Celebrating our women at IGHI

Women at IGHI

It’s Women at Imperial Week, an opportunity for us to celebrate some of the fantastic females who help keep our Institute brimming with brilliance.

To mark the occasion, in honour of International Women’s Day, we spoke with a handful of women from across IGHI’s Centres to learn more about what they do, what makes them tick, and the females who inspire them the most.

Dr Jia LiDr Jia Li, Centre for Gut Health

I’m a senior lecturer and I study the metabolic behaviour of gut bacteria and investigate how these bacteria affect our health. I also teach undergraduates and postgraduates about the microbiome and metabolism.

What motivates you in your work?

There is a huge space for creativity in research. We can follow our own interests and be creative to solve research questions

Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

Professor Elaine Holmes was my PhD supervisor and then line manager for many years. She’s a role model to me. Throughout my career she has given me constant support and encouragement, especially at some difficult times.

If you could make one change to improve health, what would it be?

Huge efforts have been made to conquer obesity. One change I would make to reduce obesity is to raise everyone’s awareness of their daily caloric intake. For example, making it compulsory to add eye-catching calorie labels on food packaging and on the menus in restaurants.

Dr Kelsey FlottDr Kelsey Flott, Patient Safety Translational Research Centre

I manage a research centre called the Imperial NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centre. My role involves ensuring projects are delivered and making partnerships between researchers, NHS trusts, academic institutions and government bodies. I also maintain a research portfolio exploring patient feedback and how we can enhance its use to improve care quality. Most importantly my job is about taking the evidence we generate as a research centre and applying it for use in the NHS or health systems abroad.

What motivates you in your work?

Seeing researchers develop their questions and build evidence that has the possibility to transform safety in the NHS.

Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

There are many famous female role models, but the ones who inspire me are those I work with regularly. There are senior female leaders within our Centre who play the role of academics, clinicians and mothers all at the same time. What is impressive about this is not that they manage to do it all, but that they know how to set boundaries so that they can be fully present in each role when they need to be.

If you could make one change to improve health, what would it be?

If I had a magic wand, I would want to make sure all healthcare providers and patients could operate within a culture of respect and transparency. Without a magic wand, there is no one thing that will change the face of healthcare in its entirety: improvement requires dedicated and concerted effort between practitioners, designers, data scientists, patients and many more groups to address the problems of today and invest in the future.

Dr Saira GhafurDr Saira Ghafur, Centre for Health Policy

I’m the lead for digital health at the Institute for Global Health Innovation and also work as a Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare Trust. My work at the College includes a diverse range of super interesting programmes from cybersecurity in healthcare, AI and machine learning in low/middle income countries to working with national bodies to work on policy issues related to health tech.

What motivates you in your work? 

I’m very fortunate that I get to combine my clinical work, which I love, with the health tech world, which I find fascinating and exciting as a really important way to help improve patient care. I also get to work with an incredible range of people from the NHS, Academia, National Bodies and commercial companies which adds to a great experience.

Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

My mother – any success to date is a credit to her instilling good values, confidence and a sense of ambition

If you could make one change to improve health, what would it be?

I want the NHS to stop being used as a political football, and to see it given the funding and continuity that it needs.

Professor Kath Maitland

Professor Kath Maitland, Centre for African Research and Engagement (ICCARE)

Over the last 20 years I’ve been based full-time in East Africa. I lead a group conducting research and clinical trials in critically sick children in resource-limited sub-Saharan Africa hospitals, as a highly targeted and cost-effective means of tackling childhood mortality

What motivates you in your work? 

As outcomes for these children remain very poor, it’s my goal to design robust, large multicentre trials to generate high-quality evidence to inform management guidelines. Most recommendations in guidelines – even for the simplest supportive treatments such as fluid, oxygen and transfusion – are based on expert opinions, and not informed by clinical trials.

Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

Professor Janet Derbyshire. She’s was responsible for coordinating clinical trials at the Medical Research Council in respiratory medicine, tuberculosis and HIV infection since the 1970s and made a significant impact on shaping the MRC’s international role in developing clinical trials.

If you could make one change to improve health, what would it be?

I would like to see a reduction in the burdensome governance and regulation of clinical trials to help increase the number of trials being conducted. After all, most trials are being done for patients and not to patients.

Carmen Rodriguez GonzalvezCarmen Rodriguez Gonzalvez, Helix Centre

I’m an astrophysicist turned data scientist. For the last five years I’ve been working as a product manager in healthcare projects. My work at the Helix Centre revolves around translating research into evidence-based digital solutions that can help improve healthcare. I work in a truly interdisciplinary team of engineers, clinicians, designers and other researchers and, together, we develop smart, human-centred products that can make a real difference to patients and medical staff.

What motivates you in your work?

My goal is to develop solutions that will have a long-lasting, large-scale impact on healthcare. I’m excited about building bridges across disciplines to find the best solutions between academia and commercial enterprises in order to turn smart ideas into scalable products. Coming from a high-tech background, I’m particularly interested in projects that help fill in the current technology gap in healthcare.

Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

It has to be Marie Curie. She was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and the first person to receive two of them, in two fields: Chemistry and Physics. I admire her drive and vision to take her research out of the lab and find useful applications for it. During World War I she invented the ‘radiological car’ containing an X-ray machine which she powered with her newly-discovered element, Radium, to help treat soldiers in the battlefield. She did all of this against all odds, as an underprivileged woman in the early 20th century. Incredible, isn’t it?

If you could make one change to improve health, what would it be?

I would like the NHS to make better use of technology and data. We need better decision support systems to help provide the right information at the right time to clinicians, so they can make better-informed decisions. I would like to see better-connected healthcare systems that allow large, rich datasets to be investigated and give us the necessary clues for personalised medicine.

Dr Stamatia GiannarouDr Stamatia Giannarou, Hamlyn Centre

Operating on tumours in the brain is particularly challenging. State-of-the-art technologies that are used to help identify brain tumours have major limitations in the operating theatre or cannot provide complete tumour identification.

The aim of my work is to integrate multiple imaging techniques and robotic instruments during surgery into an intelligent robotic platform, to help more accurately define tumour margins. This will make characterising brain tissue more accurate and personalised, with the aim of making surgery to remove the tumour safer and more effective.

What motivates you in your work?  

The main motivation in my work is to pursue fruitful research which will be translated in the long-term to clinical practice and advance the outcome and safety of cancer surgery. This will improve survival and quality of life for patients, which is of paramount importance in this field. I’m also passionate about contributing to a highly challenging research area where we need significant advances in robotic vision to be able to navigate challenging and dynamic environments like the brain. Working in an interdisciplinary research area, I enjoy collaborating both nationally and internationally with engineers, clinicians and medical researchers to tackle major challenges in robot-assisted surgery.

Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you?

I am deeply inspired by the Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, because of her incredible courage and strength in her campaign for children’s right to learn. Determined to go to school and with a firm belief in her right to an education, Malala used the media to campaign for girls’ access to a free quality education. Despite an attack on her life, teenage Malala continued her effort and became the youngest Nobel laureate for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. I hope her courage and determination will be a vivid example for all of us to work towards building a peaceful world for our children, in which education and knowledge is everyone’s right and not privilege of the few.

If you could make one change to improve health, what would it be?

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer and fewer than 1 in 5 people survive for 5 years. Certain types infiltrate throughout the brain, making it difficult to distinguish tumour tissue from surrounding healthy tissue. But during tumour resection, it’s imperative to preserve the non-cancerous brain tissue, which is delicate and has little capacity for regeneration. I want to help solve these issues with my research.

The intelligent robotic platform I’m building aims to integrate in-patient and in situ diagnosis with therapy, so that the patient can receive accurate and safe surgical treatment at the right time.

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