Harvey’s Gang visits the Inherited Metabolic Diseases Laboratory

Monday, 4 June, 2018

Harvey’s Gang is an initiative, which allows young patients with lifelong or sometimes terminal conditions to become trainee scientists for a day, and tour pathology laboratories with their families. Each tour is different and tailored to the child’s need and is designed to give the young patients and their families more knowledge about the laboratory aspects of their treatments. The initiative started in the Hematology and Blood Transfusion Laboratory at Worthing Hospital and was named after a young patient who died of leukaemia.    

On Wednesday 11th April, Aimee a 9 year old girl with phenylketonuria (PKU) visited the Inherited Metabolic Diseases laboratory at St Thomas’ Hospital, as the laboratory analyses her blood spot samples fortnightly. Aimee was chosen by her dieticians as a great person to start the Harvey’s Gang adventure. She was already a keen scientist before visiting the laboratory, with science kits and crystal-growing experiments already common activities at home. The week before the visit, Aimee had dressed up as a scientist for her school’s fancy dress day with the theme ‘What I want to be when I’m older’.

The visit started with a tour of the laboratory and the staff were able to explain how they analyse Aimee’s blood spot samples. Aimee was also able to visit the new-born screening laboratory as this is the laboratory that screened Aimee when she was just five days old, enabling the diagnosis of PKU to be made and treatment to be started very quickly.

Aimee carried out some chromatography experiments using felt tip pens and filter paper, and another separation experiment using oil, soap, maple syrup and coloured water to represent the components of blood.

Aimee also had a chance to punch some food colouring spots using a hand puncher and blood spot punching machine (her favourite activity). Other activities included word searches, laboratory I-spy and colour-in a lab coat, all of which Aimee loved, and a highlight  was receiving her very own Harvey’s Gang lab coat.
The Harvey’s Gang initiative is also a great day for the parents and carers of the patient to ask the laboratory staff any questions they may have. Aimee’s mother was pleased to meet the scientists who process Aimee’s samples and was happy to gain more insight into how the results are generated. 

The initiative also gives the laboratory staff an opportunity to meet some of the patients whose samples regularly come into the laboratory, as this makes analysing the results more personal for the staff. The IMD laboratory analyses about 120 blood spot samples from patients with PKU every week, so staff become familiar with patient names but never get to meet the patients. 

Many thanks to Erin Emmett and Louise James for putting the visit together and the IMD Team for their support. 

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