Nora Schmit was shortlisted for the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2019 for the following article on her PhD research on predicting the impact of treatment for hepatitis B infection on preventing liver cancer in The Gambia.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of cancer prevention? Maybe you’re thinking of not smoking or maintaining a healthy weight – great strategies to reduce your chance of getting cancer.
But did you know that the hepatitis B vaccine, introduced in the 1980s, has long protected children in many parts of the world from developing one of the most common and deadliest cancers later in life?
Although most people have no symptoms when they first become infected, the hepatitis B virus is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide. Large-scale efforts to tackle the virus using vaccination have been hugely successful in preventing infections in children. Despite this remarkable achievement, hepatitis B infections are still very common and nearly a million people die from its consequences every year. With around 6% of all people living in Africa currently infected, the death toll there is expected to rise even further.
But while a liver cancer diagnosis is nearly always fatal, treating the infection is possible with the same drugs that work against HIV. So why do so few people receive these drugs, when over half of all liver cancer deaths globally are preventable? (more…)
PhD student Philippa May reflects on being a scientist in the field blood cancer, from working in a leukaemia diagnostic laboratory to a research laboratory.
For the last 10 years I have been a clinical scientist in genetics working across various London NHS Trusts. Whilst I loved diagnostics, last year I left my job to complete my PhD. I worked in a part of life sciences called cytogenetics. This meant when a patient was diagnosed with blood cancer, I would analyse their chromosomes – the structures into which DNA is organised – from their blood or bone marrow to look for specific abnormalities. For some patients, this can lead to a definitive diagnosis. For others a refined prognosis, and in some, it’s simply a way of monitoring how well the patient’s leukaemia is responding to their treatment. (more…)
For World Hepatitis Day, Dr Ana Ortega-Prieto explains why she switched her research focus from hepatitis C to hepatitis B – a virus that continues its global spread despite an available vaccine.
When I first started to work on hepatitis C virus (HCV) for my PhD, the general conviction was that it was a dangerous pathogen with very unsuccessful treatments. In the past years, this has completely changed; patients used to endure one year of treatment with severe side effects, but can now expect just three months of treatment, which is generally well tolerated. The truly impressive part here is that treatment success went up from below 50% to well over 90%. This has triggered the World Health Organisation (WHO) to aim for the eradication of all viral hepatitis by 2030 – a very ambitious goal. (more…)
Dr Tim Hoogenboom, a Research Sonographer, looks at the promise and perils of machine learning in medical imaging.
Medical imaging is key in today’s delivery of modern healthcare, with an immense 41 million imaging tests taking place in England in every year. Thousands upon thousands of patients safely undergo imaging procedures such as X-ray, ultrasound, and MRI every day, and the product of these tests – the images – play an essential role in informing the decisions of medical professionals and patients in nearly every area of disease. (more…)
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.
Our first is Professor Gerry Thomas, a leading authority on the health impacts of radiation, who tells us why we should focus on the facts.
I was born in the 1960s and grew up believing that the word ‘radiation’ meant something that was infinitely dangerous. Back then, we were led to believe that nuclear weapons would lead to the extinction of our species, and that to be bitten by a radioactive spider would confer supernatural powers! I was therefore sceptical about the use of nuclear power. It wasn’t until 1992, when I started to study the health effects of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986, that I began to question whether my understanding of the health effects of radiation came more from science fiction than scientific fact. (more…)
The Government recently announced plans to create a smoke-free society by 2030 – Dr Nick Hopkinson outlines some of the steps towards achieving this ambition.
Tobacco smoking remains a huge public health issue. Although population smoking rates continue to fall – now down to 14.4% of adults – smoking is still responsible for around 100,000 deaths per year in the UK, and for around half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. Smoking rates are high in areas of deprivation, in people with mental health problems and among people who identify as LGBT.
The Government’s recent green paper, Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020’s, although in many areas light on detail, funding, delivery and ambition, does set out some important markers on smoking and some potentially interesting developments around funding tobacco control. (more…)
50 years on from the historic Apollo Moon landings, the race to Mars is on. With this in mind, Dr Matthieu Komorowski is examining how to provide medical care during long-flight space missions.
“The extension of life beyond Earth is the single most important thing we can do as a species” once said Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX.
Many other eminent minds have expressed a similar vision, including Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Buzz Aldrin and so on. They all argue that there are too many risks that can befall life on a single planet. As nicely put by Robert Heinlein: “The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.”
Could we possibly support such a bold idea ourselves? Is it more important to colonise Mars than to: improve our earthly existence, achieve equality and peace for all humans, protect our delicate environment, or cure diseases and world hunger? The argument is that these endeavours, as charitable as they are, all become meaningless if the following day life is wiped out from the face of the planet by a giant asteroid or a superbug. The long-term vision of space colonisation spans way beyond the blink of our existence and space advocates insist that in the long run, there are only two possible avenues: expansion into space or extinction! (more…)
Former British Army officer and current PhD student, Nadia Soliman, discusses the importance of leadership in academia and the lessons we can learn from the Army’s renowned leadership programmes.
In my opinion the Army and academic institutions are very similar: both are organisations that work globally, across cultures and are dependent upon their people doing remarkable things to tackle some of the greatest challenges. However, one of the stark differences between the Army and academia is how the two train and equip people for the challenges they face in their job. (more…)
Originally published on the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust blog, consultant geriatrician Dr George Peck explains how the Trust is ensuring better care for older patients, and how trauma medicine is evolving to meet changing needs.
Bringing geriatric expertise to trauma care
As a registrar working with consultant geriatrician Dr Michael Fertleman, I was increasingly called to the trauma ward to offer geriatric assessments to patients who struggled with multiple issues. Best practice is to give a patient with suspected frailty a comprehensive geriatric assessment within 72 hours, but the volume of patients we receive who qualify has grown so much that this cannot be done without having a consultant geriatrician embedded in the service full time.
As a result, I became the first geriatrician in London to run a dedicated, embedded service in the trauma department. I will sit in the multidisciplinary team meeting with trauma surgeons, go on joint ward rounds with them throughout the week, and see major trauma patients whenever I am needed. I also help look after our surgical rehabilitation ward, which is for patients who are stable but require a longer period in hospital to recover. It is very rewarding to be able to offer continuity of care to our older trauma patients. (more…)
Karim Hamaoui provides an insight into an innovative solution for the organ donation shortage – a technique that allows the pancreas to be preserved for longer and for better function.
The pancreas responsible for producing one of the body’s most important hormones: insulin. Since the first pancreas transplant in 1966, this procedure has revolutionised the treatment of type 1 diabetes. To date, pancreas transplantation is the only definitive treatment to render patients free from daily insulin injections and provide a better quality of life for these patients.
A key problem in the UK and worldwide is the limited supply of organs available and suitable for transplantation. The majority of pancreases used for transplantation in the UK come from a person who has died, and whose relatives have given permission for them to become an organ donor. To meet demand, the criteria used to identify suitable donors can be expanded from ‘ideal’ to ‘extended’ criteria. Extended criteria donors can also be euphemistically referred to as donors with ‘medical complexities’. They are normally aged 60 years or older, or aged over 50 years but with at least two of the following conditions: high blood pressure history, degree of kidney impairment, cause of death from a stroke. Unfortunately, complications are more pronounced for these types of organs. (more…)