Blog posts

Creating new opportunities for collaboration – pharma speed dating

On 30th January 2015, the breakout space at the Wolfson Education Centre at Imperial’s Hammersmith campus was buzzing with more than 100 dates between 40 Imperial academics from different faculties, and representatives from 7 major Pharma companies.

The first Pharma speed dating @ ICL event was part of the launch program for the Imperial Confidence in Concept funding scheme, and was organized by the Corporate Partnerships team. Jonathan Weber, Vice-Dean of Research and Imperial College AHSC Director said

“The Pharma speed dating event fits with our strategy to strengthen Imperial relationship with the Pharmaceutical industry and to provide young PIs an opportunity to have their first industrial interactions”.

Academics had only 20 minutes to pitch their ideas to company representatives and discuss common interest for collaborations.

Both academics and company representatives enjoyed a day of interesting and open scientific discussions.

Silvia Santos, a starting group leader at the Imperial MRC-Clinical Science Centre said:

It was very informative to understand what a therapeutic target is to Pharma companies and the path to get into having a potential interesting target. But perhaps even more exciting was realising how complementary our approaches in the lab are with some of the companies and start discussions for potential collaborations.”

Following on from the event, the Corporate Partnerships team is busy following up with several companies who have opened opportunities for collaboration with the College.

The Corporate Partnerships team is expecting to run this event again next year. If your company is interested in participating in the next speed dating @ ICL event, please get in touch with us at enterprise-fom@imperial.ac.uk.

Imperial College Students win the Royal Society of Medicine’s Norah Schuster Prize for History of Medicine

Norah Schuster PrizeThe School of Medicine are very pleased to announce that two of our 5th year Medical students, Zeena Mougammadou-Aribou and Sam Tindall both won prizes at this year’s Royal Society of Medicine Norah Schuster Prize.

This prestigious prize is awarded for the best student essay relating to the history of medicine. Zeena and Sam (seen below at the Award Ceremony in April) won the prize for the mini-projects which they conducted during the History of Medicine specialist course, taken as part of their intercalated BSc. They each received a £100 book token and a year’s membership of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Zeena’s mini-project considered a surgical procedure which was marketed in the 18th century for the management of teething in children. Interestingly, until the 19th century a large portion of child mortality was attributed to teething, which was perceived to be a dangerous period in child development. The surgical procedure was invented by a man named Joseph Hurlock and it involved cutting the gums of teething children so the teeth could come through unobstructed. Hurlock used clever and innovative marketing techniques to ensure that his procedure became widely used. However, these techniques were also controversial; for example, criticising the reliability of nurses and the effectiveness of other techniques used for teething infants.

From left: Dr Michael Weatherburn (Sam's project supervisor), Zeena M-A, Dr Emily Mayhew, Sam and Dr Neil Tarrant (Zeena’s Supervisor and History of Medicine course head) a t the Norah Schuster Awards Ceremony
From left: Dr Michael Weatherburn (Sam’s project supervisor), Zeena M-A, Dr Emily Mayhew, Sam and Dr Neil Tarrant (Zeena’s Supervisor and History of Medicine course head) a t the Norah Schuster Awards Ceremony

Sam’s mini-project examined how a strong focus on the Western Front during World War 1 meant that the Italian Front was overlooked in historical writing and therefore in public perception. The war took place in the Alps between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The terrain and weather conditions made this battle unique in many ways when compared with the rest of WWI. The injuries and ailments afflicting soldiers fighting in this region are therefore very different to those perceived to have affected soldiers at the time. This includes frost bite and the risk of avalanche in the winter, and lightning strikes and malaria in the summer.

The School of Medicine would like to congratulate Zeena and Sam on their excellent achievement and to thank Dr Neil Tarrant, the History of Medicine Course Director, and his team for all of their work on the course.

Nicole Barnes
Curriculum Administrator (BSc Pathways)
Faculty Education Office (Medicine)

PG Connections June Event: Professor David Nutt – Why Scientists Must Also be Revolutionaries

Dear Faculty of Medicine Postgraduate Students and Staff,

I would like to invite you to our next PG Connections Event which is on Wednesday 10 June at 17:30 (registration opens at 17.00) in Room G16 in the Alexander Fleming Building (South Kensington Campus). The highlight of the event will be a talk from Professor David Nutt, titled ‘Why Scientists Must Also be Revolutionaries’. As with all PG Connections events, the talk will be followed by a complimentary drinks reception.

Abstract

Most people think that the biggest problem to scientific and medical advances is the failure of funders, governments and the public to understand the value of what they do. I will demonstrate with examples from my own research career and those of others, that scientists themselves are often the enemy of progress and argue that we should always be challenging ourselves to think more creatively about the future goals of our disciplines.

About the Speaker

profnuttProfessor Nutt is the Edmond J Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and Head of the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology in the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial. In addition to his many career achievements (including sitting on a number of high profile NHS and governmental committees), he has published over 400 original research papers, a similar number of reviews and book chapters, eight government reports on drugs and 27 books including Drugs Without the Hot Air, which won the Transmission Book Prize in 2014.

The event is free to Faculty of Medicine postgraduate students and staff. However, we do ask that you register in advance to help us assess numbers for catering purposes: https://imperialmed.wufoo.eu/forms/pg-connections-10-june-2015/


Andrea Almeida

PGT Admin
Faculty Education Office (Medicine)

Appointment of Head and Deputy of Years 3 and 6 Assessment

I am pleased to announce two important academic appointments:

Dr Amir Sam has been appointed Head of Years 3 and 6 Assessment, with Dr Neil Mo as his Deputy.

Amir, as many of you know, is a Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist at Hammersmith and Charing Cross Hospitals.  He is heavily involved in education, holding a number of roles including Head of Curriculum and Assessment Development and Director of Clinical Studies at Charing Cross.  He also represents the School at the Medical Schools Council Assessment Alliance.

Neil is a Consultant Rheumatologist at Charing Cross Hospital, where he is also the Site Lead for Rheumatology.  He is involved in both undergraduate and postgraduate medical education, and has held posts as Lead for Simulation Training and Foundation Programme Director within his Trust.

Miss Susan English
Director of Education Management and Programme Director
Faculty of Medicine

Department of Medicine granted Athena SWAN Silver award

athena silver

The Department of Medicine was delighted to hear last week that it has been granted an Athena SWAN Silver award in recognition of its commitment to address the underrepresentation of female academics in university STEMM departments.

The achievement reflects the fruits of actions completed and the impact of changes made since the department’s Bronze award in 2013. The gap between numbers of male and female academics is slowly closing, and academic promotion application and success rates are now slightly higher for women than men.

From the start of its Athena SWAN journey in 2012 the department (headed by Professor Martin Wilkins) took a broad approach by setting out to make changes to culture and organisation that would benefit all staff and students, and “building a strong and supportive academic community” is integral to its mission.

Developments since the Bronze award include a thriving mentoring scheme that is now being adopted by other departments, an annual Welcome reception for all new staff (and informative Welcome packs), an Academic & Family Life panel discussion programme open to the wider College, a DoM Life website, promotion support team and an Early Career Committee.

Many challenges remain for a department of nearly 1000 people spread across six campuses: ensuring that progress so far is both embedded and sustainable, fostering a supportive and interactive culture, and forging a clear departmental identity.

Progress is driven by a diverse Development & Opportunities Committee led by Dr Jane Saffell and supported by HR Liaison Officer Mrs Meriel Cartwright. Within this, an Early Career Committee co-Chaired by Drs Amy Birch and Ed Roberts spearheads initiatives for postdocs and PhD students.

If you are interested in the work of the committees, or would like to see the Athena SWAN submission and action plan, please visit the DoM Life website.

 

Dr Jane Saffell
Senior Lecturer
Department of Medicine

Mental Health Awareness Week @ Imperial College 11–15 May 2015

Mental Health Awareness Week was created by the Mental Health Foundation and is celebrated every year from the 11th – 17th May. The aim is to get the public to talk more openly about the issues that surround mental health and to raise awareness of the issues people face. It is also a time to get people thinking about their own mental wellbeing.

MHAWThis year the theme is Mindfulness, which is all about focusing on the here and now; to forget about the past or worrying about the future, and only concentrate on what is happening in the moment.

To celebrate MHAW this year, the Equality & Diversity Unit alongside the Learning & Development Centre, Occupational Health, and Ethos have put together a range of activities, training and events.

During this week we also encourage you to wear green to support our campaign and take part in our twitter competition where we ask you to tweet us at Imperial_LDC a photo of your lunch break – the most creative lunch break will win a prize. To find out more about our #reclaim your lunch Twitter competition for Mental Health Awareness Week visit our webpage.

We will keep you updated with tweets, emails, newsletters and posters with ways you can get involved in Mental Health Awareness week.

Find out more on the Mental Health Awareness Week webpage.

Celine Jaquet
Operations Manager – Occupational Health Service
Imperial College London

Faculty of Medicine Fellowships Guest Lectures and Awards Ceremony 2015 – Tuesday 2 June 2015

This year’s Faculty of Medicine Fellowships Guest Lectures and Awards Ceremony will take place on Tuesday 2 June 2015 from 17.30-19.45, at the South Kensington campus. The event will incorporate guest lectures from the two new Fellows of the Faculty of Medicine and will be followed by a drinks reception.

The 2015 Fellows of the Faculty of Medicine are:

Dr Rino Rappuoli – Chief Scientist, GSK Vaccines, Siena, Italy
Lecture: ‘Opportunities and challenges for vaccines’

Dr Wendy Ewart – Former Deputy CEO and Chief of Strategy, Medical Research Council, UK
Lecture: ‘For Richer for Poorer? The funding dilemma’

Click here to register to attend this event

Student presenter prize for medical student Madeleine Openshaw

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMadeleine Openshaw, a 5th year student at the Imperial College School of Medicine won the Student Presenter prize at the Society for Academic Primary Care (SAPC), London and South East Regional conference in January 2015.

Her emotive presentation entitled ‘In Loving Memory’: the role of sentimental objects in childhood bereavement’ was based on research performed during her humanities intercalated BSc at Imperial.

Maddy will be presenting her work again in June at the Annual GP Teachers Conference for our community based Imperial Primary Care teachers.

 

Dr Joanne Harris MRCP MRCGP MA(Med Ed)
Deputy Head of Undergraduate School of Medicine
Imperial College London

Institute of Global Health Innovation April update

SAVE THE DATE! IGHI’s Annual Lecture – Evening of Tuesday 16 June, Clore Lecture Theatre, South Kensington Campus.

This year’s lecture will be hosted by David Meltzer, Professor of Medicine, Economics and Public Policy at the University of Chicago.  Further details to follow.

Other news

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Jo Seed
Communications and Events Officer
Institute of Global Health Innovation

 

 

School of Medicine and ICSMSU Teaching Excellence Awards for NHS Teachers 2014-15

awards

Nominations now open!

Teaching Excellence Award

Ten awards for Excellence in Teaching for NHS staff are made annually.  We welcome submissions for the awards from the four main teaching hospitals, the district general hospitals, the mental health trusts or the primary care trusts (or practices). The awards are open to all NHS-salaried staff, working in any healthcare profession, who teach medical undergraduates from Imperial College London or students studying for an Imperial master’s level degree.

Individuals awarded within the last five years will not usually be reconsidered but we welcome submissions for previously unsuccessful nominees.

Distinguished Teacher Award

The Distinguished Teacher Award is to recognise one excellent teacher who continues to deliver outstanding teaching over and beyond expectation and has previously been awarded a Teaching Excellence Award.

Supporting the Student Experience Award

Supporting the Student Experience Award may be given to one member of staff who has a primarily non-teaching role in supporting Imperial students within an NHS environment, who has shown an extra measure of dedication and has achieved excellence in supporting the student experience.

 

Please complete and return the attached nomination forms by 1 May 2015 to Georgina Periam, Faculty Education Office (Medicine), g.periam@imperial.ac.uk

Nomination forms and details of previous winners can also be found online at School of Medicine Awards for NHS Teachers webpage.

Call for Experimental Medicine Proposals 2015: NIHR Imperial BRC Institute of Translational Medicine and Therapeutics (ITMAT)

With the launch of ITMAT the NIHR Imperial BRC is pleased to announce an inaugural call for experimental medicine proposals to exploit ITMAT’s core platform technologies. It aims to promote and encourage the ‘pull-through’ of discovery science from the Faculties of Medicine, Engineering and Natural Sciences within Imperial College London into potential clinical applications.

The intention of this call is to provide seed funding support to pilot experimental medicine projects that are based on a workable hypothesis and can demonstrate reasonable promise of success. Our aim is to provide a boost to these promising projects, to provide the additional data and evidence that will support Imperial researchers to apply for larger, follow-on grants from other funders within a period of 12-15 months.

 

Applications should be made on the downloadable application form and submitted by 12pm on 4 May 2015 to brcofficer@imperial.ac.uk

View guidance documentation for this call

Find answers to Frequently Asked Questions about this call

 

What is ITMAT?

The Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics (ITMAT) at NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) is virtual institute built upon core facilities across the College and Trust. Its aim is to support the acceleration of fundamental discoveries into improvements in human health and economic benefit.

ITMAT includes platforms in genomic (and metagenomic), metabonomic and imaging technologies and health informatics, as well as the NIHR Wellcome Trust Imperial Clinical Research Facility (ICRF) and one of the largest tissue collections in Europe. ITMAT offers BRC co-funding for proof-of-concept studies across the translational divide, and postgraduate programmes at the interface of basic and clinical sciences. The Institute particularly promotes multidisciplinary research, pulling through biomedical applications from engineering and physical sciences discovery science, and strategic commercial partnerships.

More information about the core platforms of ITMAT is detailed in Annex 1 of the guidance documentation.

Child Health Unit update

A study lead by Dr Sonia Saxena  showed fewer complications and readmissions at specialist centres compared with District General hospitals for children having appendectomy: Annals of Surgery. Listen to Sonia talk about this research on the Imperial Podcast.

Liz Koshy has published a paper in BMJ open showing that tonsillectomy operations for children who have not had recurrent throat infections provide very little benefit: BMJ Open

We published a paper in that showed a halving in 5 year perianal surgery rates among patients with Crohns Disease who had sustained treatment (over 18 months) with immunosuppressant drugs: Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.


Dr Sonia Saxena MBBS MSc MD FRCGP

Clinical Reader in Primary Care
Department of Primary Care and Public Health

Services available at the St. Mary’s FACS Core Facility

St. Mary’s FACS core facility Who we are and what we can do for you:

The St. Mary’s FACS Core Facility is housed on the 3rd floor in the Medical School building. The facility is open to everyone and provides access to high-end FACS analysers, teaching and training, performs a dedicated Cat2 cell sorting service, and houses a MSD and a Luminex200 cytokine and protein analysis platform.

The cell sorting service usually operates during weekdays but we try to accommodate a certain flexibility in terms of start and end time. Your science matters to us and we’ll live up to this claim. Access to all of our analyser platforms can be organised on a 24/7 basis with college security.

As part of our service, the facility provides all necessary reagents (except antibodies and functional dyes) and consumables required to run your samples on perfectly maintained instruments.

Services:

Training is performed in the facility on our own analysers to enable users to operate the systems independently with high confidence. Training is free and we only charge the hourly cost rate of the analyser.

We help you with Panel design using our experience in colour choices in order to get you on track faster and economically more efficient.

Seminars on FACS analysis and sorting can be requested for small groups or departments.

CAT2 Cell sorting is performed in our facility as a full service using our AriaIIIu sorter housed in a CAT2 hood; usually Monday-Friday, but we try to be accommodating if out-of-hours/weekends are necessary.

We offer help on experimental design and data interpretation in order to help you reach your research goals more effectively.

Available cytometers: £25/h recharge

LSRII: 405/488/633nm excitation suite coupled with 6/6/3 detector emission bench

Fortessa A: 355/405/488/561/640nm excitation suite coupled with 2/6/6/4/3 detector emission bench

Fortessa B: 405/488/561/640nm excitation suite coupled with 6/6/4/3 detector emission bench

FlowJo: We provide access to FlowJo on a Mac and a PC for everybody using our cytometers for free as part of general facility usage

Cell sorter: £67/h recharge

AriaIIIu in a Cat2 safety hood: 375 or 405/ 488/561/640nm excitation suite coupled with 2or6/2/4/3 detector emission bench. Sorting onto slides, dishes, multi-well plates (max 384well), Eppendorfs, FACS and Falcon tubes. Nozzles sizes 70, 85, and 100um to enable all kind of cell sorts.

Cytokine and Protein analysis platforms: £30/plate recharge

Meso Scale Discovery MSD platform

Biorad Luminex200 analyse

Find out more at: www1.imperial.ac.uk/nhli/respiratory/respinfect/flow


Dr. Malte Paulsen
Head of the Flow Cytometry Core Facility, St. Mary’s Campus
Faculty of Medicine

Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) Networks of Excellence

Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) Networks of Excellence
Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) Networks of Excellence

We are seeking to support novel biomedical research collaborations across disciplines and departments. Proposals for pilot or feasibility work for high risk projects, to support collaborative cohesion, to test or develop new methods, or proof of concept studies are encouraged through this call. It is envisaged that the outcomes of supported work will then form the basis of a major grant application. Whilst funding is available to support any research within the remit of the Wellcome Trust, networks undertaking interdisciplinary research in the themes of Biomedical Engineering, Global Health and Development (including Epidemiology, Prevention and Control) and Infection Research (including Antimicrobial Strategies and Resistance) are particularly encouraged.

How to apply?

If you wish to submit a proposal you should complete the project application form and submit it to ISSF@imperial.ac.uk by the 12noon, 8 May 2015. As we wish to fund a range of applications, a researcher cannot be principal investigator on more than one application, though this will not preclude applicants from being co-applicants on additional proposals. For further information please email ISSF@imperial.ac.uk or see the Networks of Excellence guidelines available at http://www.imperial.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/funding-opportunities/internal-funding-opportunities/issf/

 

Dr Kimberley Trim
Research Strategy Coordinator
Faculty of Medicine

Faculty of Medicine Campus Director for the South Kensington Campus

The Faculty of Medicine is pleased to advise Faculty members of the appointment of Professor Zoltan Takats as FoM Campus Director for the South Kensington Campus. Prof Takats took up the role from January 2015. Prof Takats is Professor of Analytical Chemistry within the Department of Surgery and Cancer.  More information about Prof Takats is available on his personal web page at: http://www.imperial.ac.uk/people/z.takats

As FoM Campus Director for the South Kensington Campus, Prof Takats succeeds Dr Vania Braga, who completed her term of office in the role at the end of 2014. The Faculty would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Braga for her work in this role over the last 3 years.

A full list of the campus directors for the Faculty is available on the Faculty webpages at: http://www1.imperial.ac.uk/medicine/staff/keypeople

 

‘Calling for Change’ CQI Project – Competition Results at the UCL ‘InspireMEdicine’ Conference 2015

Martin Bamford, Ishani Barai and Claire Brash presenting. Image courtesy of UCL Photo Society
Martin Bamford, Ishani Barai and Claire Brash presenting. Image courtesy of UCL Photo Society

On 24 January 2015, UCL Medical Society held their annual InspireMEdicine Conference, designed to celebrate variety and innovation within medical practice and broaden the horizons of current UK medical students. Throughout the day, delegates had the opportunity to attend workshops that explored key skills and gave a taste of the career paths on offer, as well as garnering advice from such renowned speakers as Professor Jane Dacre, President of the Royal College of Physicians, Miss Su-Anna Boddy, Council Member at the Royal College of Surgeons and Dr Christian Jessen of Channel 4 ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ fame.

Our team of three current 4th year Imperial students completed our audit entitled ‘Calling for Change’ in 2014, to assess the accessibility and efficacy of the call bell system at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey. We aimed to improve hospital safety and inpatient experience and having presented our ideas to the Chief Executive and Head of Nursing at the Trust with great feedback, we decided they held relevance on a broader scale within the NHS. As a result, we decided to enter our Clinical Quality Improvement (CQI) Project into both of this year’s InspireMEdicine Conference Competitions.

We were thrilled to be selected for the National Finals of both the Innovation Challenge and Poster Prize and are happy to report that on the day itself we placed 3rd in the Innovation Challenge. This gave us the opportunity to give an oral presentation to the 300 delegates, receiving a £150 prize and one-on-one mentoring with UCL Advances (UCL’s Centre for Entrepreneurship), to consider the social and economic impact of our proposals and form a business plan. Furthermore, we were excited to have won the Poster Prize Final, meaning that our Abstract will soon be published in the PubMed indexed journal ‘Annals of Medicine and Surgery’.

Overall, we had a fantastic time at the InspireMEdicine Conference and would like to thank all of those who supported our project, in particular Annette Stanley and Darren Pirson (our St Peter’s Hospital Teaching Coordinators) Adam Hunt (the Innovation Challenge lead) and UCLU Medical Society, for arranging such an incredible event. We’d strongly encourage current 3rd year students to consider entering their CQI projects next year!

 

Martin Bamford, Ishani Barai and Claire Brash
4th Year Medical Students
Imperial College London

First ICL-Pharma Speed Dating event creates new opportunities for collaboration

Lynne Murray
Entrepreneur in Residence, Dr Lynne Murray

On 30 of January,the breakout space at the Wolfson education centre was buzzing with more than 100 dates between 40 Imperial academics from different faculties, and representatives from AstraZeneca, GSK, Lillly, MedImmune, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB pharma. As a result, follow-up conversations are ongoing, and GSK and Sanofi are coming back to Imperial to search for collaborations.

The first ICL-Pharma Speed Dating event was part of the launching program of the Imperial Confidence in Concept funding scheme, and was organized by the Corporate Partnerships team.  Jonathan Weber, Vice Dean (Research) said “The Pharma speed dating event fits with our strategy to strengthen Imperial relationship with the Pharmaceutical industry and to provide young PIs an opportunity to have their first industrial interactions”. Academics had only 20 minutes to pitch their ideas to company representatives and discuss common interest for collaborations. The event was also the launch of the new Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR), Dr Lynne Murray. “During my tenure as the EiR at Imperial, I will act as an advisor, mentor and trouble-shooter for translational and commercial research directions. I did my PhD at Imperial and I am absolutely thrilled to spend time with Imperial academics” said Lynne. Currently employed by Medimmune, Lynne will act as a confidential and independent advisor with more than 15 years R&D and BD experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry to provide advice on translational research collaborations with industry.

Both academics and company representatives enjoyed a day of interesting and open scientific discussions. Silvia Santos, a starting group leader at the MRC-Clinical Science Centre said “ It was very informative to understand what a therapeutic target is to pharma companies and the path to get into having a potential interesting target. But perhaps even more exciting was realising how complementary our approaches in the lab are with some of the companies and start discussions for potential collaborations”.

As a result of the event, the Corporate Partnerships team is busy setting second dates, and several companies have opened opportunities for collaboration with Imperial College. Genzyme opened a call for projects in inherited rare diseases that will be followed by a visit of their research team to discuss with short-listed candidates. GSK gave a presentation on their Discovery partnerships with Academia and Fast Track challenges, on 23 March at the Wolfson education centre on the Hammersmith campus.

All these calls are advertised through different channels including Faculty mailing lists, and research managers.

If you have any questions about these initiatives or you would like to discuss potential industrial collaborations, please get in touch with the Corporate Partnerships team at enterprise-fom@imperial.ac.uk.

 

Dr Alexandra Esteras-Chopo
Corporate Partnerships Associate
Faculty of Medicine

Academic Foundation Programme – the great success of Imperial Students

med studentsImperial’s final year medical students have achieved an outstanding result with 62 students attaining a place on the Academic Foundation Programme (AFP) for 2015/16. This is the second highest number of students from any UK Medical School and reflects the success of the strong academic focus of the Imperial College medical programme. This compares with 42 students getting an AFP in 2014/15, and 49 the year prior. Of the 62 students, 32 will be staying in London, 10 will go to Oxford, 2 to Cambridge, 10 to the Midlands and the others dispersed over the country.

The AFP offers the brightest and most academically able newly qualified doctors an opportunity to develop research, teaching, and leadership/management skills in addition to the competences outlined in the Foundation Programme Curriculum over a two year period. The AFP was established as a stream within the Foundation Programme with the aim to increase the opportunities available for the most junior doctors to gain access to research training alongside gaining their basic clinical competencies. About 6% (approximately 480 posts) of all Foundation Posts in the UK are AFP.

AFP trainees usually undertake a 4 month research placement in their second year, and many are successful in presenting at conferences and getting published.  Several doctors who complete the Academic Foundation Programme go onto secure Academic Clinical Fellowships and follow the academic pathway.

At Imperial, we have always encouraged our medical students to apply for the AFP. A key USP of Imperial students is their academic ability and we believe that the AFP offers an unparalleled opportunity to develop academic skills that would facilitate easier entry into the Integrated Academic Training Pathway.

Application to the AFP is very competitive and applicants are interviewed if shortlisted (unlike applicants to the standard Foundation Programme.) Imperial has taken the view that if a student is keen on an academic path then they need to start thinking early during their medical school career about how to be in a position to provide evidence of their experience in, and commitment to, research, leadership and/or medical education by the time they are applying in their final year.

 

Date for your diaries: Next Annual NW Thames Academic Foundation Symposium – Wednesday 8h July from 18.30 in the Drewe lecture theatre, Reynolds Building, Charing Cross Hospital.  

For more information about the Academic Foundation Programme please refer to the UKFPO website or contact Prof Liz Lightstone, Reader in Renal Medicine and Academic Director, NW Thames Foundation School.

 

Philipa Shallard
Foundation School/Undergraduate Services Manager
Faculty of Medicine

Not so conserved after all – Multiple independent losses of the piRNAs in nematodes revealed

A new study carried out by Peter Sarkies (Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance & Evolution) in collaboration with Eric Miska (Gurdon Institute, Cambridge) reveals astonishing insights into the evolution of transposon-silencing mechanisms in nematode worms. Transposons are “selfish” DNA pieces that insert themselves into the genome. Like a computer virus, they copy themselves and proliferate, which can disrupt essential gene functions. Because transposons are so disruptive, there is huge selective pressure on organisms to silence them and stop them spreading. Organisms have evolved ingenious ways to suppress transposon activity, especially in the reproductive cells, where a transposition event affects subsequent generations. The front line of defence against transposons in most animals, from nematode worms to humans, are tiny sequences of RNA, known as Piwi interacting small RNAs (piRNAs). These piRNAs patrol the genome, seeking out and controlling transposons.

PrintThe phylum-wide study, published this week in PLOS Biology, sheds light on a highly dynamic evolutionary history, which was completely unexpected, whereby this broadly conserved transposon-silencing system has been lost in nematodes on several occasions. The study shows that piRNAs have been completely lost in four of the five nematode groups, or clades. Only Clade V, to which the lab model Caenorhabditis elegans belongs, use the piRNA pathway. In the absence of piRNAs, nematodes use a diversity of other mechanisms to control transposons. The authors suggest that the piRNA pathway was present in the most ancestral ur-nematode, but then independently lost in other nematode lineages.

However, nematodes without this piRNA pathway are not riddled with transposons, but have evolved two other pathways that control transposons in nematodes. One is a novel transposon-silencing pathway known as 22G-RNAs. This was found in three clades (Clades III, IV and V). The other is an ancient pathway, dependent on RNA-directed DNA methylation, which is found in the oldest nematode clades (Clades I and II). It is also found in plants and fungi, but has been lost in most animals. This finding begs the intriguing question: Might this be the ancestral mechanism of transposon silencing in animals?

“It’s completely unprecedented and shocking to see so many independent losses of the piRNA pathway across a single phylum. There are no other examples of that in the animal kingdom that we know of,” says Peter Sarkies from the CSC’s Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution Group. If we can understand the selective forces that led to piRNAs being lost, says Sarkies, we might be able to get some insight into why transposable element proliferation is something that occurs more frequently in cancer. In addition, we might be able to design new treatment against parasitic nematodes, such as filarial nematodesresponsible for elephantiasis and river blindness, he adds.

The work was carried out in collaboration with, among others, Eric Miska from the University of Cambridge, and Murray Selkirk from Imperial College London.

Peter Sarkies, Murray E. Selkirk, John T. Jones, Vivian Blok, Thomas Boothby,
Bob Goldstein, Ben Hanelt, Alex Ardila-Garcia, Naomi M. Fast, Phillip M. Schiffer,
Christopher Kraus, Mark J. Taylor, Georgios Koutsovoulos, Mark L. Blaxter, Eric A. Miska: Ancient and Novel Small RNA Pathways Compensate for the Loss of piRNAs in Multiple Independent Nematode Lineages, PLOS Biology, February 10, 2015, DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002061

 

Almut Caspary
Institute of Clinical Science
Faculty of Medicine

Two new grants within the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre

ERC Consolidator Grant

HajkovaPetra Hajkova, the head of the CSC’s Reprogramming and Chromatin Group, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant of €2 million. The grant will fund cutting-edge research into the dynamic character of nucleic acid modifications during embryonic development in mice. Elucidating these mechanisms will prove crucial to further our understanding of the regulation of epigenetic information in vivo and during reprogramming back to pluripotency in vitro. “Studying the mechanisms underlying reprogramming could enhance our understanding of epigenetic changes observed early in cancer,” says Petra. “I’m very excited about the grant because it will give us the opportunity to carry out some outstanding experiments,” she adds. Altogether 5 CSC researchers have been awarded one of the highly endowed ERC grants. Besides Petra Hajkova, these are Jean-Baptiste Vannier, Irene Miguel-Aliaga, Till Bartke and Amanda Fisher.

Imperial JRF

SarkiesPeter Sarkies from the CSC’s Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution Group has been awarded a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) from Imperial College London. Peter, who joined the CSC from the University of Cambridge in October 2014, says the funds will be directed towards in lab evolution experiments with Caenorhabditis elegans to study the interaction between transposon-silencing mechanisms and evolutionary novelty in real time.

“It’s going to really help me make the transition from being a post-doctoral researcher to running an independent group, and give me the support I need to develop an innovative research programme,” says Peter. “I’m looking forward to strengthening links between Imperial and the CSC, so together we can conduct cutting-edge research,” he adds.

Peter Sarkies is the CSC’s third Junior Research Fellow, Andre Brown and Tobias Warnecke (both from the Institute’s Integrative Biology Section) received theirs in 2013.

 

Almut Caspary
Institute of Clinical Science
Faculty of Medicine