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Cambridge PhD students to tackle the 4L Trophy rally, the world's largest student rally

Swapping the confines of the lab for the open road, two PhD students from the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute are embarking on a 6,000km journey in a customised Renault 4L to support children and schools in Morocco, and to raise awareness of stem cell research on a global scale.

Much of that open road will in fact be in the desert as, on Thursday, February 21, Marion Perrin and Daniel Bode will set off from Biarritz in their bespoke Renault 4L for a 10-day adventure across France, Spain and Morocco as part of the iconic 4L Trophy rally.

With GPS technology forbidden, all teams must navigate the sandy off-road terrain using only a map and a compass.

The main purpose of the rally is to support the charity, Enfants du Désert. All participating teams will bring school supplies to be delivered to remote areas along the route, helping to providing equal opportunities for education regardless of location.

Each year, the money raised and supplies delivered during the 4L Trophy help to supplement the learning of 20,000 children in the southern regions of Morocco.

Daniel, a third-year PhD student who is half Russian and half German, said taking part in the rally was “very much Marion’s idea,” adding: “She is French and it’s a very famous rally in France. It was started more than 20 years ago by a group of French students.

“It has massively grown since and now it’s the biggest student rally in the world. This year we’re expecting close to 1,500 cars participating.

“For several years, Marion has wanted to undertake this challenge of going on a two-week journey across the desert for 6,000 km.”

On the fundraising aspect of the challenge, Daniel said: “The end goal is basically to raise money and also to bring school supplies to children in remote desert villages.

"The money that’s raised by the participants helps to provide education for more than 20,000 children and build lots of schools. So we’re trying to play our part in helping to continue that.”

Marion Perrin and Daniel Bode. Picture: Keith Heppell
Marion Perrin and Daniel Bode. Picture: Keith Heppell

Alongside this charitable work, Marion and Daniel will use the rally to share key messages from their stem cell research, and will have the contemplative phrase, “In the future, stem cells will...” written on the bonnet of their car.

Anyone who wants to can then complete the phrase by jotting down their thoughts and opinions on the bonnet.

“What we thought was, as biological researchers, we are trying to help improve medicine,” explained Daniel, who only passed his driving test in October, having learnt to drive especially for the rally, “and there’s no point in doing it if the public is not part of this discussion.

“There are a lot of misconceptions out there about stem cells in general and their potential – because they’re not as frightening as many people think.

"They are very naturally occurring in the body in every adult, so we’re trying to convey this concept to as wide an audience as possible.

"As you can imagine, our outreach is usually quite limited to Cambridge and the surrounding area.

“Going on this journey provides us with this nice opportunity to take our stem cell research global and talk to as many people as possible.”

The 4L Rally
The 4L Rally

Marion, a second-year PhD student, said: “This provides a wonderful opportunity to discover what people know about stem cell research and how they feel about the prospect of stem cell research leading to future innovations in healthcare.

"We will share what we learn from people we meet along the route on social media, to continue the conversation.”

The Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute is a world-leading centre for stem cell research with a mission to transform human health through a deep understanding of normal and pathological stem cell behaviour.

Bringing together biological, clinical and physical scientists operating across a range of tissue types and at multiple scales, researchers explore the commonalities and differences in stem cell biology in a cohesive and inter-disciplinary manner.

In 2018, the institute, which houses more than 350 researchers, relocated to a new purpose-built home on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

To find out more about the rally, go to avoquatro.com and donate to support Daniel and Marion’s journey at gofundme.com/humanitarian-rally-inthe-sahara.

To learn more about stem cell research at the University of Cambridge, visit stemcells.cam.ac.uk.

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