From biology to bedside: my journey into research nursing

From biology to bedside: my journey into research nursingIn this guest post, Emily Ashworth shares her career path, from graduating with a nursing degree to pursuing a PhD in blast injury. 


I can’t confess I always wanted to be a nurse, in fact, it was never a career path I considered. It is safe to say my progression in nursing has never been linear…

I had hit a crossroads after the first year of my biology degree and realised that instead of studying a broad subject I’d rather choose a more specific topic that suited me. I thought back to what I enjoyed when I was younger and remembered an experience at the Natural History Museum; when my parents left me for hours to wander the museum while I played with the human body exhibit, which had me captivated. (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…)

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…)

Do we need to think differently about COPD?

COPD
The internal structure of the lungs by Dave Farnham (CC BY 4.0)

Ann Morgan, a PhD student at the National Heart and Lung Institute, gives us her thoughts on why smoking isn’t the only culprit behind the rise in COPD. 


The traditional view of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is that it is a self-inflicted disease caused by smoking. However, it is increasingly likely that this description is something of an oversimplification. While still very much associated with smoking, clinicians and researchers alike are getting to grips with the reality that COPD is a more complex and heterogeneous disease than previously thought. We are also becoming more aware of the fact that it is a disease which rarely occurs in isolation. The vast majority of people who present with COPD have at least one other co-existing disease or condition, and around 50% have four or more accompanying chronic diseases or ‘comorbidities’. (more…)

Rare diseases: the hidden priority of scientific research

For Rare Disease Day, Professors Uta Griesenbach and Eric Alton tell us why rare diseases are the hidden priority of scientific research.

A rare disease, also known as an orphan disease, affects by definition less than five in 10,000 (or 0.05%) of the general population.

Hence the question arises: why a disease as rare as 0.05% of the population presents a good investment of research funding? We think the answer is simple and importantly the math adds up. Here are some facts, based on raredisease.org.uk: (more…)

Encephalitis: the rare disease with a million implications

 

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…)

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

However cell death is not always so orderly. Some cells suffer premature death known as necrosis, where they burst open for various reasons such as infection, physical trauma or extreme temperatures. As the cell’s contents are released into the open, an inflammatory response is triggered. Studies are ongoing to establish the many mechanisms by which this process occurs. For example, it is known that proteins on the surface of immune cells, called pattern recognition receptors or PRRs, detect the material released by dying cells, and trigger the expression of genes leading to the release of inflammatory substances. When an infection occurs, the immune response is usually short-lived as it rapidly kills the infection. However, when cell necrosis and subsequent inflammation occurs over a longer period, the substances released by macrophages – that have migrated in to engulf the dying cells – can damage the surrounding tissue, resulting in a build-up of dead cells.

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How a little Mo effort can make a big difference

It’s that time of the year again, when men grow moustaches around the globe. It all started in 2003, when two guys in Australia had the idea to make moustache-growing fashionable again. For a greater cause, they made this campaign about men’s health and established the Movember Foundation. As you may know, the campaign became an international phenomenon, attracting over 300,000 participants in more than 20 countries in 2016.

The Movember Foundation is now a global charity with one mission: “Stop men dying too young”. To achieve this, they are raising awareness and funds for three issues affecting men’s health; prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health. Here in the UK, the Movember Foundation has been working together with Prostate Cancer UK – the only charity that exists solely for prostate cancer – investing over £21 million in prostate cancer research between 2012 and 2015.

The prostate is a male-specific organ that sits just beneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra – this location is the reason so many symptoms of prostate disease affect the ability to urinate. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate grow and divide out of control. In the UK, prostate cancer is the most common cancer amongst men and expected to affect 1 in 8 men during their lifetime. The word ‘cancer’ sounds frightening, but it needn’t be for all cases of prostate cancer. When diagnosed at the earliest stage, virtually all men survive beyond 5 years. However, when diagnosed at the latest stage (advanced prostate cancer) only 30% of men survive beyond 5 years, indicating early detection is key. (more…)

Understanding our achy breaky hearts

Broken heart syndrome, officially known as takotsubo syndrome, is an acute type of heart failure, where the bottom of the heart stops beating in situations of extreme stress. A condition predominantly affecting post-menopausal women, it has been dubbed broken heart syndrome owing to the frequent occurrence during bereavement after the loss of a loved one. However, this is just one example of the various circumstances in which takotsubo syndrome can occur. Indeed, any stressful event can lead to a surge in adrenaline which can result in takotsubo syndrome. This could be physical or emotional, and includes trauma such as car accidents, drug abuse, and even happy events such as weddings!

This varied list of triggers and the association with a ‘broken heart’ has attracted interest from the media. Furthermore, the specific localisation of the poorly contracting region of the heart and patient demographics are also very interesting from a research standpoint. Often when describing my PhD, the concept of a ‘broken heart’ understandably resonates with people. (more…)

World Osteoporosis Day: love your bones!

As a young girl I spent many long afternoons in piano lessons.

Years later, I remember very little from the lessons – but I do vividly remember the teacher. She was very strict, had hair like candy floss and a severe hunch. She always made the lessons run long, but she would give me a chocolate bar if I helped her hang out her washing afterwards. She needed my help because she couldn’t reach the washing line anymore. One day I asked my mum why she had a hunched back and she told me it was because she had osteoporosis. At the time I didn’t really comprehend what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good. One day she fell and broke her hip, and sadly, not long after that she passed away.  As you read my story, I am sure it sounds familiar to a lot of you. Maybe not with a piano teacher, but with a relative, family friend or neighbour. The reason I say that is due to the rising prevalence of osteoporosis – one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 are affected. (more…)