Raising awareness of the Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation in the local community

Published on 26 May 2023

CeTPD Outreach is a public engagement sub-team branching in the new Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation as part of the University’s School of Life Sciences.

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Targeted Protein degradation (or TPD) is an arising therapeutic modality in drug discovery, whereby proteins in the cell that lead to disease are targeted for removal, or degradation, using molecules we design called degraders (or Proteolysis Targeting Chimeras, PROTACs).  

As such, the CeTPD Outreach team aims to raise awareness of this new modality, engage with the general public as well as our students & staff and inspire anyone who are interested in what we do. These aims promote the centre’s slogan to “Innovate, Collaborate, Inspire”.  

In this project, we brought together a team of enthusiastic individuals who were keen to engage with the community. We were lucky to have onboard for the organisation Dr Selma Gulyurtlu (Postdoctoral Scientist in Cell Biology and CeTPD Outreach coordinator until June 2023), Dr Giorgia Kidd (Postdoctoral Scientist in Medicinal/Organic Chemistry and CeTPD Outreach coordinator from June 2023), Dr Aileen Frost (Postdoctoral Senior Scientist in Medicinal/Organic Chemistry), Dr Valentina Spiteri (Postdoctoral Scientist in Structural Biology and Biophysics), Dr Sohini Chakraborti (Postdoctoral Scientist in Computational Chemistry) and Claudia Diehl (Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology). 

We wanted to engage with a wide variety of audiences in the community, and so we reached out to Shabnam Wasim, the university’s Public Engagement Officer who works closely with local communities. With Shabnam’s help, experience and contacts in the community, we began by developing a number of games and table-top activities which would help explain the science behind our research in a fun and engaging manner. 

With Amy Cameron’s support (Public Engagement and Communications Officer), we trialled these games to a few different audiences ranging from local families at the Dundee Women’s Festival and to school pupils. We also used the activities and games when the University’s Executive group came to visit our centre. These numerous trialling out processes helped us further shape and develop the games until we were ready to incorporate it into our community programme.  

Alongside developing the games and activities, the team all worked together to develop a talk which would be suitable for a group with no prior background knowledge of the subject. We decided to base the format of the talk around the style of Café Science, an informal discussion with an audience over a hot drink and snack. Looking at ways to explain our research in layman’s terms was quite a bit of an eye-opener for most of us, but we made sure every part of the talk was analysed to ensure it would be clear to our audience.  

Slowly but surely, the programme started coming together, and was developed into a two-part series.  

In the first part of the series, our scientists would travel to the group’s community centre to give a Café Science style talk and mediate a discussion about Targeted Protein Degradation, why it is important, and how we investigate it as a team of scientists. It was important to begin the series in the community centre, a venue the community would feel comfortable in, and at a date and time they already meet. To break the talk down into sizeable chunks, we decided that during the discussion, we would integrate the games at various points which would help embed the learning throughout the process. We would then finish with an informal question and answer time.  

The second part of the series, we would then invite the community group to the Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation. Here, after a cup of tea and biscuit, we would take the group around the centre showing our various labs and explaining the roles of our scientists at each stop, and finally ending with some of our outreach activities and games to continue our discussion of the new modality. 

In May 2023, Aileen and Valentina travelled to the Menzieshill Community centre with Selma, Shabnam and Giorgia to deliver the first part of this series to a group of senior ladies aged 65+. 

Feedback from our first session was extremely positive and collected verbally. Some of the feedback included “I lived in Dundee all my life and never really knew what type of science was happening, but these girls explained it so well today”, “a wonderful and enthusiastic young group, very refreshing to see our future is in such capable hands” and “I’m proud to be from Dundee, it really is a City of Discovery”.  

Following from our very successful first session, the community group accepted the invitation to our centre to find out more about our research. We welcomed the community group into CeTPD for a tour of the facilities. This in turn was led by Selma and Giorgia. 

At the end of the tour, we had an informal “Meet the CeTPDer” (Group Members | Ciulli Laboratory ( session where different scientists from our centre came to say hello, discuss their experience and background, and offered to play some CeTPD Outreach developed games (mostly developed by aforementioned Claudia and Sohini). These included a return of our Senior Scientist Aileen, Sohini, together with Postdoctoral Scientist Dr Maria Rodriguez-Rios, Postdoctoral Scientist in Medicinal/Organic chemistry Dr Qingzhi Zhang, Postdoctoral Senior Scientist in Mass Spectrometry and Cellular Proteomics Dr Manjula Nagala and Masters research student Beth Forrester. In this session they were also offered the option to take away supplies to knit or crochet a bubbling conical flask, an activity that was modelled by the director’s personal assistant, Diane Purves.  

Feedback from this session continued extremely positive. Here were some of the comments: “Oh wonderful, just wonderful”, “I can’t wait to tell my nephew about this visit, he will be so happy as he works in a lab too!”, “My word, what a centre and what a team! And all happening right here in Dundee too – I’m beaming with pride to be a Dundonian” and “Amazing how all this technology works, and how it all comes together for the greater good. It has really opened my old eyes in this field”.   

Overall, the success of this event has energized this sub-team to take it to the next level, and it is now our ambition to implement this 2-day programme in other elderly community groups across Dundee.  

Written by

Dr Selma Gulyurtlu
AC-ALM team Cell Biologist,
Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation,
School of Life Sciences