Last month, after hearing about this course through a departmental e-mail, I decided to enrol, to refresh my knowledge of cardiovascular disease. This is a free course, delivered in lay terms, produced by the University of Reading (all images were taken from their videos).
The course comprised 4 modules in weekly instalments:
- Cardiovascular anatomy and physiology
- Angina, heart attacks and strokes
- Heat failure, hypertension, valvular disease and arrhythmias
- Risk factors and prevention
Apart from written information, the course was delivered mostly through short videos. There were also sections to engage the participants in discussion and information search, as well as very simple practicals that anyone can do at home. At the end of each module there was a quiz and feedback was given even when the answer was wrong, to explain why that was not the correct answer.
The course was very well received and members of the general public have thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a great deal about cardiovascular disease. This is a very good example of public engagement and how cardiovascular research can reach and educate so many people not only on the different diseases, but also on how they can change their lifestyle to reduce some of the risk factors.
Below are two examples of practical activities, that are so simple and yet so effective in making people understand how disease works and what the consequences are.
Practical 1: investigating the effects of thrombosis
Jelly cubes were used to mimic a thrombus inside a blood vessel (balloon) and the different outcomes/effects depending on the size and fractioning of the thrombi were observed.
First, a control balloon with no jelly was filled with water and the time it took to empty was recorded. All experiments were conducted in triplicates, for statistical purposes.
Then, one big cube of jelly was introduced and the experiment was repeated.
The blockage caused by the presence of the jelly has greatly increased the time it took to empty the balloon. In a real blood vessel, this reduced blood flow to the tissues downstream can cause damage or death to those tissues.
Next, the jelly cube was divided into two halves.
And finally, the jelly cube was divided into 4 pieces to mimic a transient ischemic attack.
This time, the water exited the balloon more or less at the same speed than for the control balloon, but it sounded differently (the flow of water sputtered).
Practical 2: simulating heart failure
As a control, 100 ml of water (representing blood) were transferred from a bowl into a beaker with a pump (representing the heart) at a constant rate (3 times). The pump was held with 3 fingers and the time was recorded. The stroke volume was calculated by dividing the volume by the number of contractions and the cardiac output was also calculated.
To simulate heart failure, the experiment was repeated, but using only one finger to pump the water (which mimics a damaged heart). Because this is not as efficient (and your hand starts to hurt), the rhythm slows down, the volume per contraction varies and contractions become irregular. In these conditions, the cardiac output has decreased at each attempt, as the “heart” got more and more fatigued.
For those interested, the course is still available.
Have you done this course? What did you think about it? Would you consider doing it now? Do you think our department should promote/organise something similar? Perhaps in a different format? Please leave your comments below!