The University of Southampton welcomed HRH The Countess of Wessex to LifeLab on Friday 27 June to officially open the facility that aims to empower school students to take more control over their health. LifeLabis an innovative education approach which is a collaboration between the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust that enables secondary school pupils to have first-hand experience of scientific approaches at the forefront of modern medicine.
The aim is to educate students to make better choices about their own health, which will benefit them and also the health of their future children.
Since it started in 2008, more than 2,300 school students, aged between 11 and 18 years old from across Southampton and surrounding areas, have experienced the scheme.
As a result of the project’s success a new dedicated National Institute for Health Research funded LifeLab facility has been built at Southampton General Hospital.
During her visit The Countess of Wessex saw the custom designed laboratory and classrooms in which students, from schools that have already experienced LifeLab, conducted some of the experiments. These included measuring blood flow through the carotid artery by ultrasound, measuring the influence of nutrition on the chemical structure of DNA and assessing lung function. The Countess of Wessex even tested out her own grip strength. Professor Mark Hanson, Director of the Institute of Developmental Sciences and of Human Development and Health at the University of Southampton, said: “We are thrilled to welcome The Countess of Wessex to LifeLab and we are grateful to her for officially opening this National Institute for Health Researchfunded facility. There is an urgent need to promote healthy lifestyles in young people in order to prevent chronic diseases in them and in their children in the future. Education can change attitudes, alter health-related behaviours and increase health literacy in young people.
“LifeLab gives students an authentic setting in which to engage with ongoing scientific research and health messages. By enabling young people to understand the science underlying how lifestyle choices at an early age can drastically affect their health and that of their future children, we empower them to make healthier lifestyle choices.”
At the end of their time in LifeLab, students and their teachers are asked to evaluate the experience. Feedback has showed that LifeLab created a wider appreciation among students that their current lifestyle could affect not only their long-term health but also that of their future children. Additionally, students became significantly more interested in studying science beyond compulsory schooling, and in considering science and healthcare career options.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam added: “We are honoured to have The Countess of Wessex visit LifeLab today to see the pioneering work being carried out and to meet our researchers. The University of Southampton is recognised for being at the forefront of life-changing research for the past 60 years across a broad range of disciplines. We are delighted that we have been able to demonstrate a small part of that to such a distinguished guest.”
LifeLab also aims to educate young people in other areas of health as well as nutrition. Pupils get a chance to spend a session with a particular scientist from the University and hospital to discuss their research and how it could apply to them. Additionally Cancer Research UKhas confirmed they will fund a part-time lab technician to develop the students’ learning about cancer and how to prevent it.
The project has also recently received a grant from the British Heart Foundation, which will enable the team to evaluate the impact of the programme.
Kath Woods-Townsend, NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre LifeLab Manager, comments: “By visualising core public health messages and giving young people access to clinicians and academics in a custom-made setting, we strongly believe we will better prepare young people to take ownership of their health and reduce lifestyle-related medical complications in later life. It is a very exciting project – we have a long way to go to make Southampton’s young people a healthier generation, but we are starting that journey in LifeLab.”