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Website Review: Changing Futures

16 July 2012
By Marco Narajos
Project manager and literary editor of The MedSchool Project, Ashby School, Ashby-de-la-Zouch
Appeared in BioNews 665

Changing Futures

Developed by Nowgen

'Changing Futures', developed by Nowgen

Changing Futures is a website developed by young people as a project led by Nowgen. It contains free online resources, delving into cystic fibrosis (CF) and gene therapy, aimed at teenagers and teachers.

Public engagement in science, to me, is fundamental as it plays a huge role in creating the world's next generation of scientists. But not only that; public engagement allows greater access to topics that can be difficult to understand - that is the mission of Changing Futures.

Providing educational resources, especially for young people, can be especially difficult when the subject matter is diverse and complex. This I know first-hand from blogging about medical topics aimed at students. As a sixth-former hoping to study medicine at university, I sometimes find it hard to find resources that are kept simple enough to understand but detailed enough for me to learn something new.

For example, although there are numerous books on CF and gene therapy, I find there is little or no middle ground between brief explanations for children and medical books that are often too complicated. So while reading books to gain new knowledge is essential, for many complex topics, such as CF and gene therapy, creative resources - animations, interviews, music videos and video diaries - are needed.

This is where Changing Futures comes in. Changing Futures (aptly named with the same initials as cystic fibrosis) is an educational website filled with up-to-date information about CF and gene therapy, pitched at the perfect level.

The cystic fibrosis section of the website includes videos from experts explaining the science behind the condition. There are also interviews, including those with a patient adviser, a CF nurse specialist, and with two of the teenagers with CF who participated in the project. Their video diaries show what teenagers with CF go through in their daily lives - their daily routine, the physiotherapy involved and all the medication they are required to take. There is even a music video inspired by their physiotherapy exercises; although how the music is relevant to CF, I do not know!

Although the videos are very upbeat and uplifting, there is a serious undertone. The girls in the video diaries lead such different lives; and to think that there are around 9,000 people with CF in the UK alone, this is quite astounding. The videos are not only educational, but they also help non-CF viewers to reflect on their own lives. For those with CF, the video diaries may also serve as a reminder that they are not alone.

On gene therapy, the website features an interactive timeline with videos to explain each of the events listed. I found the video on liposomes most interesting as it relates to science when applied 'in the real world'. There are also videos on gene therapy made from teenagers' perspectives, which although more emotive than scientific, they do emphasise the issues experienced by people affected by CF.

The Teacher Zone on the Changing Futures website may also provide an invaluable resource for science teachers who wish to inspire young people to pursue science at university. As I run a medical club at school, I could make good use of the practical resources in the Teacher Zone to show others how to make their own mucus or how to extract DNA, for example.

As a student and as a teenager, I would definitely recommend this resource to anyone who wants to know more about CF and how it affects young people. Changing Futures is a great web resource that deserves a lot of kudos for bringing to light one of the UK's most common genetic conditions and creatively exploring gene therapy.

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As a promotional tool to advertise the research funded by the Wellcome Trust, this short film aims both to enthuse and to inform. In both respects it's relatively successful, combining clear and engaging explanations of two projects with smart graphics and shots of impressive-looking equipment. Unfortunately, a slow and rather confusing start may discourage some viewers from reaching the main messages, all of which are in the second half...
19 March 2012 - by Heidi Colleran 
The largest trial for a gene therapy for cystic fibrosis (CF) will begin in the UK this month. Coordinated by the UK Cystic Fibrosis Gene Therapy Consortium (GTC), 130 patients will be recruited and given working copies of the defective gene that leads to their condition...
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