Category: Department of Medicine

Back down to earth: From astrophysicist to desk-bound medical scientist

In this post, Dr Sujata Sridharan shares her career path, from graduating with an astrophysics degree to being a postdoc in brain imaging.


I’m not a scientist, not really. At least, that’s what I’ve heard countless times from my non-academic friends, and sometimes even colleagues. I’ve deduced that this belief dates back to my decision to take an MPhys in Physics with Astrophysics as my undergraduate degree.

Physics first

As a (comparatively) fresh-faced 18-year-old, I undertook my first degree at the University of Manchester, (somewhat naively) under the impression that astrophysics involved a lot of actual stargazing. My first year was a pleasant 60:40 split of lectures and laboratory-based work. Albeit the latter was rather generalised; at one point I remember making a hologram of a bronze Buddha statue for no apparent scientific reason. My main concern at that point was that I hadn’t yet bumped into Brian Cox, who had recently taken up teaching duties at the university in between – what we physicists considered – glamorous filming of the ‘Wonders of the Universe’ documentary series. (more…)

Blood transfusion in sub-Saharan Africa: 200 years on

200 years on from the first successful human-to-human blood transfusion, this procedure has revolutionised patient care. However, there is still work to be done in sub-Saharan Africa, as Professor Kathryn Maitland explains.


Each year, around 2.5 million units of blood are transfused in the UK – that’s enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools! Since James Blundell performed the first successful human blood transfusion in 1818, this life-saving medical intervention has made many advances to ensure its accessed throughout the world. An important part of this is ensuring that any health system has adequate supplies of quality-assured and safe blood for transfusion through national and regional blood transfusion services (BTS). (more…)

Capturing cells’ tiny messages: the emerging importance of extracellular vesicles in medicine

In this post, Dr Richard Kelwick explores exosomes – the tiny vesicles that may hold great therapeutic potential.


The adult human body is composed of around 30 trillion cells! That’s a lot of cells, and researchers are still figuring out the remarkable processes that govern how our cells are exquisitely organised into the complex tissues, organs and systems that make up our bodies. In order for our cells to co-ordinate and organise themselves correctly they need to be able to communicate with each other at the molecular level. Cells can communicate with each other using a variety of different ways, either by physically tugging on neighbouring cells, or by secreting proteins, hormones and many other types of signalling molecules. Cells can also send exosomes to each other. (more…)

Hope for a hepatitis B cure: the cunning virus that is outsmarting scientists

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…)

Reducing, refining and replacing the use of animals is crucial to respiratory research

Animal research

Dr John Tregoning explains how the use of animals in science is properly regulated and why it’s so important to respiratory research, which could impact millions of lives.


Respiratory infection is one of the main causes of disease and death throughout the world, claiming 3 million deaths worldwide in 2016. The symptoms range from the mild (a runny nose) to the extremely serious (pneumonia, hospitalisation and respiratory failure). These infections have a large economic burden both directly in medical costs and indirectly in working days lost. They also represent a potential risk for causing major pandemics; one hundred years ago the 1918 flu outbreak led to the death of 50-100 million people, significantly more than the whole First World War. There is a clear need to understand why we get sick after respiratory infections and critically we need new drugs to reduce the burden of disease. For example, there is an urgent need for a new influenza vaccine that could prevent future pandemics. (more…)

Challenges in motor neurone disease: from ice buckets to new therapeutic targets

Challenges in Motor Neurone Disease: from ice buckets to new therapeutic targets

On MND Global Awareness Day, Professor Jackie de Belleroche looks at how increased awareness and collaboration, alongside advances in genetic and molecular research, offers hope for the future.


Without doubt, the last few years have seen phenomenal developments not only in research, but also in public awareness of just how devastating a condition motor neurone disease (MND) is. There is hardly anyone who has not heard of MND thanks to Professor Stephen Hawking, well-known to the public as an outstanding scientist who was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 21. The ALS “ice bucket challenge” certainly caught the imagination of the international community too, as well as raising £88m in a single month for MND research across the world (it’s important to note here that MND is usually referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS] outside the UK). (more…)

The truth about HTLV-1: unravelling 30 years of misconceptions

HTLV-1

As the human T-cell leukaemia virus is discussed on the world stage, Professor Graham Taylor addresses the misconceptions surrounding HTLV-1.


Based on the number of articles published in mainstream media, and the number of interview requests I have received in the last week, it seems that everyone wants to know about HTLV-1, the human T-cell leukaemia virus, after 30 years of turning a blind eye. Why the sudden interest in a virus that few outside my field of human retrovirology have heard of? (more…)

From friend to foe: what drives MS to turn our immune systems against us?

For MS Awareness Week, researchers from our Division of Brain Sciences explain how their efforts in understanding the mechanism behind MS is driving the search for new drug targets. 


I have always been fascinated by how the immune system protects our body by identifying attackers and fighting them off. It’s a remarkable undertaking: it must recognise and protect us from any number of harmful molecules produced by a huge array of invading organisms. Sometimes, however, this system can go wrong. For instance, in the case of multiple sclerosis (MS), the immune system erroneously attacks the myelin – a fatty covering that protects our nerves – in our own central nervous system. This produces the chronic accumulation of demyelinated MS lesions that lead to the clinical symptoms of the disease. (more…)

Working together, protected together: addressing the challenges of vaccine research

Working together, protected together: addressing the challenges of vaccines researchAs the Imperial Network for Vaccine Research launches, Dr Chris Chiu tells us why he’s in pursuit of a collaborative approach for developing new vaccines. 


Vaccines have been very much in the public eye for a while now, with strong feelings expressed particularly on the side of those who are suspicious of them. As health and scientific professionals, we often try to provide a carefully balanced view but, in this case, it is vitally important that we remember and highlight the massive amount of good that vaccines have done for human health. Once devastating diseases such as smallpox and polio are now gone or almost gone. Vaccines have truly been one of the great triumphs of modern medicine. (more…)

Banking on brains: the quest for new methods of treatment for Parkinson’s

Parkinson's

For World Parkinson’s Day, Ben Tilley highlights how brain tissue donated to Imperial’s Tissue Bank is instrumental in finding new methods of treatment for Parkinson’s. 


My personal journey with Parkinson’s disease (PD) research started six years ago. It was the summer of 2012, and while enjoying the London Olympics and preparing myself to start Medical School at Imperial College London, my father was developing symptoms of PD. When the diagnosis was made I knew what my career goal would be; I had to study this disease and I had no ambitions other than to become a neurologist in the future. (more…)