Tag Archives: outreach

Spinning Out of Control? Public Engagement at SPIN Cycle Festival

By Daniel Brayson, @drdanbrayson

SPIN cycling festival, a celebration of all things cycling, took place on the weekend of 12 May 2017 at the Olympia in Kensington, London. Here at The Physiological Society, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to showcase the wonders of physiology, using funding from The Society’s Public Engagement Grants.

Banner pe grants 2017_extended deadline June

The premise of our activity was to find some anecdotal dogma, which is prevalent in sports like cycling, and disprove it. Put simply, we went on a myth-busting mission.

A popular assumption among amateur cycling enthusiasts is that it is good to cycle at a high cadence. Discarding the jargon, this essentially means pedalling really fast. Many people think this because successful professional athletes such as Chris Froome, and previously Lance Armstrong, cycled at very high cadences when they were racing in huge competitions such as the Tour de France, the most famous cycling race in the world.

We based our experiment on a paper in one of The Society’s journals, Physiological Reports, from 2015 by Formenti and colleagues titled Pedalling rate is an important determinant of human oxygen uptake during exercise on the cycle ergometer. What the paper essentially showed is that the faster you pedal for a given work rate, the more energy you use.

Bike like the wind

With this in mind, we set out to perform some live experiments on festival-goers. We set up a bike on a smart turbo trainer with a computer that we could use to read measurements. We recruited many willing volunteers over the course of the weekend, fitting them with a device to measure heart rate, and setting them up on the bike.

Using the smart turbo trainer, we set the amount of work that the volunteers would do to 150 watts of power and placed headphones on them. They then sat for 1 minute before beginning to cycle in time with a metronome, or a clicking sound, that was playing through the headphones. We changed the speed of the click at set intervals which meant that the volunteer would change their cadence accordingly. At each cadence, we recorded the heart rate of the volunteer twice, 30 seconds apart.

Pedalling faster, beating faster

We found that as pedalling rate increased, so did heart rate. This can be seen on the left-hand graph below by the line which goes up in diagonal from bottom left to top right. This suggests that faster pedalling did indeed require more energy, even though the power output remained constant.


Our graph, on the left, comes to a similar conclusion as Formenti and his colleagues on the right. As pedalling rate goes up, so does work rate and energy expenditure. Where Formenti measured oxygen uptake, which requires unwieldy equipment unsuitable for our event, we used heart rate as an easily obtainable proxy measurement, and it agrees nicely with Formenti’s findings.

What does it mean, really?

The real world meaning here is that cycling along the road in lower gears than necessary with high pedalling rate uses more energy than cycling in slightly higher gears but pedalling at a slower rate.

So what’s the deal with Chris Froome?

Chris Froome, and other pro cyclists are not your average human beings from a physiological perspective, so it’s probably a bad idea for us to copy them! The science does show that pedalling quickly at sustained power outputs up to 400 watts, achievable mostly by elite athletes, is far less wasteful. This is because most of the energy gets transferred to the bike in this scenario.


It was especially dynamic and rewarding to engage with a diverse mix of people and preach the gospel of physiology. I would like to thank all the visitors who staked their reputations by joining our experiment! I would also like to thank The Physiological Society for financial support and especially Anisha Tailor for all of her sage advice. A big thanks to Louis Passfield for his generous support and loan of equipment. Finally, I would especially like to thank all of my wonderful volunteer scientists without whom the whole event would surely have been a disaster Elizabeth Halton, Chris Fullerton, Ozama Ismail, Fulye Argunhan, Elena Wilde, Svetlana Mastitskaya, Xiao Xiao Han, and Nick Beazley-Long.



Cancer Research UK’s Citizen Science Programme – Bringing kinder treatments to clinics, sooner

Reverse The Odds

A potentially ineffective course of radiotherapy, or life-altering bladder removal surgery; that’s the choice patients with invasive bladder cancer face. Both treatments can be highly effective for some patients. We just don’t know for whom. Or why. With so much uncertainty involved, it’s an uneasy gamble for doctors, families and, most of all, patients.

But what if we could accurately predict whether a patient will respond well to radiotherapy or whether they should consider surgery as a first course of action?

Dr Anne Kiltie and her team in Oxford are working to find the answer – and thanks to Cancer Research UK’s Citizen Science Programme, it’s set to be largest study of its kind.

All of our cells produce proteins – important molecules that make our cells function. But under pathophysiological conditions such as cancer, the proteins produced by our cells change. It’s these changes that Anne is hoping to find, to identify protein ‘biomarkers’ being produced by the cancer cells. These biomarkers act as clues to how those cancer cells are behaving and ultimately revealing which treatment will target them best. But searching for these biomarkers is no easy task, and with over 800 tumour samples from more than 300 bladder cancer patients and 14 different biomarkers to screen, Anne and her team needed help.

Help has come in the form of over 120,000 citizen scientists from 197 countries across the world.

Anne’s data is being analysed by people all over the world, thanks to Reverse The Odds. This free mobile game crowd-sources cancer research to members of the public, allowing anyone to analyse the presence of biomarkers in bladder cancer samples – exactly what researchers are doing in the lab.

You don’t need to be a scientist to fight cancer from the front lines.

What makes non-scientists so good at this is that spotting these biomarkers is fundamentally about recognising patterns in images. It’s something that humans are naturally great at – so with the right training anyone can make a useful contribution.

It’s not just cancer research that’s been aided by citizen scientists. Over the last decade citizen science has exploded, with projects now found across all disciplines of science from identifying galaxies (Galaxy Zoo), to spotting birds in your garden (RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch), to puzzle solving the shape of proteins (FoldIt). Citizen science gives everyone the chance to make a valuable contribution to research, irrespective of their experience – and Cancer Research UK were the first to apply this practice to cancer data.

How we keep things accurate

With no scientific training required, how can we be sure the analysis is accurate? In the case of Reverse The Odds there are a number of checks in place to ensure accurate results:

  • Citizen scientists complete a quick tutorial to introduce the different shapes and patterns they will be looking for.
  • Anne and her team score 10 percent of the samples seen by citizen scientists to make sure they are getting the same results.
  • Most importantly, each sample is analysed by multiple citizens scientists, so any variations between the citizens will be picked up, and accurate results will come from the consensus of the many.

The samples in Reverse The Odds are from patients who have already been treated and were taken before they started treatment. By comparing the biomarkers present in these samples and relating it to how patients eventually responded to their treatment, Anne is hoping to find a predictive biomarker. This will mean future bladder cancer patients are able to make a more informed choice when it comes to deciding between radiotherapy and surgery.

How to get involved

There are just 1 million classifications left to complete Anne’s data. If 100,000 people each analyse 10 images Anne will have access to the answers that will improve treatment and survival for bladder cancer patients. Help us reach this goal – download Reverse The Odds now.

If you’ve got an idea for a citizen science project related to the physiology of cancer contact Cancer Research UK’s Citizen Science team: citizenscience@cancer.org.uk

Cancer Research UK were supported by The Physiological Society Public Engagement Grant to attend The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2015 with their exhibit “Beating cancer: Every cell has a story.” The grant from The Physiological Society was used to fund the development and build of two interactive elements on the exhibit, demonstrating the pioneering circulating tumour cell research happening in the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute.

By Jessica Vasiliou