21 March 2023

In the heart of London, the National Bowel Research Centre (NBRC) opened its doors to allies of Bowel Research UK (BRUK). Within the school of Medicine and Dentistry, the National Centre runs laboratories where specialist medical researchers develop new treatments and cures for bowel cancer and other bowel diseases. A few weeks ago, I was delighted to be invited to look around the labs, speak to the scientists and hear first-hand about its ground-breaking science.

Arriving at the Blizard Institute, I noticed the café area, lined with red stools for people to sit and enjoy a cuppa. As I got closer, en route to the toilet, I noticed the stools were shaped to resemble red blood cells. I smiled.

Later, I noticed the opportunities to tastefully add human physiology as part of the décor within this building. A double helix DNA strand circled above the heads of the scientists in the lab, and other biological structures housed the meeting rooms.

Recently, an email dropped into my university inbox, informing me of the new science behind the benefits of putting the toilet lid down before flushing, and I was impressed with the signs on the toilet at the NBRC asking to close the lid. Again, I smiled, knowing this was a forward-thinking centre.

The receptionist smiled and tilted her head to the side as I asked where I might find my colleagues. She pointed, and I looked across to notice familiar faces, chatting with each other. Some of the people I had met previously, some I had seen on Teams, and others looked familiar from reading their blogs on the BRUK website. Technology has its place for bringing us together, but exchanging handshakes and smiles was a joy.

Nicole, BRUK’s office manager, guided us to the lab to meet the scientists. I internally admitted the labs were somewhat tidy in comparison to those I had worked in. We listened intently to the first scientist who told us of her team’s surprise as they discovered cells within the colon that can help the body function regarding satiety and blood glucose levels. We had questions to ask, of course. What would happen to those with no colon or patients who had part of their colon removed? These answers would all come later, as the emerging science was brand new. The passion in the voice of the scientists was evident. They were excited. So were we. We moved to speak to other scientists, running experiments within the lab.

Collectively, the researchers were informing us of the importance of using human tissue. Life-altering, necessary surgeries gave the patients an option to give consent for the discarded tissue to be used in the lab, to move the science forward.

Georgia, from BRUK asked us if we had any more questions. We had more questions than there was time for, so we thanked the scientists for their work and time and moved across the buildings.

As we entered one of the meeting rooms, the smell of coffee welcomed us. Gathering together, we exchanged more handshakes, smiles and catch-ups as we finally were all together in one room. In unison, we felt the afternoon was informative, interesting, and incredibly inspirational. We all sat chatting in a room together for the first time. Technology and science is fantastic, and Teams meetings have a definite place for convenience, as we are spread far and wide across the UK. But as humans, full of cells and emotions, you cannot underestimate the importance of the miracle of biology or the wonder of being together in person.