Blog posts

Leprosy in 2018: an ancient disease that remains a public health problem today

World Leprosy Day. Image courtest of Wellcome Collection.

For World Leprosy Day 2018,  Dr Tim Rawson explores how leprosy is not quite yet a disease of the past.


I have always found leprosy a fascinating disease. It is an incredible example of how microbiology, immunology, and social sciences can collide and impact significantly on human health.

Leprosy has been affecting humans for at least 4000 years. It has played a huge part in teaching us about disease caused by bacteria. In 1873 when Hansen discovered Mycobacterium leprae in tissue samples from patients with leprosy, this became the first bacteria to be directly linked to causing disease in humans. Since then we have developed an understanding of the complex range of types of leprosy that occur depending on how an individual’s immune system responds to the challenge of infection with Mycobacterium leprae. We have also observed the consequences of the deformities and disability caused by the body responding to Mycobacterium leprae, which favours human nerves and skin. In turn, we have seen how the appearance of individuals with disability and disfigurement from leprosy has driven stigma, misinformation, and the discrimination of those affected by the disease. (more…)

Could gut hormones help make Dry January last all year?

Dr Tony Goldstone

In this post, Dr Tony Goldstone looks at the role of gut hormones in controlling alcohol addiction and how they may provide a basis for future treatment. 


After the excesses of Christmas and New Year, it has become fashionable for January to be promoted as a time for reassessment and resolutions. There are promises and attempts at living a healthier lifestyle, including stopping drinking alcohol (‘Dry January’), joining that gym, stopping smoking, and eating better. However, we know how difficult it is to maintain behaviour change over the longer term. People start drinking excessively again, put back on the weight they lose, start smoking again, and their attendance at the gym wanes. For people who have hazardous levels of drinking, and those who are dependent on alcohol, this is particularly problematic. (more…)

How machine learning will transform the way we look at medical images

Machine learning

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…)

Death of a cell: the vital process of tidying up cell debris to prevent blood clots

In this post, Dr Anusha Seneviratne breaks down the conundrum of cell death and how this process protects our bodies from blood clots.


Your cells die every day. Don’t worry, your body is protecting itself. In a process known as apoptosis or programmed cell death, cells that are no longer needed commit suicide. Some cells are only required for a short time, they may be infected by a virus or develop harmful cancerous mutations. Cell death is also an essential part of development from an embryo. For example, mouse paws begin as spade-like structures and only form the individual digits as the cells in between die. During apoptosis the cells fragment into smaller apoptotic bodies, and their cell surface is flipped open to display lipid molecules called phosphatidylserines, which act as an ‘eat me’ signal to recruit cells called macrophages to engulf them, before their contents spill out and damage the surrounding tissue. This is a process known as efferocytosis. (more…)

Big hearts and giant genes: What lies at the end of the yellow brick road?

Upasana Tayal was shortlisted for the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Competition 2017 for the following article on her research into a heartbreaking disease called dilated cardiomyopathy.


“Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable”, said the Wizard of Oz. “But I still want one”, replied the Tin Woodsman.

Your heart makes you human, makes you love, and keeps you alive. In just one year, it will beat 40 million times, without rest or time off for good behaviour. A pretty impressive piece of machinery you might agree, no wonder the Tin Man wanted one so much.

And like many things in life, he may have wished for a big heart at the end of the yellow brick road. (more…)

Would you give the gift of a kidney to a stranger in need?

Kidney donations stranger

It is the season of giving, so we look at how kidney donations from strangers are giving kidney disease patients a second chance at life. 


As far as generous Christmas presents go, donating your kidney seems for many at the extreme end. However, for a few lucky kidney disease patients, this is the gift of a lifetime. Known as unspecified or non-directed altruistic kidney donation, this form of live organ donation is on the rise, and could potentially wipe the waiting list if more stepped forward. I met Frank Dor, a consultant transplant surgeon and Head of Transplantation at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, who has carried out hundreds of live organ donations. (more…)

Festive feasting: the good, the bad and the microbiome

Microbiome

In this festive post, Dr Anjali Amin looks at how to keep our gut microbiome happy over this period of indulgence.

As the festive season approaches, one wonders how our bodies prepare for the enormity of food that will be ingested in a relatively short space of time.  In the UK alone, the average person consumes 7000 calories on Christmas Day alone.  This is three times the recommended calorie intake per day, and most of us will have reached the recommended calorie intake before Christmas lunch has even been served. And of course, it’s not just about eating more. We are also a great deal more sedentary, with the average person in the UK spending 5.5 hours a day in front of the television over the Christmas period desperately awaiting reruns of Blackadder and yet another Christmas special! (more…)

How COPD patients can sing their way to better health this Christmas

COPD singing

Carol Singers (CC BY 2.0)

In this post, Dr Nicholas Hopkinson looks at the benefits of singing for people with respiratory conditions such as COPD.


Singing carols is a big part of Christmas cheer, but not many people realise that singing can also be helpful for people with lung disease. COPD is an extremely common condition – there are 1.3 million people with this diagnosis in the UK. Existing treatments help to some extent, but do not reverse the underlying pathology, meaning that even with optimal care many patients remain breathless with activity limitation and poor quality of life. This symptom burden represents a major area of unmet need. Singing for Lung Health (SLH) groups are a potential way for patients to gain skills to improve control of their breathing and posture, reducing symptom burden and enhancing wellbeing. (more…)

World AIDS Day: Professor Robin Shattock on the elusive HIV vaccine

To mark World AIDS Day 2017, we have published a series of blog posts to highlight the important and varied research that takes places at Imperial. Three experts from Faculty of Medicine share their interest in HIV/AIDS which spans from the elusive vaccine to the economics of the epidemic.


World AIDS Day takes place annually on 1 December as an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV and to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Where are we in the battle against HIV/AIDS?

The past thirty years have seen enormous gains. We’ve seen the development of highly effective therapy that today can ensure the health of an HIV positive individual for rest of their natural lifespan. We used to speak of HIV/AIDS as if they were the same thing, now you can be HIV positive and never develop AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Globally over 18 million people are now receiving life-saving drugs, preventing millions of deaths each year. Treatment also dramatically reduces the risk of passing on the infection. Excitingly, recent studies have shown that taking a daily pill (known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP) can prevent people from contracting HIV infection and this is now being made available in the UK. (more…)

World AIDS Day: Dr Katharina Hauck on the health economics of fighting HIV

Katharina Hauck speaking at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos (Copyright by World Economic Forum / Sikarin Thanachaiary)

To mark World AIDS Day 2017, we have published a series of blog posts to highlight the important and varied research that takes places at Imperial. Three experts from Faculty of Medicine share their interest in HIV/AIDS which spans from the elusive vaccine to the economics of the epidemic.


World AIDS Day takes place annually on 1 December as an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV and to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The role of an economist in the HIV epidemic

As an economist, my research on HIV takes a higher-level population view. We advise policy makers in governments and international organisations on the cost-effectiveness of preventive and treatment interventions in the countries most ravaged by HIV. By estimating the benefits and costs of interventions, we can identify the ones that promise greatest improvements in population health. (more…)