Samsara Therapeutics hosts students for Science Oxford STEM Insight Week

Matthew Williamson is a Senior Scientist at Samsara Therapeutics. As the neuronal cell biologist with the team, he is responsible for spearheading the development of cutting-edge, physiologically and disease relevant cellular models of neurodegenerative diseases.

It was a circular email asking companies if they could arrange a talk or activity for Science Oxford’s STEM Insight Week that made Matthew think that he would have loved the opportunity at 16 to see what goes on behind the closed doors of an R&D lab, especially in biotech or pharma. Along with the Samsara team, he put together a plan to organise a hands-on experience in the lab to learn some of their most frequently-used techniques to give students a feel for what it would like to work in science and drug discovery. And over February half-term 16 lucky young people from schools across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire got to see what it would be like working for a new exciting biotech.

Samsara Therapeutics was founded in 2018 and based in the labs at the Trust’s Wood Centre for Innovationthat adjoins the Science Oxford Centre. Their aim is to discover new mechanisms that restore or induce autophagy (that’s pronounced aw-toff-ajee, by the way) – a natural process that removes unnecessary or dysfunctional cellular components or toxic proteins from the cell. At the same time, they are looking for new drugs that can boost autophagy to treat lot of genetically-defined diseases – like Parkinson’s, Huntingdon’s and ALS. Cutting-edge stuff.

The Samsara team wanted to show students some of the key techniques that they use to test if a drug has a particular effect in a cell. Students were taken round three separate ‘stations’ in the lab where they were given an introduction and gained a bit of hands-on experience in cell culture (see photo above), live cell fluorescence microscopy, and automated image analysis.

They learned about the types of experiments Samsara design, perform and analyse every day, the different stages of how they test to see if a drug has a therapeutic effect in a cell and the wider applications of their work and potential impact on humanity.

Samsara enjoyed the session and the students did too.  “I really enjoyed going to the site in person and being able to see the process of how cells are analysed” said one student. And another said “I was able to gain an understanding of the people who worked in the field. I think it was intimidating thinking about the people that worked in such an important field but they’re really interesting people and easy to approach”

Would you do it again? “Yes, most definitely”, said Matthew. “We all enjoyed ourselves. It was very rewarding. Events like Science Oxford’s STEM Insight Week are a great platform to inspire young minds and teach what it’s like to pursue a career in science. Staff at Samsara will always jump at the opportunity to teach and inspire the next generation of scientists.”

Thank you, Samsara, you organised a fantastic insight session for students.


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