In April 1982, I was a young doctor with an interest in infectious diseases when my mentor, Professor Philip Marsden, mentioned a new disease he’d seen in New York, which was affecting young gay men and had all the hallmarks of a sexually transmitted infection. He suggested it would be interesting to look for this new disease in London and he thought St Mary’s Hospital might be a good starting point. So in August 1982, I joined Dr Willie Harris’ Praed St Clinic, looking at the immune system of gay men who visited the clinic, guided by immunologist Professor Tony Pinching and virologist Professor Don Jeffries.
I was fortunate to be able to work on my research full-time from early 1983, thanks to a fellowship from the Wellcome Trust; I had gathered a cohort of 400 gay men at the clinic and examined their immune systems. What my colleagues and I discovered was that all the men in the cohort had abnormal immune systems; they all had a low number of CD4+ T-lymphocytes and low CD4:CD8 T-cell ratios. They also had enlarged lymph nodes in their necks, armpits and groin, which is usually a sign that the body is trying to fight an infection. These observations led us to believe that all the patients in this cohort had an early manifestation of AIDS; it was a chilling insight into the scale of the unfolding AIDS epidemic. (more…)
Ahead of the WHO Global Consultation on HTLV-1, Professor Graham Taylor outlines three steps to prioritise the neglected cancer-causing virus.
“I couldn’t do anything for a week after I opened the letter and saw that I was infected with it. I saw H and thought I had HIV. I’d never heard of HTLV”.
It’s not the first time that I’ve heard this, but this was two days ago, almost 40 years since the report in 1980 of the discovery of the human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1). Sadly Janet* is joined in her lack of awareness not only by almost the entire general public but also by most healthcare professionals.
This weekend saw World HTLV Day marked for the second year, with the slogan is: ‘It’s time to care’. This is in response to a general perception that there is a widespread indifference toward HTLV. Hopefully this will change soon. This week, I fly to Tokyo to participate in a WHO Global Consultation on HTLV-1 to address the public health impact and implications of this little-known virus. (more…)
Dr Malick Gibani unravels the mystery behind the role of typhoid toxin in causing typhoid fever – a disease that affects around 11 million people each year globally.
Salmonella Typhi is a fascinatingly complex bacterium. Whilst there are more than 2000 different (sero)types of Salmonella, there’s something special about Salmonella Typhi that sets it apart from the non-typhoidal Salmonella serovars. It causes different symptoms, the means of spread are different and the host it infects is different – specifically, Salmonella Typhi only causes disease in humans.
Understanding the mechanisms of how bacteria can cause disease is profoundly important for vaccine development. The Vi-antigen that forms the major component of injectable typhoid vaccines seems to have a key role in making the bacteria more virulent (hence the name). Vi-based vaccines have proven to be highly effective tools to prevent typhoid. (more…)
Dr John Tregoning takes us on a tour of vaccination’s greatest successes, explaining how this incredible human achievement works to keep us all safer from disease – as long as we keep vaccinating ourselves and our families.
Nature wants you dead. Not just you, but your children and unborn children and everyone you have ever met.
It wants you to cough and sneeze and poop yourself into an early grave. If it can, it wants you your blood vessels to burst and pustules to explode all over your body. Put simply, Nature is trying to kill you.
And until relatively recently, it was really good at doing this. The average life expectancy of a human in 1900 was 31 years. I should already be dead.
But then science intervened with two critical innovations, clean water and vaccines, and changed everything. Clean water has had the biggest impact, but vaccines are a close second. (more…)
On World Malaria Day, Dr Aubrey Cunnington’s daughter spends the day at his lab to learn how his team’s research is contributing to tackling malaria.
25 April is a special day in my calendar this year for two reasons. First, it is World Malaria Day – a chance for malaria researchers and many others to unite to raise awareness of this dreadful disease which kills over 400,000 people every year. Second, it is “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” for my 13-year old’s school, and she has chosen to spend the day with me at Imperial College London. I’m flattered but I’m also worried, because she can be my harshest critic, and on World Malaria Day I want to convince her (and everyone else) that my research is making a difference against malaria.
So what will it take to impress my 13-year old daughter, and perhaps give her the confidence and inspiration for a career? Looking for help, I ask my research team how they would explain their work to a 13-year old. Despite worried expressions, they are all up for giving it a go. (more…)
In this post, Jennifer Shelton provides an insight into her PhD project which involves over 500 citizen scientists from across the world, in the hope of better understanding a species of fungus that is linked to disease.
It started by a poolside in Gran Canaria.
I was reading my book but thinking about the sticky films we use in the lab to cover plates of DNA that a former postdoc in my group had used to collect Penicillium spores for his study on the population genetics of ‘Alexander Fleming’s lucky fungus’. I’d already decided as part of my PhD to conduct a country-wide survey to determine background levels of Aspergillus fumigatus – a species of fungus – spores in the UK. I had put aside several weeks for driving around the country to collect air and soil samples, yet thoughts of a citizen science project kept buzzing. What if I asked individuals across the UK to collect samples of their local air on a single day, say summer solstice, and post them back to me?
Citizen science projects are increasing in popularity and rely on members of the public to voluntarily collect samples, process data or record observations as part of a research project. Some well-known examples include SETI@Home, which uses internet-connected computers to analyse telescope data in the search for extra-terrestrial life; Foldit, an online video game about protein folding and Swab & Send, a widespread swabbing exercise to identify novel antibiotics in the environment. (more…)
Ahead of the recent G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Professor Alison Holmes explained in an article for G20 Magazine why global collaboration is essential to minimising the impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on healthcare.
The world faces the unprecedented challenge of drug resistant infection due to increasing AMR. Concerted global action is needed to address this pressing and alarming public health issue. Without a strong, unified response, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be met, and valuable progress will be lost.
The need for leadership
The continued inclusion of AMR in the G20 agenda, under the leadership of Argentina, is greatly welcomed. This year I was invited to speak in Buenos Aires on initiatives to optimise antibiotic use, at the International Congress on Infectious Diseases, co-hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of Argentina. The ethos of shared learning and strong leadership was central in our discussions, and considered fundamental to effective action. (more…)
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…)
As 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…)
22 February is World Encephalitis Day. Founded by The Encephalitis Society four years ago, it aims to help raise awareness of the disease on an international scale.
In a nutshell, encephalitis refers to the inflammation of the brain. Up until recently, it was thought that encephalitis was simply either a viral or bacterial infection. However, in 2005, research described a new version of the disease: auto-immune or ‘anti-NMDAR encephalitis’, which is caused by antibodies that attack the brain tissue. In all its forms, encephalitis is incredibly rare: herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE), for instance, affects approximately one in 1,000,000 children. Although there are clear treatment routes available, viral encephalitis is incredibly destructive. The virus can cause irreversible damage in the brain, which will continue to impact upon a patient’s quality of life well after their short-term recovery from the disease itself. (more…)