Blog posts

Governments need scientists to shape a brighter, evidence-based future

Dr Julia Makinde
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Our second is Dr Julia Makinde, an HIV researcher at the IAVI Human Immunology Lab, who makes the case for translating science into policy.


A dearth of advisers

A section of the nativity story portrays Herod the Great as something of a tyrant. A man who sanctioned an order to wipe out every male infant born in and around Bethlehem in a pre-emptive action to eliminate the threat of a new-born king. As difficult as it is to imagine anyone, let alone a political leader, endorsing the massacre of innocent children, the story presents an interesting metaphor of complex political motivations and the outcome of a breakdown in the process of policy making.

With vaccinations, climate change and access to healthcare taking centre stage in the global debate, the intersection between science and policy has never been more relevant. Whilst I started out in research with the desire to help create solutions to global healthcare challenges, I have come to understand that the actions taken to disseminate research outcomes are just as important as the process of discovery itself. (more…)

Radiation and human health – separating scientific facts from urban myths

Professor Gerry Thomas
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Our first is Professor Gerry Thomas, a leading authority on the health impacts of radiation, who tells us why we should focus on the facts.


I was born in the 1960s and grew up believing that the word ‘radiation’ meant something that was infinitely dangerous. Back then, we were led to believe that nuclear weapons would lead to the extinction of our species, and that to be bitten by a radioactive spider would confer supernatural powers! I was therefore sceptical about the use of nuclear power. It wasn’t until 1992, when I started to study the health effects of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986, that I began to question whether my understanding of the health effects of radiation came more from science fiction than scientific fact. (more…)

My mental health and academia: an open letter

mental health academia

As part of UK Disability History Month, Dr Catherine Kibirige reflects on her mental health journey and how she’s using her experiences to help others.


My name is Dr Catherine Kibirige and I’m a Research Associate at Imperial, based at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.  

I have a mental health disability. It’s been a difficult journey accepting this, and this is the first time I’ve publicly disclosed it. For a long time, I didn’t want to believe that I had a “mental illness”, or that I was disabled. The funny thing is, once I accepted these things, it’s allowed me to do better and to feel more capable than I have done before. Here in the UK, we’re currently celebrating Disability History Month. In celebration of this, I wanted to share my story and how the College has helped and supported me.     (more…)

Using co-production to improve the way we talk about diabetes

Our medical students are using principles of co-production to improve their understanding of living with diabetes – those with a personal experience of diabetes are encouraged to take part. 


The practice and expectations of modern medicine have changed enormously over the past 20 years. The internet, social media and smartphones have transformed how we access knowledge and data and how we think about healthcare. Tomorrow’s doctors need to be equipped with the values and behaviours to serve our increasingly diverse population, recognise and respond to our global obligations and to flourish in a 24/7 culture where the pace of change can seem relentless.

The reimagined Imperial College School of Medicine’s undergraduate medical curriculum launched in September – this marked the first major curriculum review in the 20 years since today’s School was formed. As the leads of the Professional Values and Behaviours (PVB) domain, we were given the exciting opportunity to work with colleagues across the medical disciplines to rethink how and what we taught.

We wanted to design teaching that will help medical students harness their creativity to find solutions to complex problems and to nurture their resilience and adaptability. We also needed it to develop their ethical reasoning, sense of professional and moral identity, and for them to value team working and collaboration. We have aimed to create authentic, experiential learning opportunities that will support deeper learning and encourage students to see the relevance to their future practice. (more…)

Working with HIV/AIDS patients was the highlight of my clinical career


Originally published on the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust blog, Professor Jonathan Weber, Dean of our Faculty of Medicine, shares the story of his career working with people affected by HIV/AIDS.


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.

Early observations

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…)

HTLV-1: Time to care, time to take action

HTLV-1

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…)

How reconstructing the past hepatitis B epidemic can help prevent liver cancer in the future

Nora Schmit was shortlisted for the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2019 for the following article on her PhD research on predicting the impact of treatment for hepatitis B infection on preventing liver cancer in The Gambia.


What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of cancer prevention? Maybe you’re thinking of not smoking or maintaining a healthy weight – great strategies to reduce your chance of getting cancer.

But did you know that the hepatitis B vaccine, introduced in the 1980s, has long protected children in many parts of the world from developing one of the most common and deadliest cancers later in life?

Although most people have no symptoms when they first become infected, the hepatitis B virus is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide. Large-scale efforts to tackle the virus using vaccination have been hugely successful in preventing infections in children. Despite this remarkable achievement, hepatitis B infections are still very common and nearly a million people die from its consequences every year. With around 6% of all people living in Africa currently infected, the death toll there is expected to rise even further.

But while a liver cancer diagnosis is nearly always fatal, treating the infection is possible with the same drugs that work against HIV. So why do so few people receive these drugs, when over half of all liver cancer deaths globally are preventable? (more…)

News worth celebrating for the cystic fibrosis community

Professor Jane Davies reflects on the positive news for those affected by cystic fibrosis on both sides of the Atlantic – access to Orkambi on the NHS and FDA Approval of ‘triple combination’ in the US.


Last week marked a milestone for people living with cystic fibrosis (CF) in the UK after NHS England announced that new drugs – Orkambi and Symkevi – will be made available on the NHS after securing a deal with the drug manufacturers, Vertex. After four years of community and patient organisation campaigns, I am delighted with this outcome which will be transformative for young people with CF.

There are over 10,000 people in the UK and over 100,000 worldwide estimated to be living with cystic fibrosis (CF). The condition is caused by a faulty gene encoding for a cell surface ion channel called Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR). Ion channels are integral for regulating salt and water transport across mucosal surfaces, particularly in the lungs for defence against infections and in the digestive system. People with CF have a shorter life expectancy than healthy people and a hugely burdensome treatment regime just to keep as well as possible. (more…)

What is environmental inequality and why should we care?

Charlotte Roscoe highlights the problem of environmental inequality and explores how potential solutions such as urban green spaces may help to close the gap.


Whether it’s standing on picket lines with Mind the Pay Gap signs, whether it’s the rallying cry of Black Lives Matter, or surging child poverty across the UK: one thing inequality probably doesn’t mean to you, is city planning. Yet over 80% of the UK population live in urban areas, and the built environment is unequally impacting our health and wellbeing.

Not all urban neighbourhoods were built equal

Urban neighbourhoods designed in the past few decades of vehicle priority tend to be the most damaging to health. Car parks and roads have swallowed up our public spaces, and despite government strategies to reduce vehicle emissions via charging schemes, vehicles continue to dominate our streets.

Perhaps you’ve read headlines such as: “Traffic noise revealed as new urban killer”, or, “Each car in London costs NHS and society £8,000 due to air pollution”. These shocking news stories feature robust scientific evidence from the MRC Centre for Environment and Health, that both traffic noise and air pollution are linked to ill health, and even death.

Newsflash – traffic is bad for us! (more…)

How research is helping to understand and break the self-harm cycle

Rachel Rodrigues sheds light on her research on understanding the brain mechanisms that motivate people to self-harm – can we untangle the circuits to break the cycle?


Many of us will know someone who has self-harmed or may even have personal experience of it. This isn’t surprising considering how common it is, particularly in adolescence and young adulthood. Unfortunately though, only about 20% of young people receive help from clinical services for their self-harm, and as much as 50% aren’t receiving any help, even from people close to them, meaning that they are having to cope with it on their own.

For some people self-harm could become more frequent and intense over time and coupled with it also being the strongest predictor of future suicide attempts, this lack of intervention for self-harm is concerning. The aim of my PhD research within Imperial’s Mood Instability Research Group is to find out why young people continue to self-harm. We hope to translate our findings to improve interventions for self-harm. (more…)