included stopping a viral epidemic or to figure out why a strain of bacteria causing ear infections across a school district isn’t responding to antibiotics. Pittsburgh’s Dorseyville Middle School hosted the recent event promoting a novel federal educational outreach partnership that brings medical research and college-level biology into middle schools.
Student research activities included the Outbreak! Program in Pitt’s mobile lab where students were presented with the scenario of a potential viral outbreak. The students attempted to determine the extent of the infection, the source, and the best method for containment. PTEI and Duquesne researchers hosted two 90-minute sessions on tissue regeneration that included hands-on activities. Boston University also contributed for the day its mobile City Lab, a 40-foot state-of-the-art traveling lab designed for students and teachers to participate in hands-on investigations.
Pitt organized the daylong event with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to complement National DNA Day, which is meant to educate students, teachers, and the public about genetics and genomics. But the activities also marked the first joint education outreach event between the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) and Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) federal grant programs, both under the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), said Alison Slinskey Legg, educational outreach director for Pitt’s Department of Biological Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences. Legg orchestrated the event with Pitt biological sciences professor Lewis Jacobson.
The NCRR aims to combine the resources of SEPA—which specializes in K-12 education outreach—and CTSA—which promotes the transfer of medical research from the lab to the patient care setting—into a comprehensive outreach partnership. Pittsburgh is an ideal testing ground for the outreach cooperative because the city hosts institutions participating in both programs, Legg said. Pitt, Duquesne University, and PTEI, all support SEPA programs. Furthermore, Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute is one of only 24 (of a planned 60) CTSA-funded programs in the country; Pitt was among the first 12 CTSA institutions, receiving an $83.5 million grant in 2006.
“Our goal is to see how a research university such as Pitt can help educate children in science and biology,” Legg said. “Through cooperation, the university-based outreach programs and the medical centers can link the latest scientific research with the lessons being taught in the classroom.”
Photograph: Victor DeSimone, left, and Tad Abramowich, seventh graders from Avonworth, work with micropipettes during a class on gel electrophoresis taught by Donald DeRosa in the Boston University trailer. This test is designed to separate normal hemoglobin from sickle cell and was part of a biology event held at Dorseyville Middle School that was organized by the University of Pittsburgh and was designed to complement National DNA Day. --Andy Starnes/Post-Gazette.
University of Pittsburgh News from Pitt (04/18/08)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (04/22/08)