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School pupil helps pioneering research

20 March 2008

David Hilbert

A Cardiff High School pupil’s work with a University research team could help reduce the number of animals used in biological experiments.

David Hilbert, aged 18, won two national awards and made the final of a third for his electron microscopy work with the School of Biosciences. He also gave a presentation at a major scientific conference in Cardiff.

David Hilbert and Kelly BerubeThe Lung & Particle Research Group, led by Dr Kelly BéruBé, has developed a test-tube method of growing human lung tissue donated by heart-lung transplant patients. They hope the technique will eventually be used to replace animal testing for a wide variety of aerosolised consumer products (e.g. hairspray, perfume, deodorant, air fresheners) and for testing drugs for lung diseases (e.g. asthma, COPD and fibrosis).

David, who is studying for his A-levels, joined Dr BéruBé’s research team as a 17-year-old work experience student from Cardiff High School last summer. After one week of hands-on work in lung histology and scanning electron microscopy, David requested more research time. He also successfully applied for a ‘Nuffield Science Bursary’ for high school students to fund his research and a salary. David then trained in Scanning Electron Microscopy, particularly in the preparation of three-dimensional image generation of human lung tissue samples. His independent research project showed that the donated human tissue cells were growing in exactly the same manner in a test tube (in vitro), as they do in the human body (in vivo); making them a viable replacement model for animal scientific experiments.

As part of the Nuffield bursary scheme, David was required to present his research at a celebration event for all bursary recipients held at the Cardiff science centre Techniquest. He also won first prize for a poster presentation he gave at the ‘Microscopy for the New Millennium’ conference held at Cardiff University and sponsored by the Royal Microscopical Society. David then won a Crest Gold Award for a project involving more than 100 hours’ work from the British Association for the Advancement of Science and was selected to demonstrate his research at their annual ‘UK Young Scientists’ and Engineers’ Fair’. At the 2008 Fair, held at London’s Centre for the Cell, the judges praised the excellence of his research and his presentation display.

David takes A-levels in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Maths this summer, and is applying to read medicine at Cardiff. He said: "I have had a fantastic experience with the Biosciences research team and learned an enormous amount. My ambition is some day to be a medical doctor and my work at Cardiff will hopefully stand me in good stead."

Dr BéruBé added: "David has made an outstanding contribution to the lung tissue project, which we hope will reduce the need for animals in a wide range of experimental tests. There’s no doubt David has a bright future ahead of him as a medical scientist."