An extraordinary school day

In 2016 department of pathology and our laboratory moved to a new building that we share with the biggest science high school in Oslo, Ullern high school.

Every morning we scientists use the same entrance to our facilities as the school kids. We pass by the kids, enter the staircase and go up to the fifth floor. But who are these pupils? Do they know what is happening at the upper floors of the Oslo University Hospital while they are learning for life? No, they don’t.

Our research team was willing to change this situation for at least some of the pupils. Reaching out to the teachers of the school we organised a “Melanoma: diagnostic and research day”. The event started with a presentation about skin and its vulnerability towards sun exposure. According to the Cancer Registry of Norway 2’001 new melanoma cases were registered in 2015. Overall 46’540 cases of melanoma are registered in Norway. Nowadays, Norway is in the world top in terms of melanoma cases. Those numbers are emphasizing the need of enlightenment about how important it is to protect the skin from UV damage. Next, we PhD candidates explained our MELGEN research projects to the audience to give them a taste of current melanoma research and show them how cutting edge techniques as stem cells are used to fight cancer.

In the second part of the day we gave pupils a tour along the track of a patient’s biopsy. We guided several groups trough different stations where they were shown the equipment and procedures which are necessary in order to dissect a suspicious mole. At all the stations specialists of the Pathology department explained the procedures in details. Surprisingly pupils had many questions raised that we were happy to answer.

Finally, the school kids could slip into the role of a pathologist and interpreted a stained cross section of benign and malignant mole.

This school day of a different kind enabled us to bring kids closer to the world of research and help them understand dangerous aspects of sun bathing. We have seen many surprised, interested, and scared faces during this day. Some kids are still wondering if the UV damage really has such a defining consequence like inducing melanoma. By answering the question of how to prevent skin cancer, I could see that the kids were not surprised by the feedback to use sun screen and sunglasses, to wear a hat and long sleeves, but I saw also the expectation to hear something new and innovative. These kids know how to protect themselves, but they seem to be bored of it. So, how can Norway make the prevention of melanoma more attractive?