How are organoids going to change biomedical research?


Kate in Year 13 explores how organoids are going to contribute to biomedical research. 

At the moment, biomedical research is almost exclusively carried out in animal models. Although this has led to a better understanding of many fundamental biological processes, it has left gaps in our understanding of human specific development. In addition to this, the variability of human individuals is in sharp contrast to inbred animal models, leading to a deficiency in our knowledge about population diversity.

These limitations have forced scientists to invent a new way of looking at and understanding how the human body works; their conclusions were organoids.

An Organoid (Wikipedia)

Organoids are a miniaturised and simplified version of an organ produced in vitro in 3D which shows realistic micro-anatomy. They originate from renewable tissue sources that self-organise in culture to acquire in vivo-like organ complexity. There are potentially as many types of organoids as there are different tissues and organs in the body. This provides many opportunities such as allowing scientists to study mechanisms of disease acting within human tissues, generating knowledge applicable to preclinical studies as well as being able to offer the possibility of studying human tissues at the same if not higher level of scientific scrutiny, reproducibility and depth of analysis that has been possible only with nonhuman model organisms.

Organoids are going to revolutionise drug discovery and accelerate the process of bringing much needed drugs to reality. Nowadays, the process averages around 20 years from conception to reality. This is a lengthy process mainly due to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry has relied on animal models and human cell lines that have little resemblance to normal or diseased tissue – possibly one of the reasons behind the high failure rate of clinical trials adding to the high cost of drug discovery – an average of $2 billion for each new drug that reaches the pharmacy.

Organoids can help this development by using human cells instead of animal cells due to the improved compatibility, making it quicker and more efficient. Organoids are also able to provide a better understanding of human development.

Organoid graph
Above: Uses of organoids from

The human brain, especially the neocortex (which is the part of the mammalian brain involved in higher-order brain functions such as sensory perception, cognition, spatial reasoning and language), has evolved to be disproportionally larger compared with that of other species. A better understanding of this species-dependant difference through brain organoids will help us gain more knowledge about the mechanisms that make humans unique, and may aid the translation of findings made in animal models into therapeutic strategies answering the question what makes humans human.

Organoids are the future of biomedical research providing the potential to study human development and model disease processes with the same scrutiny and depth of analysis customary for research with non-human model organisms. Resembling the complexity of the actual tissue or organ, patient derived human organoid studies will accelerate medical research and generate knowledge about human development which is going to dramatically change the way we are going to study biology in the future.

Does Drama have a place in the A in Steam?

Emily, Year 10, asks if enough emphasis is placed on drama as part of the A (Arts) within STEAM.


STEM was originally a government initiative to “help empower future generations through science, technology, engineering and maths to grow a dynamic, innovative economy”. Recently the A was added to STEM to include the arts, but how much emphasis, if any, is put on drama as part of this addition? Traditionally within education drama has been seen as a soft option. It was often viewed as a GCSE choice for students who are less academically capable, and few links are made between the benefits of drama and other areas of the STEM curriculum.

Why do people consider Drama as a lesser part of the A in STEAM?

When considering the A in STEAM, many people think of subjects such as art, design or and/or the humanities, with the performing arts (which includes drama) very much a secondary consideration.

Commonly drama is mistaken for a break from academia. Drama, music and dance are often under threat amongst underfunded schools subject to ever-increasing budgetary constraints. Even important figures within the performing arts world cannot be relied upon to promote drama within education. The head of the National Youth Theatre said in 2014 that “drama classes should be taken off the GCSE curriculum because they are irrelevant, and the subject is seen as soft and easy”.

Jungle Book
Above: Jungle Book by Year 8 earlier this year

How does drama help with STEAM learning in schools and in STEAM careers?

Learning drama at school, or participating in the performing arts, is beneficial and important in many different areas. The skills you develop through drama can help in all areas of your subjects including the traditional STEM subjects. Positive outcomes include:

Problem-solving – drama improves problem-solving and decision making, for example improvisation can help with quick thinking solutions. Developing problem-solving skills is a key reason why the STEM initiative started in the first place – to solve many of the world’s problems.

Imagination – In drama you need imagination; you have to make creative choices and think of new ideas. Imagination increases creativity and innovation; this is essential in, for example, engineering to design new products and processes to drive efficiency. Einstein himself said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Team working skills – this is an essential skill in life which crosses all disciplines at school and in life. The ability to work well in a team, to be able to listen and incorporate other people’s ideas is as important in STEM careers as it is in any other. In drama lessons, or when putting on a school production, working well as a team is essential to the success of the project, whether you are front of stage or backstage, no project or performance succeeds unless every part of the team pulls together.

Empathy – drama teaches you the skill of empathy and develops your emotional intelligence. You have to understand a character’s motivation and actions by putting yourself in their shoes. EQ is becoming an increasingly important skill in the workplace.

Confidence in speaking – drama lessons often translate into better communication skills and self-confidence. Drama students are encouraged to ask questions and explain their thoughts, and of course to perform in front of a live audience. The ability to be able to speak effectively in public and present your ideas confidently is a key leadership skill that will help with an individual’s career progression.

WHS Play
Above: ‘Education, Education, Education’ – the WHS Senior Play this term

How else can drama help?

In 2012 the National Endowment for the Arts released a report showing that low-income student’s who had access to the arts tended to have better academic results, when music, dance and drama are part of people’s life they generally then go on to have better work opportunities. You also cannot underestimate the importance of a balanced education, and drama can act as an important emotional release from the demands of academia and the pressures of modern life.


Overall, I believe that drama does deserve a place in the A in STEAM. Many skills that drama help you develop are vital to those needed for success in STEAM careers and in everyday life.


Computer Science at Wimbledon High

Veerman Sajadah, Head of Computer Science, investigates how a change in governmental policy in 2012 impacted the teaching of ICT and Computer Science to current pupils.

2012 marked a major change in secondary education. The education secretary announced that the Information Communication Technology (ICT) curriculum must be scrapped in favour of computer science. While this change was seen as a step forward by many, the debate is still on as to whether our students are missing out on the previously skill based ICT curriculum. Consequently, GCSEs in ICT have now disappeared to make way for new Computer Science (CS) GCSE courses from all major exam boards and all schools have had to adapt. At WHS, students were introduced to CS in Year 7 in 2013. These students were the first cohort to study CS instead of ICT.

The differences between the two subjects have been more contrasting than I anticipated, given that some of the CS content was already being brought into the ICT curriculum. CS offers more challenging topics and the subject content is more specific compared to ICT. ICT topics were seen as more relevant by students not aspiring to pursue a career in technology. If a student wanted to be a historian or lawyer, they could still relate to ICT but when being taught CS topics and programming, they have found it less relevant to what they aim to do in the future.

With all exam boards offering courses in Computer Science rather than ICT, it was important to look closely at their respective specifications. As of date, different exam boards expect different topics to be covered in different depths at GCSE and at A Level. This has major implications on how to structure the KS3 curriculum so that students are ready to cope with the GCSE contents by the end of Year 9.

When we started teaching CS to Year 7 back in September 2013, our students were excited to learn a subject different from what the previous groups had studied. Indeed, CS was a much welcomed change for our girls. This group of students are now in Year 12. Four girls are currently studying the subject at A Level and are keen to study it at University. They are our most senior girls in the subject and the only group from WHS who have a GCSE in CS. Last year’s year 11 result in CS saw all 11 girls score a grade A or A*, (100% A*/A, 46% A*).

Unfortunately, like in many schools, after the first wave of keen Computer Scientist, the numbers of students opting for the subject has fallen. Several studies have been conducted both nationally and internationally to investigate why it has been hard to attract students to study CS. At WHS, we have taken on board these researches and have worked on a plan to address the challenges that we face. We have restructured our KS3 curriculum by introducing key challenging topics early with the aim of making students feel more comfortable and confident with the subject by the time they decide whether to continue studying CS at GCSE. I believe that one of the reasons ICT uptake at GCSE was higher than CS was because students were confident and comfortable with the ICT curriculum. The introduction of programming in early years is also very important to achieve this aim. However, it is not simple to teach complex concepts to children who are too young to learn them. Fortunately, the emergence of several pieces of “children friendly” software that allow students to learn programming through “blockly” has aided teachers incredibly. We are now able to introduce coding to students as early as Year 4. This will produce a generation of students keen and enthusiastic in CS.

On the other hand, there can be a risk of bringing challenging topics to the KS3 curriculum. Students can be put off the subject if they find it too hard. Hence, it is paramount to strike the right balance between “fun” lessons and relevant CS concepts. At WHS, we have brought various new fun activities into our KS3 curriculum. Girls are now able to use the micro:bit to program ringtones and LED strips in Year 7 (see image 1 below). They can create websites and web apps in Year 8 (see image 2 below) and they can use Minecraft and robots to enhance their programming skills in Year 9 (see image 3 below). The department also offers various extra-curricular clubs to engage the students. We are also working with our Scientists in Residence every week to reinforce knowledge learnt in the classroom.

Image 1: Year 7 have been using the micro:bit to program LED lights.

Image 2: Year 8 have been using appshed to create web apps.

Image 3: Year 9 learn how to program the picaxe 20X2 robot.

Our efforts towards promoting this new subject at WHS remain as strong as ever. We are continuously thinking of new ways to promote CS amongst the girls with a view to preparing them for their technological future. We also reach out to Universities such as Imperial College and work with them on projects that allow female students to come in and inspire our pupils. Being a Microsoft Showcase school, we are lucky to participate in events run by Microsoft and we are also looking at inviting experts to deliver talks on latest technologies and innovations in the world of CS. The future of the subject at WHS is bright and we are all ready to embrace it.

Research articles:

1.Computing or ICT: which would serve our pupils better?

2.Encouraging Girls to Participate in Computer Science

3.School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme

4.Women in Computer Science: Getting Involved in STEM


Twitter: @CS_IT_WHS


By Alex Farrer, Scientist in Residence.

Since the launch of our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) space in September, STEAM lessons, activities, clubs and assemblies have been delivered by the new Scientist in Residence team. This has created a buzz of curiosity around the school and enabled “STEAM” to be injected into the curriculum, but what is exactly going on, and why?

It is frequently reported in the press that thousands of additional science and engineering graduates are needed each year and many national initiatives aim to encourage more girls to aspire to such careers. However it is still the case that most pupils decide by the age of 10 that science is “not for them”. They enjoy science, they are good at science, but they think that other people become scientists and engineers. The STEAM initiative aims to encourage more girls to aspire to study science, technology, art and mathematics subjects post 16, but also to develop STEAM skills in all pupils. Not every pupil will aspire to a career in science and engineering, but every pupil will benefit from added exposure to STEAM. Employers and universities are increasingly looking for candidates who have problem solving skills, consider the impact of their decisions, use their imagination, communicate well, work well in teams and cope with frustrations, problems and difficulties. Cross curricular STEAM activities not only help to develop these skills for every pupil, but also show how relevant the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are to all subjects.

More information is available here about the ASPIRES and ASPIRES 2 studies which track the development of young people’s science and career aspirations and also here about the benefits of keeping options open for possible engineering careers.

This new initiative at Wimbledon High aims to promote STEAM cross curricular activity for all year groups from Reception to Year 13. The Scientist in Residence team consists of experts in computer science, medicine and STEAM teaching and learning, who are able to plan activities that are practical, challenging, engaging and linked to real life situations. Visiting engineers and scientists enrich the projects and links are made to STEAM careers. In the lessons things might go wrong, groups may have to start all over again, team members might disagree and tasks may be really difficult to succeed in. Coping with the epic fails that can occur when imaginatively attempting to solve a STEAM challenge is all part of the benefit though, and there is also a lot of laughter and fun. The lessons can certainly be classed as “serious play”!

These are just a few examples showing how STEAM is beginning to form…

Year 3 launching projectiles ‘Into the Woods” 
• KS3 being creative with Minecraft Education Edition
• Year 7 using their physics knowledge to capture amazing light and colour photographs at the beginning of their art topic
• Year 6 learning about sensors and coding with micro:bits
• Year 1 becoming rocketeers
• Year 7 creating pigments for Joseph’s technicolor dreamcoat in R.S.
• KS3 gaining medical insights into the Black Death in History
• KS3 pupils designing and building a City of Tomorrow
• Year 5 designing ocean grabbers inspired by the R.S.S. Sir David Attenborough
• Year 4 controlling machines built with LEGO WeDo

Year 12 are also beginning a joint project with local schools and scientists from UCL and Imperial College as part of the ORBYTS initiative – Original Research By Young Twinkle Students – an exciting project using mass spectrometry to look at exoplanet atmospheres which includes the opportunity for students to be co-authors on an academic paper. There may even be a robot orchestra in the making, so there is certainly a variety of STEAM forming!

What all of these activities have in common is that they aim to promote STEAM dialogue around the school. The year 6 academic committee have been putting intriguing photographs with an attached question around the school to promote just this sort of discussion, whether it might be year 8 on their way into lunch or parents chatting while waiting to pick up year 2.




What happened here?




We want to show students and adults in our community that STEAM is something done by us all. As an adult yourself you may have felt in the “not for me” category – you might have given up science early, or not felt that it was your best subject. As role models we all need to show that we are interested in talking and getting involved in STEAM, so that no one in our community is in the “not for me” category. Helping with a competition entry, discussing Blue Planet 2, using STEAM news articles or photos as hooks for lessons, all help to inject STEAM into the school community.

Follow us on Twitter @STEAM_WHS to see more of what is going on and look out for future blogs on the importance of building science capital and using STEAM photos to inspire and engage. The following web links are examples of the many cross curricular ideas available for all age groups that could be used in lessons and at home. Create some STEAM!