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…)
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…)
As we mark the fifth annual World Polio Day, Dr Edward Parker talks about Imperial’s research supports the polio eradication initiative in a number of ways.
Imagine you are running a marathon. You have reached the final mile of a long and arduous journey. You turn the last corner expecting to see the finish line, and instead you see a huge vertical ascent. The finish line is waiting at the top, hundreds of metres above you.
Such is the plight of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In 1988, the year the initiative was launched, polio paralysed an estimated 350,000 people worldwide – roughly 1,000 each day. Over the last three decades, a globally coordinated vaccination campaign has fought the disease back to a few remaining refuges in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. In 2017, wild poliovirus has caused just 12 cases so far. (more…)
Originally published on the MRC Insight blog and reproduced under CC BY 4.0, here Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial and President of the British Society for Immunology, says we cannot afford to be complacent about vaccines.
As a clinician working in research, I want to improve peoples’ health. The NHS was set up to focus on treating people with disease. But how much better would it be if we could prevent people from getting sick in the first place?
This is where vaccines come in. As vaccinologists, we use our scientific knowledge to design new or improved vaccines to stimulate the immune system. This creates natural protection against infections and prevents disease. (more…)
Today is World Rabies Day. Christl Donnelly explains why giving rabies vaccinations is the path to global eradication by 2030.
The goal of this global day is enhanced awareness spurring further efforts to prevent rabies, a viral disease that kills tens of thousands of people each year mainly in Asia and Africa. Two years ago, international organisations – including the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health – agreed to an ambitious, but achievable common goal: to end human deaths due to canine rabies by 2030. In fact, ‘Rabies: Zero by 30’ is the theme of the 2017 World Rabies Day. (more…)