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Passing on her passion for science!

24 June 2021

Students at a Bristol school have been inspired to learn about kidneys thanks to a science teacher who was formerly funded by us to research a rare type of kidney disease.

Dr Louise Farmer spent three years studying a genetic mutation which can cause nephrotic syndrome and is passing on her passion for research to students at the secondary school where she now works.

Dr Louise Farmer
Dr Louise Farmer

Louise was among a team at Bristol Renal researching nephrotic syndrome, a potentially serious condition where the kidneys leak too much protein into the blood causing fluid retention and swelling.

Last year, however, she switched from science lab to science class and is sharing her knowledge with her students, who completed an impressive voluntary research project looking into kidney disease.

Inspiring the kidney researchers of tomorrow

The Year 9 students each wrote a 2,000-word essay as part of a project organised by The Brilliant Club which encourages state school students to consider university and beyond.

The subject of their task was ‘Lab-grown kidneys – science fiction or science fact?’ Louise, 32, a teacher at Hanham Woods Academy in Bristol, said: “These young people worked so hard learning about many aspects of kidney function, dialysis and even how to grow mini kidneys in the lab. Who knows, maybe some might even be researchers of tomorrow?

Amazing young people

“They are an amazing bunch of young people who were enthusiastic to learn about a subject which they previously knew nothing about. It was lovely to pass on my knowledge to them.”

Louise was previously part of a research project at Bristol Renal Unit studying a protein called TRPC6 which can cause a rare gene mutation affecting just one in 50,000 children each year.

The findings were published in a leading science journal so can be used as a springboard for researchers who want to take it to the next level in finding a cure.

Louise Farmer students in Bristol
Bristol students
Artwork by Willow Grove for Louise Farmer Designs
Artwork by Willow Grove Designs

Making science simple

Louise left the world of scientific research in September 2020 to take a PGCE qualification and go into teaching.

“One of the best things about being Kidney Research UK-funded was the patient days which enabled the researchers to meet the people for whom the research matters – the patients and their families,” she remembers.

“I really enjoyed explaining science in simple terms and that is where my passion began to go into science teaching. I love the idea that everyone should be able to access science.”

Louise’s teacher training is via a programme for researchers with a doctorate, which means she gets to use her research skills as well as teach.

“Young people don’t usually get to learn about kidneys until later in their education, and then only if they opt to take the three separate sciences at GCSE.

"We all know how important it is to look after our brains and hearts, but many people don’t know what the kidneys do and how important they are, so it has been great helping them learn.

“The pupils asked so many amazing questions and some afterwards asked if they could go on to be doctors or surgeons  – from young people who perhaps hadn’t considered that as a career route."

Research needed now more than ever

Louise added: "They all worked really hard and I’m so proud of what they achieved.”

Dr Aisling McMahon, executive director of research, innovation and policy at Kidney Research UK, said: “We were sad to hear that Louise left her career in research. She is not alone, as the pandemic has had a significant impact on job security for many researchers, despite the need for their work being greater than ever.

"However, Louise’s move to teaching and her strides towards inspiring pupils to forge a scientific career is an amazing silver lining. It's great to see just how much young people can learn with an inspirational teacher, and we wish Louise every success in her new career.”

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