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‘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…)

The unsung heroes of Bergen-Belsen

Group photograph of the Westminster Medical School students who travelled to Bergen-Belsen (Credit: Wellcome Images)

The 75th anniversary of our students volunteering in the war.


In April 1945, just before the Second World War ended, nearly 100 medical students from across London volunteered to support the British army. In this group, there were students from St Mary’s Medical School and Westminster Medical School, two of the schools that formed Imperial College School of Medicine. 75 years on, we want to share their stories and celebrate their courage. (more…)

What is neurodiversity and why STEM organisations should embrace it

Siena with Sally Phillips at Shine a Light Awards 2019

Siena Castellon, a 16-year-old award-winning autism advocate, makes the case for why diversity should be expanded to include neurodiversity.


Most universities have embraced diversity. They recognise that having students and faculty with diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives leads to increased creativity, innovation and productivity. However, most universities, focus their diversity initiatives on race, ethnicity and gender. Universities also prioritise initiatives that aim to improve social mobility, which is why many of the STEM work placements or summer school programs are only available to students from low-income families. Although it is important to address the under-representation of Black and Minority Ethnic students (BME), women and students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is just as important to include people who are neurodivergent – a minority group that is often forgotten. (more…)

Going with our guts to find new treatments: faecal microbiota transplantation at Imperial

Dr Ben Mullish and Dr Julie McDonald explore the ins and outs of faecal microbiota transplants – it may sound unpleasant but this procedure is proving to be an effective way of treating chronic gut infections.


Most of us can name (or may have had first-hand experience of) a number of different bacteria that can cause serious gut infections, such as Salmonella or Campylobacter.  However, what is less well-known is that we also have billions of bacteria living in our guts that normally do us no harm at all.  Some actually have important contributions towards our health – including prevention of bacterial pathogens entering our gut and causing infections.  Collectively, this huge population of microorganisms living inside our digestive tracts is often referred to as the ‘gut microbiota’.  If anything happens to us that disturbs or kills off members of this gut microbiota – such as exposure to antibiotics, or surgery – then we have greater vulnerability to gut infections, and particularly from a form of bacteria called Clostridium difficile. (more…)

Grandfather of allergy: Dr William Frankland, the 106-year-old doctor

Dr William (Bill) Frankland, aged 106, has helped transform our understanding of allergies during his long career in medicine. A pioneer in the field, Dr Frankland popularised the pollen count to help clinicians and patients understand what triggers their seasonal allergies. Originally published on the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust blog and reproduced here with permission, he reflects on his career and working for the NHS for 70 years. 


People often ask me, how is it that I’ve lived until 106. All I can say is I’ve come close to death so many times but somehow I’ve always managed to miss it and that’s why I’m still here.

I was born in 1912, six weeks early. My identical twin brother and I weighed three pounds one ounce each but we both survived – he died in 1995, at age 83. As an early baby, that’s the first time I survived against the odds.

I first encountered hay fever when I was a child. I grew up in the Lake District where my brother and I spent our summers helping a local farmer with his hay. One day, I told my brother my eyes were itchy and I couldn’t go on. “You’re feeble,” he said. It took me 30 years before I realised I had a real problem with summer hay fever and about 90 years to grow out of that allergy.

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Smoke and the burnout of muscles

Image: Shutterstock - SMOKE & THE BURNOUT OF MUSCLESFor World No Tabaco Day 2017, researchers from Imperial’s Muscle Lab provide an insight into how smoking takes its toll on our lung health. 


Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death and disease in the world. It is estimated that the society costs associated with smoking are approximately ₤12.9 billion a year, including the NHS cost of treating smoking related diseases and loss of productivity.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the major diseases caused by smoking. The disease ranks third among the leading causes of death worldwide. Around 1.2 million Britons suffer from the disease (Source: British Lung Foundation). The usual clinical picture is that of a smoker with symptoms that include shortness of breath and chronic cough. (more…)