Gustav Vik (to the left) from Kjellervolla school and Martin Dimov from Mailand school are collaborating in the laboratory to isolate T cells. Photo: Bente Prestegård.

Research talents learned about immunotherapy

Gustav Vik from Killevold school and Martin Dimov from Mailand school are enjoying the gatherings arranged by Talentsenteret for realfag: “This is very interesting because we are learning things that are not part of the curriculum and we like to learn about current topics.”

This article was first published in Norwegian on our School Collaboration website.

A group of talented science students from Oslo and Akershus spent two days learning about immunotherapy from former cancer researchers, who are now teachers at Ullern Upper Secondary School and researchers at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Collaboration partners: Oslo Cancer Cluster, Thermo Fisher Scientific Norway, Ullern Upper Secondary School, Norsk teknisk museum (The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology) and Oslo Vitensenters Talentsenter i realfag (Talent centre for the natural sciences)

In February, 25 students from 19 different schools in Oslo, which are a part of “Talentsenteret for realfag” (Talent Centre for the Natural Sciences), arrived together to Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and Ullern Upper Secondary School.

The students were there to participate in a specially tailored two-day programme about medical research and the use of immunotherapy to treat cancer.

The days were spent partly in a classroom to learn about the theory of the immune system and partly in a laboratory to learn how to isolate a type of cells in the immune system called T cells. The method the students learned about is used in modern cell therapies against cancer, which are called CAR T therapies.

Gustav Vik from Kjellervolla School and Martin Dimov from Mailand School are enjoying the gatherings arranged by Talentsenteret for realfag: “This is very interesting because we are learning things that are not part of the ordinary school syllabus and we like to learn about current topics.”

Kaja Flote from Hellerasten school is looking in the microscope to find T cells. She thinks it is exciting to learn more about the depth of the immune system and how it can be changed to fight cancer. Photo: Bente Prestegård.

Kaja Flote from Hellerasten School is looking in the microscope to find T cells. She thinks it is exciting to learn more about the complexity of the immune system and how it can be changed to combat cancer. Photo: Bente Prestegård.

The next day, the students visited the production facilities of Thermo Fisher Scientific Norway, located in Lillestrøm. This is where the company makes Dynabeads (also known as “Ugelstadkulene” in Norwegian) to be used in five billion diagnostic tests every year and in CAR T therapies against cancer.

The Norwegian TV channel TV2 has produced this news segment about Emily Whitehead (link in Norwegian), the first child in the world who received CAR T therapy to treat her cancer, which was deemed incurable. The segment was recorded in 2019, when Emily and her family visited the Norwegian employees at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Oslo. Emily is today 13 years old and has been cancer-free for over eight years.

You can read more about the students’ experience at Thermo Fisher Scientific in this article from 2017, when another group of students from Ullern Upper Secondary School visited the same production facilities.

The researcher Morten Fure from Thermo Fisher tells the students about Dynabeads, also known as “Ugelstadkulene”, CAR T therapy, immunotherapy, and cancer. He has prepared T cell solutions that the students will look at in the microscope. Photo: Bente Prestegård.

The researcher Morten Luhr from Thermo Fisher Scientific tells the students about Dynabeads (also known as “Ugelstadkulene”), CAR T therapy, immunotherapy, and cancer. He has prepared T cell solutions that the students will look at in the microscope. Photo: Bente Prestegård.

The background to the collaboration

“Talentsenteret i realfag” (link in Norwegian) is a customised educational option for students who are especially strong academically. It is for those students who find that the standard school curriculum does not challenge them enough. Just like the school adapts the teaching for students who need extra help in subjects, they adapt the teaching for students who already know a lot and want to learn even more. This is a group of students with a high degree of motivation and a hunger for knowledge that is extraordinary.

The centre employs experts in different subjects to give the students the academic challenges they need. That is why this two-day programme in medicine and immunotherapy was held in February.

The programme was developed by employees from Thermo Fisher Scientific and two teachers from Ullern Upper Secondary School. Fet and Flydal Jenstad both have backgrounds as cancer researchers at the Institute for Cancer Research and the Institute of Cancer Genetics and Informatics respectively. Fet and Flydal Jenstad share the responsibility for the new researcher programme at Ullern Upper Secondary School. Read more about the researcher programme here (link in Norwegian).

Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School have a school collaboration project since 2009. The goal is to contribute to educating the researchers and entrepreneurs of the future.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is a global biotech company with strong Norwegian roots through the acquisition of the Norwegian biotech Dynal. Thermo Fisher Scientific is one of the members of Oslo Cancer Cluster and actively participates in the school collaboration between Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School.

Read articles about the other school collaborations Thermo Fisher Scientific have participated in:

 

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Moina Medbøe Tamuly (to the left) and his colleage Sondre Tagestad from NTENTION test the drone glove on Devon Island. Photo: Haughton-Mars Project

From Ullern to Mars

Moina Medbøe Tamuly (to the left) and his colleage Sondre Tagestad from NTENTION test the drone glove on Devon Island.

Read this article in Norwegian on our School Collaboration website.

A former Ullern student with an unusual career came to inspire current students in December.

Moina Medbøe Tamuly was in his final year at Ullern Upper Secondary School in 2014. Before Christmas in 2019, he came back to Ullern to tell today’s students about his exciting life after graduation.

Since Moina Medbøe Tamuly exited the school gates of Ullern Upper Secondary School for the very last time in June 2014, he has managed to spend two years in military service, worked in Trondheim, Oslo, Beijing, Shanghai, Amsterdam, Las Vegas, Brazil and the Arctic.

Moreover, he has an adventurous personality, combined with a passion for technology, which made him start the company NTENTION with his friend Magnus Arveng.

Magnus had the idea of a glove that could control drones, which he and Moina, together with their skilled team, has brought to life. The ground-breaking gloves can simplify the steering of everything from drones to VR interaction, music and robot arms. Their vision has been to develop a technology that is a natural and seamless extension of the human, instead of being an external instrument.

This has aroused the interest of the founder of the Mars Institute, Dr. Pascal Lee, who is collaborating with NASA on missions to the Moon and the exploration of Mars. The adventurous journey brought Moina all the way to Devon Island, a Mars-like, uninhabited island in the Arctic, together with his colleague Sondre Tagestad in NTENTION. During their stay, they tested if the glove could be used as an interactive instrument in conceptual space suits.

NTENTION’s collaboration partners at the Mars Institute/SETI Institute say in the article above that the glove “is revolutionary for future human exploration of the moon and Mars – and potential other planets”.

Right before Christmas 2019, Moina went back to his old upper secondary school, Ullern, to tell the students there today what life after graduation can be like.

Not a straightforward task

Moina tells the students the journey to Devon Island and the collaboration with astronauts has not been simple and straightforward, but has included many ups, downs and detours.

The students have brought their lunches into Kaare Norum auditorium to hear what the former Ullern student has to say about life after graduation.

Moina Medbøe Tamuly is back on his old hunting grounds, telling Ullern students about life after graduation.

Moina Medbøe Tamuly is back on his old hunting grounds, telling Ullern students about life after graduation. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

At Ullern, Moina studied physics, history, philosophy and chemistry.

“I wasn’t very good at physics. I thought it was a really demanding subject, but also very exciting,” Moina says.

“After I graduated, I was really sick and tired of school. Then I had to do military service, something I wasn’t exactly thrilled about in the beginning. I was immature and created some disorder, but eventually I started liking it so much that I stayed there for two years. I was even accepted to The Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, which would have been an adventurous opportunity that I still daydream about sometimes.”

After the military service, Moina studied Industrial Economy and Technology Leadership at NTNU. In the passionate and teeming student atmosphere at NTNU, Moina met his business partner and friend Magnus Arveng and their company NTENTION was born.

Moina says that when he was a student at Ullern, he liked the subjects, the other students, the teachers and working for the student council. The first period at NTNU was a shock after such an enjoyable period of upper secondary school and military service.

“When I moved to Trondheim to study at NTNU, everything became chaotic. I had a breakdown and became depressed. It was a big transition from the military service, where I had great co-workers and a lot of responsibility, to academic studies. Our company saved me. It was pure magic to come back to an environment where you cooperate closely with one another to reach results together – and to be able to see the results of what you do every day,” Moina says.

Moina believes this is a reality many students can recognise and that it is important to learn that things don’t always go the way you planned, no matter how hard you work.

The company the students started together now has 13 employees in different roles and functions.

Doctor Pascal Lee, Head of the Research Station on Devon Island and space researcher at the Mars Institute is trying out the glove from NTENTION. Photo: Haughton-Mars Project

Dr. Pascal Lee, Head of the Research Station on Devon Island and space researcher at the Mars Institute, is trying out the glove from NTENTION. Photo: Haughton-Mars Project

The journey is as important as the goal

“I am not here to talk about what I have achieved, but about my life and the journey to get here,” Moina says to the Ullern students.

After showing the drone glove to interested students by using presentation slides and a video, Moina asks if there are any questions from the audience. Many hands go up in the air and they wonder how on Earth NTENTION got in touch with researchers that collaborate with NASA.

“It was very random. We met Dr. Pascal Lee at a conference arranged by Energy Valley. We knew the organisers and they gave us a stand for free. The glove we had developed can be used for music and art too. DJs can use it to play their set and combine it with video. So, together with the artist duo Broslo, we had arranged a unique stand with exciting artwork and video clips. That is where we started talking with Lee.”

A friendship developed between Lee, Moina and the others in NTENTION. Moina wants to highlight that you often meet friendly professionals if you dare to get in touch with them, one of the most important lessons from his journey so far.

“Our solution was a good fit with his visions and the need to explore Mars, so we began to work together,” Moina says.

The Ullern students’ lunch break is almost over, so Moina begins to sum up.

Devon Island is where NTENTION and Moina have tested the drone glove for the Mars Institute. Photo: Moina Medbøe Tamuly.

Devon Island is where NTENTION and Moina have tested the drone glove for the Mars Institute. Photo: Moina Medbøe Tamuly.

Time will be the judge of whether the drone glove Moina has developed one day will be a part of the space suits and equipment astronauts will use when landing on the Moon and Mars.

“The world will be more complicated and difficult when you graduate from Ullern, but all the more exciting. The last years of my life have been a little chaotic. It has been about closing deals and travelling around the world to find opportunities without a regular schedule. I finally learned that all people need to have a little bit of structure and to be part of a whole to thrive. In the end, I have unique experiences. My intellect has been nourished, I feel truly inspired and I am humbled to be a part of the journey where we are working to spearhead technological developments,” says Moina.

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Simone Mester, a cancer researcher at Oslo University Hospital, is mentoring students from Ullern Upper Secondary School. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

Mentor meeting with Mester

Simone Mester mentoring students in the lab.

A few lucky Ullern students got to learn about cancer research from the PhD student Simone Mester at Oslo University Hospital.

The science and research programme at Ullern Upper Secondary School is completely new and the 32 students in the first class have received four mentors who will share their knowledge and experience with them. Early in December, the students were divided among the four mentors and got to visit them at their workplaces to hear more about what they do.

Simone Mester is a former student of Ullern Upper Secondary School and is today a cancer researcher at Rikshospitalet (Oslo University Hospital). Along with the three other mentors from the Oslo Cancer Cluster ecosystem, she has agreed to be a mentor for the students of the science and research programme at Ullern. Earlier in December, eight students visited her at her job.

“This is where I work,” Simone said as we arrived at the Institute for Immunology, which is located right next to Rikshospitalet.

Simone began the visit by telling the students about her background and the road that led her to where she is today.

Simone Mester tells Ullern students about how she started to do cancer research.

Simone Mester (above to the left) tell the Ullern students that she is part of the SPARK programme at the University of Oslo. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

“I graduated from Ullern in 2012. That is when I got to do two work placements at the Radium Hospital – in Clinical Radiation Biology and Tumour Biology. That was the first time I got an impression of what everyday life for a researcher can be like and it was exciting!” said Simone.

She says that she combined the subjects mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology so that she would be able to study medicine. But as the application date drew closer, she became more and more unsure.

“I talked with Ragni, who is your teacher too, and she recommended that I study molecular biology at the University of Oslo. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what I was getting myself into and especially why I had to study all that physics,” said Simone.

During the course of her bachelor degree, Simone was still unsure and spent a lot of time with advisers at the Institute of Biology to get guidance on the best way forward. She decided to study a master degree and was included in a research group led by professors Inger Sandlie and Jan Terje Andersen, where she remains today as she is completing her PhD.

Researching new cancer medicine

“During my master degree, I wrote about how to tailor the duration of the effect of medicines and pharmaceuticals, and that is what I am still researching in my PhD. A lot of my time here is in the laboratory, where I am planning and conducting experiments on cells and mice, to see if I can achieve what I want,” Simone said.

“Now, I will show you what I spend most of my time on. It is about making proteins, so now I will show you the principal, and afterwards you can try to do the same in the lab. Moreover, you will meet a master student, Anette Kolderup, who will tell you about CRISPR,” said Simone.

CRISPR is short for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”. It is a family of DNA sequences found within the genomes of prokaryotic organisms, such as bacteria and archaea.

Quickly and pedagogical she shows the students the principals for modifying proteins through DNA modification, growing, amplifying and splitting cells.

“Now we will go to the lab, so you can try this yourselves,” said Simone.

We go one floor up, where there are offices and laboratories. The four girls go to Anette, who will show them what CRISPR is and how she uses the method in her master thesis, while the boys will start in the cell lab to make the same experiment that Simone just showed them.

Caption: Aleksander tries pipetting when he is working in the lab together with Simone. It is important to have a steady hand.

Aleksander tries to handle the pipette when he is working in the lab together with Simone. It is important to have a steady hand. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

“Inside this hood, the work environment is completely sterile, so you need to wear lab coats and sanitize all the equipment and keep it inside the hood while we are working,” Simone explained.

Aleksander is the first to try and Simone shows him step by step how he can retrieve the proteins from a bottle she has prepared. Everyone soon understands that lab work is a craft that requires skillful hands. It is important to stay focused and remember which solutions that should be added and how, and when the pipettes should go on or off. Aleksander laughs when he has to change an unused pipette that he has touched, even with gloves on it is not allowed.

Then the students switch places and everyone gets to try their hands at everything. Two hours pass by quickly and a very happy group of students with their teacher Ragni leave to go home again.

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Students from the media and communications program at Ullern Upper Secondary School helped to create the podcasts Radium and Utbytte at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2019.

Students helped create podcast

Students at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference.

Our school collaboration project inspires science and health communication.

Ullern students were thrown head first into a live work environment this week. They gave technical assistance to the making of the podcasts Radium and Utbytte at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2019.

All the students are currently studying the media and communications program at Ullern Upper Secondary School, including a class on sound design. As an extra subject, they also started their own youth companies Marconi Media UB and Audio Mind UB.

Radium held a podcast marathon together with the DNB podcast Utbytte at this year’s conference, with six different sessions, interviewing CEOs and investors. Throughout the day, the Ullern students were expected to sound check, record, and edit the podcast – all on their own.

The students attended a planning meeting one week earlier. They also arrived the evening before to rig the set: a glass studio in the middle of the conference area.

The participants in the podcast Radium and Utbytte at DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2019 in the glass studio.

The Ullern students helped to rig the podcast studio the night before the conference.

“It is a really nice experience, because we are thrown into the real word and do things in practice,” Andrea Asbø Dietrichson from Marconi Media UB explained. “We have to do everything ourselves, even though we are beginners, but we are learning!”

“It has been interesting to hear what they are talking about (in the studio) and learn how it is to work during such a big event,” Theo Rellsve from Audio Mind UB added. “It is the largest event we have been to, with lots of people and things happening all the time. We are happy to take part!”

Ullern students recording the podcasts Radium and Utbytte at DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference

The Ullern students had to think on their feet to solve problems while recording the podcast.

 

The aim of the school collaboration project between Ullern Upper Secondary School and Oslo Cancer Cluster is to inspire students to develop their talents. One aspect of the project is to give students a taste of what real working life is like.

“Personally, I would like to work in media,” Andrea said. “It is really inspiring to be here. Media and communications is a broad subject, but sound design is something not a lot of people know.”

“Audiomind has a clear vision about our future as a company. We are happy that we can get this experience and use it towards developing the company further,” Theo said. “… And create the best podcast recording company in Norway.”

Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen, Communications Specialist for Radforsk and one of the persons behind the podcast Radium, was very satisfied with the work the students had performed. She gave them a top score.

“They have everything under complete control,” she said. “It is really fun to see their learning curve. They only studied sound design for a few months, but they have already helped at two live shows and they are always calm and service-minded.”

Student helping in the glass studio.

Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen was impressed by how helpful and service-minded the students from Ullern were.

Want to find out more?

 

From left to right: Simone Mester, PhD student at UiO, Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen, CEO of Ultimovacs, Jonas Einarsson, CEO of Radforsk and Janne Nestvold, Laboratory Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, met the Ullern students of the researcher program.

Meet the mentors

The mentors of the student research program at Ullern Upper Secondary School meet the students for the first time.

Read the questions and answers from when the students at Ullern Upper Secondary School met their mentors for the very first time.

In the middle of October, 32 students at the researcher program at Ullern Upper Secondary School got to meet their four mentors for the next year. After a short introduction, there were many questions from the students to the mentors. It took an hour and a half before their curiosity settled down and it was time for pizza.

Simone Mester: “I am a former student of Ullern Upper Secondary School and now I am doing a PhD in molecular biology. In the long term, I could imagine working in the private sector developing pharmaceuticals.”

Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen: “I am a doctor and worked many years in Lofoten. After that, I worked some years as a surgeon in an emergency room, before I began working for a large German pharmaceutical company called Boehringer Ingelheim. Eight years ago, I became CEO for Ultimovacs. Ultimovacs are trying to develop the worlds first cancer vaccine.”

Jónas Einarsson: “I am a doctor, and did the first part of my medical degree on Iceland, because my grades weren’t the best. Then, I worked many years as a general practitioner in Lardal, before moving to Oslo and becoming the manager of the first private hospital in Norway. In parallel with this, I did a degree in economy and management at BI. Finally, I became the CEO of Radforsk, who among other things, initiated the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and this school collaboration.”

Bjørn Klem: Bjørn is the fourth mentor, but he was unfortunately ill during the first meeting. Janne Nestvold, Laboratory Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, came in his place. Nestvold has a PhD and has worked as a researcher for many years.

 

After the introductions, the teachers at the researcher program, Ragni Fet and Monica Flydal Jenstad held a short presentation of the upcoming work with the mentors.

Then, there were several questions from the audience.  We were really impressed by the amount and quality of the questions, that concerned both education, job opportunities and, research and development, which both Kongstun and Mester are a part of. The questions rained down and the answers came in a session that continued for over an hour and a half. You can read some of them below. Then it was time for some pizza and mingle.

The next time the students and the mentors will meet will be in the beginning of December. The students will meet in the mentors’ workplaces and see with their own eyes what they do on an everyday basis.

 

Questions and answers:

What kind of medical specialisation does Jónas and Øyvind have?

“We are both general practitioners and have not specialised. You do not have to.”

 

What kinds of jobs can you do after you are finished, Simone?

Simone: “I can do a postdoc to become a researcher in academia. I am still a student while I am doing my PhD, but I receive a salary. It is normal to do two postdocs, then you can become group leader or professor. I don’t think I will follow that route, I would much rather work in a private company or start something myself. I think that seems more exciting.”

Jónas: “Simone will get a job immediately in one of our companies if she wants it.”

 

Are there many developments every day to find a cancer vaccine?

Jónas: “It takes time, so the short answer is no.”

 

What is the greatest challenge with the cancer vaccine that Ultimovacs are developing?

Øyvind: “To make it work? A good and difficult question.”

Øyvind explained further about the development and testing of the vaccine at Ultimovacs.

 

What is your PhD about, Simone?

Simone: “I develop technology that prolongs the half-life of medicines. It is a patient-focused PhD, since it is a big inconvenience for the patient to take medicines often, but I hope we can succeed in prolonging the half-life so that patients can take the medicine once a week or once a month.”

 

What should one study if one wants to work with medical development or pharmaceutical development?

Jónas: “Molecular biology, physiology, IT, physics, chemistry, biology, statistics  – there are many opportunities.”

Øyvind: “In our company, we have physiologists, doctors, protein chemists, dentists and pharmacists working right now.”

 

When you went to upper secondary school, did you know that you would be doing what you do today?

Jónas: “I chose the natural science, but did not know anything else.”

Øyvind: “I only knew I wanted to study natural science.”

Simone: “I was thinking about studying a medical degree, but I am happy that I chose molecular biology.”

Janne: “I thought about becoming a researcher and thought it seemed exciting. You should absolutely think widely and not just the easiest solution when you are still in upper secondary school. You will benefit from that when you begin to study at university.”

 

Have you always been interested in biology, or was there something special you saw that made you excited about it? 

Jónas: “Yes, always.”

Øyvind: “Biology in itself is very fascinating. There is so much we do not know, like where memories are stored in the brain, for example. We know very little about how the body works, so that is very fascinating.”

 

The cancer vaccine you are developing, will it work against all cancers or only specific types of cancer?

Øyvind: “It will work to treat and protect against most cancer types.”

 

What did Bjørn do in PhotoCure, the company he worked for before becoming manager for Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator?

Jónas: “He was Head of Research. He is a very smart guy, and he has also worked a lot with the regulatory side.”

 

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From left to right: Bente Prestegård, Project Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster, Henrikke Thrane-Steen Røkke, student, Peder Nerland Hellesylt, student, and Ragni Fet, Teacher at Ullern Upper Secondary School are happy to see the launch of the researcher program.

Educating the cancer researchers of tomorrow

Bente Prestegård from Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ragni Fet from Ullern Upper Secondary School with two of the students in the research program.

Ullern Upper Secondary School and Oslo Cancer Cluster are paving the way for students to become the researchers of the future.

A new program has been launched this autumn for Ullern students who wish to learn how researchers work. It will qualify students for university studies and specialise them in biomedical research, technology and innovation. It is the only researcher program for upper secondary school in Norway.

“The researcher program at Ullern will be a place where students are encouraged and guided to become independent students, with a need to explore, an understanding of methods and a desire to learn,” said Ragni Fet, teacher at Ullern Upper Secondary School. “They will learn to gather good and reliable information, they will do research in practice through varied experiments, and they will gain real insight into job opportunities in the research industry.”

The program is a joint initiative between Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School, who have been collaborating since 2009. This has offered students in the natural sciences, health, media and electricity special opportunities to learn science subjects outside a traditional classroom setting.

“The purpose of launching a researcher program at Ullern Upper Secondary School is to recruit the researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs of the future,” said Bente Prestegård, Project Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster. “We know that these jobs are needed, and we want to teach students about what it means to be a researcher or entrepreneur. With better insight into the professions, the students will be able to make a safe career choice.”

 

With a passion for science

About 30 students have already begun this unique program at Ullern Upper Secondary School. One of them is Henrikke Thrane-Steen Røkke.

“I chose the researcher program because I personally enjoy studying the natural sciences and innovation, and I wanted more of those subjects. I had entrepreneurship as an elective at secondary school and thought it was a lot of fun. I think it seemed very exciting and wanted to learn more,” Henrikke explained. “I hope I can gain insight into what it is like to work as a researcher. I hope we can see and experience a lot of it in practice and to work in depth with some subjects in certain areas.”

The program is especially well suited for students with an interest in the natural sciences, such as Peder Nerland Hellesylt, who also recently begun the program.

“I applied to this program because I have always had an interest for the natural sciences and mathematics,” Peder said. ”I think this program is very interesting because we aren’t just sitting and writing, but get practical tasks too, for example experiments.”

 

Mixing theory with practice

Ullern Upper Secondary School is located right next to The Norwegian Radium Hospital, The Institute for Cancer Research, The Norwegian Cancer Registry and the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, with its over 30 big and small companies. The students are therefore never far from world class researchers. This offers the unique opportunity to take advantage of the co-localisation and use mentors from the research milieu in the teaching.

“Through the collaboration with Oslo Cancer Cluster, we will obtain external lecturers to the class rooms; bring the students to multiple, exciting innovation companies and laboratories; and the students will attempt real research experiments themselves. We are raising the level and are ambitious for the sake of the students,” Ragni Fet said.

 

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Tor Haugen attended a work placement at Thermo Fisher Scientific, arranged by Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School, where he tried DNA profiling. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

DNA profiling on the syllabus

Tor takes a mouthswab before in order to profile his DNA.

Students learned about a Norwegian invention behind CAR T-cell therapy and DNA profiling on their latest work placement.

This article is also available in Norwegian here.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is a global company that develops the Norwegian technology, which is based on “Ugelstad-kulene” (The Ugelstad Beads). In June 2019, Einar, Tor, Olav and Philip from Ullern Upper Secondary School completed a work placement with Thermo Fisher Scientific in Oslo. They used the beads to profile their own DNA and learned how the beads can be used to find murderers, diagnose heart attacks and save children from cancer.

“What do you plan to study when you finish upper secondary school?” Marie asks.

“The natural sciences,” Einar and Tor replies.

“The natural sciences at NTNU,” Olav says.

“First, the natural sciences and then, join the Air Force,” Philip answers.

Marie Bosnes is supervising the students who are attending the work placement and has worked more than 24 years in the Norwegian section of Thermo Fisher Scientific. She conducts research and development in the former monastery located on Montebello, next to Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and Ullern Upper Secondary School.

Today, Marie and several of her co-workers have taken time out of their busy schedules to tutor the four students from Ullern: Einar Johannes Rye, Tor Haugen, Olav Bekken and Philip Horn Børge-Ask. The students have nearly finished their second year and have so far focused their studies on mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. But next year, they will also study programming, instead of biology.

“It is a good mix of subjects, especially programming is useful to learn. You should consider studying bioinformatics, because, in the future, it will be a very desirable qualification,” Marie says.

Marie has studied biology and her co-workers call her Reodor Felgen (a character from a famous Norwegian children’s comic book), since she loves to constantly explore research on new topics.

Treating cancer

An ullern student is looking at the dynabeads in a test tube.

Philip Horn Børge-Ask looks at the test tubes that contain the famous “Ugelstad-kulene”. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

While Einar, Tor, Olav and Philip are on a work placement with Marie, four other Ullern students are on another work placement with Thermo Fisher Scientific in Lillestrøm. This is where they develop and produce Dynabeads for the global market.

“Dynabeads are also kalled ‘Ugelstad-kulene’, because they are a Norwegian invention. During the ‘1970s, one of NASA’s goals was to make perfectly round and identical, tiny, plastic microbeads in outer space. No one thought it was possible to make them on Earth. John Ugelstad, a Norwegian chemical engineer, did not accept that fact. He completed several difficult calculations, which enabled him to produce these tiny beads on Earth,” Marie explains.

Thanks to the tiny beads, Thermo Fisher Scientific has experienced huge global success. Even though there are only 200 employees situated in Norway (out of 70 000 employees globally), the research and development conducted in Norway is extremely important for the whole company.

“We are proud to announce that every year Dynabeads are used in almost 5 billion diagnostic tests in the world,” Marie says.

Thermo Fisher Scientific has developed the beads further, so they can be used in CAR T-cell therapy to treat cancer. The first approved CAR T-cell therapy in the world that treats child leukaemia was approved in Norway in December 2018. The advanced technology is based on the Norwegian invention “Ugelstad-kulene”.

  • Watch the video from the Norwegian TV channel TV2 about Emily Whitehead, the first child in the world that received this CAR T-cell therapy. She visited Thermo Fisher Scientific in Oslo in March 2019.

Catching killers

Elisabeth and Mary are supervising the students in the lab

Elisabeth Breivold and Marie Bosness from Thermo Fisher Scientific supervised the students in the lab. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

“The beads are used for many different purposes and you will learn about a few of them today. Simply put, the beads are like a fishing rod. Depending on which bait you fix to it, the rod can be used in different ways,” Marie says. “Before lunch, we will use Dynabeads for DNA profiling. This technology is commonly used by police to identify suspects after a crime, just like in the TV series CSI.”

During the presentation, Marie shows the students the front page of an American newspaper with a mugshot of Gary Ridgway, an American serial killer, also known as “The Green River Killer”. Ridgway has now confessed to killing 71 women. For many years, the police hunted the murderer without any luck. Finally, new technology enabled the police to retrieve damning evidence from the tiny amounts of DNA that Ridgway had left on his victims. The DNA evidence led to a successful conviction of the killer.

“The DNA evidence was established with DNA profiling, using Thermo Fisher Scientific’s products. They did not use Dynabeads back then, but today, they would have used the beads. You will learn how to do it yourselves in the lab,” Marie says.

Learning to profile DNA

Olav takes the mouth swab

Olav performs a mouth swab on himself, the first step to retrieve the DNA. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

Before the students enter the laboratory, they need to put on protective glasses, lab coats and plastic shoe covers. The students will profile their own DNA, the same way the police profile the DNA from suspects or criminals.

First, the Ullern students collect the cells with a mouth swab. Then, they add the different enzymes and chemicals that will open the cell membranes into the test tube, so that the DNA is released.

Afterwards, the Ullern students add “Ugelstad-kulene”, which bind to the DNA like magnets. Then, they retrieve their DNA from the solution.

They put the DNA in a kind of “photocopier”, in order to study it with something called “gel electrophoresis”. This is a method for analysing individual parts of DNA that make up the human genome. It shows a bar code pattern, which is completely unique for every person in the world.

Tor is using the pipette in the lab.

Tor adds new chemicals to the solution with his DNA. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

“DNA is incredibly stable, which means that we can retrieve it from people and animals that died a long time ago and copy their DNA so that it can be analysed,” Marie explains.

“The most fun was to retrieve our own DNA. We tried it ourselves and it was fun to learn how to do it,” Philip says.

The Ullern students were very happy with their work placement at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

“I think the placement was educational and interesting. It was very well arranged and we got to try many different things. What surprised me the most was probably the close collaboration between scientists at Thermo Fisher Scientific – it seemed like everyone knew each other!” Philips says at the end of the day.

After the students had completed the DNA profiling, they ate lunch and then they learned more about the use of “Ugelstad-kulene” in diagnostics, and CAR T-cell therapy.

Elisabeth Breivold supervised the students while they performed the DNA profiling in the laboratory at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Elisabeth Breivold supervised the students while they performed the DNA profiling in the laboratory at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

 

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Emmy and Benedicte learned about research into neuroscience and how to use modern medical technology, such as CRISPR, when on work placement with researcher Marianne Fyhn and her colleagues at the University of Oslo. Photo: Monica Jenstad

Learning about the human brain

Emmy and Benedicte learned about research into neuroscience and how to use modern medical technology, such as CRISPR, when on work placement with researcher Marianne Fyhn and her colleagues at the University of Oslo. Photo: Monica Jenstad

Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School arranged a work placement for students to learn about neuroscience at the University of Oslo.

Four biology students from Ullern Upper Secondary School spent two great days on work placement with some of the world’s best neuroscientists at the University of Oslo. In Marianne Fyhn’s research group, the students tried training rats and learned how research on rats can provide valuable knowledge about the human brain.

The Ullern students, Benedicte Berggrav, Lina Babusiaux, Maren Gjerstad Høgden and Emmy Hansteen, first had to dress in green laboratory clothes, hairnets and gloves. They also had to leave their phones and notepads behind, before enterring the animal laboratory where Marianne Fyhn and her colleagues work. Finally, they had to walk through an air lock that blew the last remnants of dust and pollution off them.

On the other side was the most sacred place for researchers: the newly refurbished animal laboratory. It is in the basement of Kristine Bonnevies Hus on the University of Oslo campus. We used to call it “Bio-bygget” (“the bio-building”) when I studied here during the ‘1990s.

 

Researcher Kristian Lensjø showed the four excited biology students into the most sacred place: the animal lab.

Researcher Kristian Lensjø showed the four excited biology students into the most sacred place: the animal lab.

It is the second day of the students’ work placement with Marianne. The four biology students, who normally attend the second year of Ullern Upper Secondary School, have started to get used to their new, temporary jobs. They are standing in one of the laboratories and looking at master student Dejana Mitrovic as she is operating thin electrodes onto the brain of a sedated rat. PhD student Malin Benum Røe is standing behind Dejana, watching intently, giving guidance and a helping hand if needed.

“We do this so we can study the brain cells. We will also find out if we can guide the brain cells with weak electrical impulses. This is basic scientific research. In the long term, the knowledge can help to improve how a person with an amputated arm can control an artificial prosthetic arm,” Marianne explained.

“The knowledge can help to improve how a person with an amputated arm can control an artificial prosthetic arm.”

Dejana needs to be extremely precise when she connects the electrodes onto the rat’s brain. This is precision work and every micrometre makes a difference.

 

Training rats

The previous day, Maren, Benedicte, Lina and Emmy helped to train the rat on the operating table on a running course. Today, the Ullern students will train the other rats that haven’t had electrodes surgically connected to their brains yet.

“We will train the rats to walk in figures of eight, first in one direction and then the other”, the students explained to me.

We remain standing in the rat training room for a while, talk with Dejana and train some of the rats. Dejana tells me that the rats don’t have any names. After all, they are not pets, but they are cared for and looked after in all ways imaginable.

“It is very important that they are happy and don’t get stressed. Otherwise, they won’t perform the tasks we train them to do,” says Dejana. She and the other researchers know the animals well and know to look for any signs that may indicate that the rats aren’t feeling well.

“It is very important that they are happy and don’t get stressed.”

I ask the students how they feel about using rats for science.

“I think it is completely all right. The rats are doing well and can give us important information about the human brain. It is not okay when rats are used to test make-up and cosmetics, but it is a whole different matter when it concerns important medical research,” says Emmy and the other biology students from Ullern nod in agreement.

 

Understanding the brain

Marianne is the head of the CINPLA centre at the University of Oslo, where Maren, Benedicte, Lina and Emmy are on work placement for two days. Four other Ullern students, Henrik Andreas Elde, Nils William Ormestad Lie, Hans Christian Thagaard and Thale Gartland, are at the same time on a work placement with Mariannes research colleague, Professor of Physics Anders Malthe-Sørenssen. They are learning about methods in physics, mathematics and programming that help researchers to better understand the brain.

“CINPLA is an acronym for Centre for Integrative Neuroplasticity. We try to bring together experimental biology with calculative physics and mathematics to better understand information processing in the brain and the brain’s ability to change itself,” says Marianne.

Physics, mathematics and programming are therefore important parts of the researcher’s work when analysing what is happening in the rat’s brain.

If you think that research on rats’ brain cells sounds familiar, then you are probably right. Edvard and May-Britt Moser in Trondheim received the first Norwegian Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2014. The award was given to them for their discovery of a certain type of brain cells, so called grid cells. The grid cells alert the body to its location and how to find its way from point A to point B.

Marianne did her PhD with Edvard and May-Britt, playing an essential role in the work that led to the discovery of the grid cells. Marianne was therefore very involved in Norway securing its first Nobel Prize in Medicine.

 

The dark room

Another room in the animal section is completely dark. In the middle of the room, there is an enormous box with various equipment. In the centre of the box, there is a little mouse with an implant on its head.

In this test room, there is an advanced microscope. It uses a laser beam to read the brain activity of the mouse as it alternates between running and standing still on a treadmill.

The researcher Kristian Lensjø is back from a longer study break at the renowned Harvard University and will use some of the methods he has learned.

“I will train the mouse so that it understands that for example vertical lines on a screen mean reward and that horizontal lines give no reward. Then I will look at which brain cells are responsible for this type of learning,” says Kristian.

The students stand behind Kristian and watch the mouse and the computer screen. When the testing begins, they must close the microscope off with a curtain so that the mouse is alone in the dark box. Kristian assures us that the mouse is okay and that he can see what the mouse is doing through an infra-red camera.

“This room and the equipment is so new, we are still experiencing some issues with the tech,” says Marianne. But Christian fixes the problem and suddenly we see something on the computer screen that we have never seen before. It is a look into the mouse’s brain while it runs on the treadmill. This means that the researchers can watch the nerve cells as the mouse looks at vertical and horizontal lines, and detect where the brain activity occurs.

 

Research role models

The students from Ullern know they are lucky to see how cutting-edge neuroscience is done in real life. Marianne and her colleagues are far from nobodies in the research world. Bente Prestegård from Oslo Cancer Cluster and Monica Jenstad, the biology teacher at Ullern who coordinates the work placements, made sure to tell the students beforehand.

“This is a fantastic and unique opportunity for students to get a look into science on a high international level. They can see that the people behind the research are nice and just like any normal people. When seeing good role models, it is easier to picture a future in research for oneself,” says Monica.

“This is a fantastic and unique opportunity for students to get a look into science on a high international level.”

Monica and Marianne have known each other since they were master students together at the University of Tromsø almost twenty years ago.

“I know Marianne very well, both privately and professionally. She is passionate about her research and about dissemination and recruitment. She also works hard to create a positive environment for her research group. Therefore, it was natural to ask Marianne to receive the students and it wasn’t difficult to get her to agree,” says Monica.

Back in the first operating room, Dejana and Malin are still operating on the rats. They will spend the entire day doing this. It takes time when the equipment needs to be found and sterilised, the rats need to be sedated and then operated on as precisely as possibly. It is past noon and time for lunch for Marianne, Kristian and the Ullern students on work placement.

Before I leave them outside Niels Henrik Abels Hus at the Oslo University Campus, I take a picture to remember the extra-ordinary work placement. And not least: to store a picture of the memory in my own brain.

 

Finally, time for lunch! From the left: Emmy Hansteen, Benedicte Berggrav, researcher Marianne Fyhn, Lina Babusiaux, Maren Gjerstad Høgden and researcher Kristian Lensjø. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Finally, time for lunch! From the left: Emmy Hansteen, Benedicte Berggrav, researcher Marianne Fyhn, Lina Babusiaux, Maren Gjerstad Høgden and researcher Kristian Lensjø. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

 

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Cathrine Wahlström Tellefsen gave a talk to teachers on how programming can be used to teach science subjects in upper secondary schools.

Introducing programming to the curriculum

KUR programming event for teachers to learn to teach programming.

Programming is not only for computer hackers, it can also help teachers to engage their students in science subjects and inspire start ups to discover new cancer treatments.

 

Almost 60 teachers working in upper secondary schools in Oslo visited Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and Ullern Upper Secondary School one evening in the end of March. The topic for the event was programming and how to introduce programming to the science subjects in school.

“The government has decided that programming should be implemented in schools, but in that case the teachers first have to know how to program, how to teach programming and, not least, how to make use of programming in a relevant way in their own subjects.”

This was how Cathrine Wahlström Tellefsen opened her lecture. She is the Head of Profag at the University of Oslo, a competence centre for teaching science and technology subjects. For nearly one hour, she talked to the almost 60 teachers who teach Biology, Mathematics, Chemistry, Technology, Science Research Theory and Physics about how to use programming in their teaching.

 

What is KUR? KUR is a collaborative project between Oslo Cancer Cluster, Ullern Upper Secondary School and other schools in Oslo and Akershus. It aims to develop the skills and competence of science teachers. Every six months, KUR arranges a meeting where current topics are discussed.

 

Programming and coding

“Don’t forget that programming is much more than just coding. Computers are changing the rules of the game and we have gained a much larger mathematical toolbox, which gives us the opportunity to analyse large data sets,” Tellefsen explained.

Only a couple of years ago, she wasn’t very interested in programming herself, but after pressures from higher up in her organisation, she gave it a shot. She has since then experienced how programming can be used in her own subject.

“I have been a Physics teacher for many years in an upper secondary school in Akershus, so I know how it is,” she said to calm the audience a little. Her excitement over the opportunities programming provides seemed to rub off on some of the people in the room.

“In biology, for example, programming can be used to teach animal population growth. The students understand more of the logic behind the use of mathematical formulas and how an increase in the carrying capacity of a biological species can change the size of its population dramatically. My experience is that the students start playing around with the numbers really quickly and get a better understanding of the relationships,” said Tellefsen.

When it was time for a little break, many teachers were eager to try out the calculations and programming themselves.

 

Artificial intelligence in cancer treatments

Before the teachers tried programming, Marius Eidsaa from the start up OncoImmunity (a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster) gave a talk. He is a former physicist and uses algorithms, programming and artificial intelligence every day in his work.

“OncoImmunity has developed a method that can find new antigens that other companies can use to develop cancer vaccines,” said Eidsaa.

He quickly explained the principals of immunotherapy, a cancer treatment that activates the patient’s own immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells, which had previously remained hidden from the immune system. The neoantigens play a central role in this process.

“Our product is a computer software program called Immuneprofiler. We use patient data and artificial intelligence in order to get a ranking of the antigens that may be relevant for development of personalised cancer vaccines to the individual patient,” said Eidsaa.

Today, OncoImmunity has almost 20 employees of 10 different nationalities and have become CE-marked as the first company in the world in their field. (You can read more about OncoImmunity in this article that we published on 18 December 2018.)

The introductory talk by Eidsaa about using programming in his start up peaked the audience’s interest and the dedicated teachers eagerly asked many questions.

 

Programming in practice

After a short coffee break, the teachers were ready to try programming themselves. I tried programming in Biology, a session that was led by Monica, a teacher at Ullern Upper Secondary School. She is continuing her education in programming now and it turns out she has become very driven.

“Now you will program protein synthesis,” said Monica. We started brainstorming together about what we needed to find out, which parameters we could use in the formula to get the software Python to find proteins for us.

Since my knowledge in biology is a little rusty, it was a slow process. But when Monica showed us the correct solution, it was surprisingly logical and simple. The key is to stay focused and remember to have a cheat sheet right next to you in case you forget something.

 

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The pupils Kalina Topalova Casadiego, Ida Hustad Andresen,Andreas Bernhus and Dina Düring had the opportunity to experiment with fruit flies at the Institute for Cancer Research in Oslo.

Operation fruit flies

Three students experimenting with fruit flies in a lab.

Fruit flies are not only annoying little insects that appear when bananas are overripe. They are also popular research tools for cancer researchers.

The four pupils Kalina Topalova Casadiego, Ida Hustad Andresen, Andreas Bernhus and Dina Düring got to experience how cancer researchers look at fruit flies during their work placement in January.

“Let’s turn on the gas, and then I’ll put some fruit flies on the pad under your microscope.” Speaking is cancer researcher Lene Malrød who, together with her colleague Nina Marie Pedersen, is responsible for four pupils from Ullern Secondary School on work placements.

“Gosh! They’re moving,” proclaims one of the pupils.

But not for long. Soon, all the fruit flies are anaesthetised and, eventually, dead; then the pupils are tasked with surgically removing the ovaries of the female flies. It is easier said than done, even with the help of microscopes to enhance the tiny flies. Especially when the operating tools are two tweezers.

Fruit flies are kept in two test tubes

The fruit flies are kept in test tubes.

 

An exciting placement

It is the third day of the pupils’ work placement at the Institute for Cancer Research, located next to the school. For four days at the end of January, they have learnt about cancer research and which methods researchers use in their daily work.

“The work placement is not like we imagined,” says Kalina and Ida.

“There’s a lot more manual work than I would have thought, and then you realise how important research is through what we do,” says Ida.

She is the only one who is specialising in biology in combination with with other science subjects, and she finds this very useful when working in the lab together with researchers. The other three have had to catch up on the reading, but they all agree that it is very exciting.

“Yesterday, we learnt a lot about CRISPR, which is a new method for cutting and splicing genes. Media gives you the impression that this is a highly precise tool, but the researchers here say that a lot can go wrong, and that it’s not at all as precise as you might think,” says Ida.

A student looks at fruit flies under a microscope

The students look at the fruit flies under a microscope.

 

From Western Blot to flies

A total of twelve pupils were picked out for this work placement. They have been chosen based on motivation and grades, and they all have a wish to study something related to medicine or science after they finish upper secondary school.

The twelve students are divided into three groups with completely different activities and get to learn a number of different research methods. The group consisting of Ida, Kalina, Andreas, and Dina, for instance, is the only group which will have a go in the fly lab.

“Am I really supposed to remove the ovaries? I don’t see how,” one of the pupils say, equally discouraged and excited.

Andreas, on the other hand, is in complete control. First, he has separated the males and the females with a paint brush. He has then used the tweezers to remove the heads from the females, punctured the bottom to remove the intestines, and finally found the ovaries in the abdomen.

Lene gathers all the different body parts for the pupils to look at through a different microscope. These fruit flies are in fact genetically manipulated to glow in the dark – they are fluorescent.

If you are wondering why researchers use fruit flies as part of their research, you can read more about it in this article from Forskning.no (the article is written in Norwegian).

“It is so much fun to be here, and we are really lucky to get this opportunity,” says Dina on her way from the fly lab to another lab to carry out another experiment.

 

The pupils on the work placement have uploaded many nice photos and videos on Ullern Secondary School’s Instagram account – visit their account to see more from the placement.