Shining a Sheekey light on science

Introducing Eleanor Sheekey and The Sheekey Science Show – taking science communication to a whole new level.

The Sheekey Science Show looks at all sorts of science and longevity issues, from whether aging is contagious to the senolytic potential of fisetin. The recent video 5 most promising anti-aging compounds (for 2021) racked up over 31,000 views and Eleanor’s straight-forward animations explain a variety of scientific concepts and pathways in a format that is accessible and entertaining, but always accurate and scientifically detailed.

Longevity.Technology: Longevity communication is our thing; sharing ideas, promulgating theories, reporting news … this is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Science can sometimes be beautifully complicated and communicating it in a way that is both easy to understand and interesting to follow is a skill in itself.

We are delighted to announce that Eleanor Sheekey, who writes and presents the YouTube sensation The Sheekey Science Show will be partnering with Longevity.Technology. We were keen to find out more about Eleanor’s creative process and the inspiration for her show. 

Eleanor Sheekey graduated with a Masters in Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge in 2019, and she is now working towards a PhD in p53 and senescence at the Cancer Research UK – Cambridge Institute. “Lab by day, videos by night,” she laughs, although she also fits in time to sing in the Chapel Choir, play football and go running.

She has always been interested in science communication and wrote several articles for an undergraduate website while in her first year at university. “As a kid, I was always the one who wanted to write her own books, rather than read those written by others,” she laughs. “I was definitely a doer, rather than a reader!”

However, Eleanor found the choice of topics too restrictive, wanting to write about subjects which really excited her – and so, The Sheekey Science Blog was born. Epigenetics, CRISPR technology, what happens on a cellular level – metabolic and cellular processes – and aging … the world was her oyster.

Shining a Sheekey light on science
“For me it’s understanding the biochemical underpinnings,” Eleanor explains. “and understanding why cells do certain things and what happens when they go wrong. Then learning how you can use that knowledge to develop certain treatments.”

“Both the journal and the blog gave me a real creative outlet at university; I really enjoyed using writing to understand concepts, and then explain them to others, but I always drew a lot of diagrams, finding I could explain concepts visually, rather than just using words.”
The Sheekey Science Show marries Eleanor’s love of writing with her desire to express things visually.

“For me, my channel is the best of both,” explains Eleanor. “There is a written script for my audio, but the illustrations go hand-in-hand. I had always wanted to do a YouTube channel, and the blog proved to me that I could commit to an idea, but I just didn’t have the time as an undergrad.”
Shining a Sheekey light on science
Eleanor also says she suffered from Imposter Syndrome, doubting she had sufficient knowledge of the science to speak authoritatively. However, with an MSc and part of her PhD under her belt, the channel felt like a natural progression from the blog and Eleanor had the time to ensure it was done in a way that matched her vision.

“I started it in 2019, about a year-and-a-half ago,” Eleanor recalls. “For the first year it flew under the radar, but I loved making them and it was a great way for me to track research that I was interested in – like a digital record, rather than just taking notes, but also freely available to help others.”

The first video that had a measure of success, was Prime Editing: why the hype? Since then, The Sheekey Science Show is getting much more attention.

But how long does it actually take Eleanor to make one of her videos? “Even longer that people probably think!” is Eleanor’s answer. “There’s a lot of background research and then I develop a rough script and create the audio recording. Audio first and then the visuals, but I also have to pre-think what I’m going to draw, so I can reference it in the script, or make a joke. Once I have the audio nailed, there’s a sense of relief, and I can turn my attention to the drawings.”

“I have to edit it too,” explains Eleanor, “and probably, that’s my least favourite part – I prefer the audio and the animation.”

Originally, the channel was an animated version of the blog. “I wanted to keep the theme the same,” Eleanor explains. “It was that, rather than a conscious effort not to appear on screen, that led to the videos being animated. Not appearing myself is just an added bonus!”

YouTube is often about the cult of personality, but Eleanor lets the real star – the science – shine through. “I think my approach is unique for a YouTube channel,” she says “but it’s the one I’m most comfortable with. Science should be based on facts and evidence, not who is saying it. I try to make it fun and enjoyable, but also understandable. I’m always happy to take the Mickey out of myself, though.”

“I have special interest in senescent cells, senolytics, understanding biological age, different biomarkers, understanding how supplements and interventions are working… Combining all that with AI and using AI to understand exactly what’s going on in our cells.”

Eleanor animates with a range of tools, including a whiteboard app and JV animation software. “I could prewrite the diagrams,” she explains “but I find doing the lettering and drawing the arrows along with the script helps to keep the viewer’s interest and emphasise the science. And I can use editing to speed that up.”

“As for the production itself, I am always trying to learn better ways of making the videos, whether it’s through audio technique or animation, so it’s a continuous learning process, both in terms of the science and creating the videos.”

Post-Covid, Eleanor would like to include face-to-face interviews and visits to research and industry laboratories on her channel and is always looking for ways to improve science communication.

“You only have to look at the last year,” she says, “to see how poorly science communication can be done – all the fake advice and misinformation. It’s important to explain the actual facts and reach as many people as possible.

“Take longevity research; go back ten years, and the perception was all snake oil and nonsense. Now we have vastly improved biological data and results from so many labs, and it’s great to be able to share that information and have it in a way that people can understand, so that people can do what they want with it.”
Sheekey Science
So, what areas in the longevity space excite Eleanor? “All of it and the areas we are yet to uncover! Though I have special interest in senescent cells, senolytics, understanding biological age, different biomarkers, understanding how supplements and interventions are working,” she answers. “Combining all that with AI and using AI to understand exactly what’s going on in our cells.”

Does Eleanor feel that longevity medicine will become more personalised? “Absolutely,” she says.

“We all have different genetic backgrounds and live in different environments, have different upbringings, different social environments… these all implicate epigenetic marks.

Add in different jobs, different shift patterns and different chronotypes, and it has to be personalised. Whether you are a morning person, or an evening person and your circadian rhythm affects things. The relationship between aging and circadian rhythm is very underrated at the moment, and it’s something I’m very interested in.”

Eleanor’s PhD is on track to finish in 2023 and she’d love to be a post-doc, maybe abroad. “I love having my own projects and pursuing my interests. Academic research means you can ask questions and then test them. If you have the lab and the funding, the only limit to research is your imagination! I love academic research and I wouldn’t want to leave that behind.”
Eleanor Sheekey’s first video supported by Longevity.Technology will be on our website on Friday – don’t miss it!