Blog posts

How are people with respiratory conditions impacted by measures to reduce risk of COVID-19?

Dr Keir Philip discusses how people with long term respiratory conditions have been impacted by measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and whether online singing groups could help.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic draws on, effects are being felt by everyone, not just those who have been infected with the virus. From schools to offices, restaurants to gyms, many aspects of ‘normal’ have been closed, stopped, or undergone major adaptations. These societal and healthcare disruptions will affect people differently, with certain groups of people, such as those with respiratory conditions, potentially more vulnerable.

Over the last few months I have been working with Dr Nicholas Hopkinson (Respiratory Consultant, NHLI Academic, and Medical Director of the British Lung Foundation(BLF)), Dr Bradley Lonergan (Internal Medicine Trainee) in collaboration with the Asthma UK-BLF partnership, to try to understand how people with long term respiratory conditions have been impacted by measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

Our research published today in BMJ Open explores the findings of a large UK wide survey conducted at the height of the first wave. We found that measures to reduce risk of COVID-19, such as social distancing and changes to healthcare provision, were having profound impacts on people with long term respiratory conditions. These included cancellations of appointments, investigations, and vital aspects of their care such as pulmonary rehabilitation. (more…)

Researching remote medicine from our own homes

Student group pictured on a field trip to the Brecon Beacons pre-Covid-19

Our BSc in Remote Medicine for intercalating medical students focuses on exploring medicine in remote and low-resource environments.

Normally students would have an opportunity to travel to the Nepali Himalayas to carry out a research project. With the expedition cancelled due to Covid-19, four remote medicine students discuss how they adapted their research projects.


Carmen

For my original research project, I chose to investigate sleep during an expedition to high altitude. Previous research has shown that human error is the leading cause of mountaineering accidents and at sea-level, sleep deprivation increases the risk of accidents due to human error. Therefore, my aim was to determine the contribution of the mountaineering environment to poor sleep and impaired cognitive performance on an expedition to altitude – using a reaction time application as a surrogate marker for cognitive function. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 the planned expedition to Nepal was cancelled and so I devised a pilot study to test the reaction time application I wanted to use at altitude remotely with a small group of participants simulating a night slept at altitude in their own homes. (more…)

How we completed our BSc research projects remotely

Three medical students reflect on how they navigated and completed their intercalated BSc research projects remotely amid the pandemic.


Ioannis Panselinas, BSc Translational Respiratory Medicine

Had someone told me back at the start of 2020 what the year would have in store, I would have probably said that they had stolen ideas from an Orwellian dystopia. Yet the world is currently in the grips of one of the most terrible pandemics in living memory. And among all the global disruption were us 4th year Imperial medics having to face a transition to remote working in the middle of project period. Unsurprisingly, lab work cannot be done from the comfort of our homes. So, as COVID-19 hit the UK, we were forced to cut short our experiments and were ultimately left with a looming deadline and a project to complete.  In retrospect, I think I can sum up my experience with the 5 stages of COVID disruption:

Denial, Bargaining, Panic, Depression, Acceptance. (more…)

COVID-19 vaccine diaries: part one, my first dose

Justine is taking part in Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial – here she shares her experience of receiving the first dose.


It’s a strange feeling that as I write this, the cells in my arm are reading a message that scientists planted there just hours ago. 

That message – a strip of genetic code – contains the recipe for making part of the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2. This is the ‘spike’ protein that the virus uses to lock on to cells and invade them. The hope is that by telling my cells to churn out this molecule, my immune system will launch an effective and lasting response that could make me immune to the coronavirus. 

That’s the theory, anyway; we won’t know whether this experimental vaccine works until scientists have carried out rigorous clinical studies and gathered enough data to be confident of how safe and effective it is. And today I was part of that clinical research. 

I’m one of 120 people who have so far been selected to take part in one of the earliest phases of a clinical trial that’s testing Imperial’s newly-developed coronavirus vaccine. As soon as I spotted that the trial was recruiting participants, I immediately slotted my details into the online form to express my interest in joining, and eagerly awaited a response. (more…)

Lockdown Hangover: The impact of COVID-19 on alcohol consumption

With reports of a spike in alcohol sales suggesting that many are turning to alcohol during these unprecedented times, PhD student Emily Palmer is conducting a survey to find out more about alcohol consumption and the potential public health consequences.


I blink my eyes open. Head is throbbing, suddenly I realise how thirsty I am and reach for the glass of water on my bedside table. Blissful saviour. Then slowly, the blurry memory of uncorking yet another bottle of wine swims to the forefront of my mind. This is my experience of being hungover.

Throughout my teenage years, hangovers were a ritualistic reprimand for a failure in self-control. However, throughout my studies – first in biomedical science and then neuroscience – I began to learn more about the science of the hangover phenomenon. My interest started with a project in my undergrad degree focusing on alcohol. Alcohol in the context of intoxication and addiction is widely researched, and there is no shortage of published papers. I was fascinated to learn how this widely used, socially acceptable drug ravages the brain and body. (more…)

My reflections on returning to medical school after recovering from depression

Thivyaa reflects on taking time out of medical school and how it gave her the opportunity to refresh her perspective and gain valuable life experiences.


To say that medicine is intense is an understatement. Sometimes it is so overwhelming that even pausing to take a breath can feel like a luxury we cannot afford. But as I have learnt over the past few years, the consequences of neglecting our minds and bodies are too dire – for both ourselves and our patients – for us to continue in this way. Here, I would like to share what I have learnt during my journey of recovering from depression, reflect on what it is like to take an interruption of studies (IoS), and highlight the importance of self-care.

During the academic year of 2018-2019, I took time out of medical school. The previous few years had been a disaster with regards to my mental health. I had become too unwell, but in an attempt to ‘be strong’ I had continued with second year, only to then fail. And so I was advised to have a ‘break’ and come back to repeat the year in 2019-2020. (more…)

Celebrating transformational changes in academic support within the medical school

Dr Kathleen Leedham-Green discusses our School of Medicine’s recent transformation in academic support.


The problem: some students working hard without reaping the rewards

Our medical students generally work extremely hard, so why were some flourishing, while others were struggling with the academic load or even failing their assessments despite putting in the effort?

In the words of one of our students:

“I’ve worked so hard. I’m exhausted. I’m a straight A* student. I can’t believe I’ve failed”

This was the question that was at the heart of the recent transformation in academic support led by Mike Emerson at Imperial College’s School of Medicine. (more…)

‘We answered the call to volunteer at the Lighthouse ‘mega-lab’ for COVID-19 testing’

The team of volunteers celebrating reaching 1 million samples tested. (Image credit: UK Biocentre)

Four Imperial researchers recount their experiences of volunteering at one of the mega-labs built to scale up COVID-19 testing in the UK.


Since March, the UK Biocentre laboratories located in Milton Keynes has become one of four Lighthouse Labs (the others are in Glasgow, Alderley Park in Cheshire and Cambridge) – the largest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history. Every day the team process and analyse around 30,000 swab samples from across the country to test for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. They use a combination of manual processing and high-throughput robots to inactivate the viral samples, extract the RNA and analyse them with a technique known as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to detect the presence of the virus.

The UK Biocentre labs were uniquely placed to help in the testing efforts, as in normal life they are usually home to around 30 staff processing and archiving clinical samples from hospitals around the UK. 200 volunteers across academia, civil service and industry answered a call to support with COVID-19 testing, including several PhD students and postdocs from Imperial. As their secondments draw to a close, we speak to some of the volunteers to hear about their experience: (more…)

Navigating LGBTQ+ discrimination in academia: where do we go from here?

Originally published in The Biochemist, Karim Boustani and Kirk Taylor discuss their experiences of being LGBTQ+ in bioscience, the various types of discrimination that LGBTQ+ scientists may face in academia and some of the existing initiatives and campaigns in place to combat this.


Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this article, we want to make clear that this piece is written from the perspective of two cis gay men and anyone reading this should realize that our experiences are not universal. Everyone within the community has a different journey and we cannot speak about anyone else’s experience.

We would also like to define a few terms that will be used throughout the article to help you understand the points that we make, although we would like to stress that, in this area, definitions are contested (Table 1). We use the term LGBTQ+ to refer to anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex, or anyone who is sexually and/or gender diverse. Sexual orientation refers to whom people are attracted to and form romantic or sexual relationships with. This can be to people of the opposite sex or gender (heterosexual), same sex or gender (homosexual), both sexes or genders (bisexual), more than one sex or gender (pansexual) or lack of sexual attraction to any sex or gender (asexual). Gender identity refers to how we subjectively perceive our gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex we are assigned with at birth. Society has created a gender binary, which includes expectations of masculinity and femininity, which is applied to sex, gender identity and gender expression (i.e. the way you express your gender through clothes, hair or makeup). It is important to note that some people do not identify with this binary (e.g. non-binary individuals) and some people do not identify with some or all aspects of the gender assigned to them. As scientists, we must also recognize that our choice of indicators for biological sex categorizations are unstable (on this topic, we would encourage all to read Professor Anne Fausto-Sterling’s “Science Won’t Settle Trans Rights”). Transgender (or trans) refers to individuals whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the expectations of the gender they were assigned at birth. Being trans is not associated with a person’s sexual orientation. Those who do not identify as trans are described as cisgender. LGBTQ+ discrimination may be based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. (more…)

My PhD analysing hundreds of poo samples from preterm babies

Dr Holly Jenkins provides an insight into her research looking at bacterial communities in the guts of preterm babies from analysing stool samples.


Every year in the UK, one in 13 babies are born prematurely. A premature birth is one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. It is one of the leading causes of neonatal morbidity and mortality – that’s why research is extremely important. I decided I wanted to pursue a career in neonatal research because of the amazing clinical and scientific work that is helping improve the care and lives of babies born too soon.

From 2015 to 2018 I completed my PhD in Professor Neena Modi’s leading neonatal research team, based at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.  The team is comprised of clinicians (doctors, nurses and midwives), scientists, statisticians and data analysts, all of which are researching different aspects of preterm and term births. (more…)