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Case study: Engaging the public with clinical bioinformatics training

Dragons' Den is best known as the TV show where would-be entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a group of imposing businesspeople with money to invest.

But one course run by The University of Manchester has used this idea to get members of the public involved with the training of the next generation of healthcare scientists specialising in clinical bioinformatics.

Why engage with the public?

Clinical bioinformaticians are part of a new profession involved with the analysis of complex genomic data in healthcare.

Part of this role involves being able to communicate clearly to a multitude of clinicians, clinical genetic scientists and genetic counsellors – while also understanding that there is a patient awaiting results at the end of the process that their work contributes to.

Directed by Ang Davies and Andy Brass, the MSc in Clinical Sciences (Bioinformatics) – which forms part of the NHS's Scientist Training Programme (STP) – has two lay representatives who are involved with curriculum development, teaching and programme boards.

Into the Dragons' Den

Final-year students on the MSc were tasked with developing and presenting three new next-generation sequencing clinical services to a Dragons' Den-style panel as part of the Applied Next Generation Sequencing unit, which focuses on a technique now routinely used to rapidly sequence whole genomes.

These services were:

  • a new cancer somatic gene panel
  • a service to examine HIV resistance genes
  • a service to study the microbiome of a wound.

The students worked on their proposals over five days and presented to 'Dragons' playing the part of a hospital board that would decide which of the services was to be funded.

These included the two lay representatives, Manoj Mistry and Dawn Cooper, as well as a chief executive played by Dr Robina Shah, Senior Lecturer in the School of Medical Sciences.

The students had to use their presentations to describe the problem and their solution in language that could be understood by the whole board.

The verdict

The students really enjoyed this scenario, as it was very different to what they had done in their other course units.

The lay representatives involved also found the process fascinating. "It was interesting to observe how the young professionals interacted with each other, how effective their communication skills were and how they demonstrated genuine team working skills," Mr Mistry said.

"One or two members from each group also provided evidence of their natural leadership skills."