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A breath of fresh ‘AIR’ in the study of lung repair and regeneration

NHLI researchers Róisín Mongey and Dr Sally Kim provide an insight into developing a new tool – the AIR model – for lung research and drug development.


Lung diseases represent a significant global health burden costing the NHS upwards of £1 billion annually. A hallmark of chronic and acute adult lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) and COVID-19, is lung damage. The lungs are usually capable of repairing damage but in some cases, this does not happen or the repair process goes awry for example going into overdrive and causing more damage. The result of this lack of repair or abnormal repair is persistent tissue damage and declining lung function.

There are almost no treatments available to repair the lung damage in these diseases. A bold, new approach to identify novel lung repair treatments for these diseases is needed. Unfortunately, there are several roadblocks to the development of curative treatments, the primary one being that we don’t fully understand how repair happens in the healthy lung under normal circumstances. The bottom line is that unless we can figure this out, it is unlikely that we will be able to develop successful new repair treatments. (more…)

Clement Price Thomas and a once-in-a-lifetime operation

Westminster Medical School – one of the schools that formed Imperial College School of Medicine – has been home to many pioneers. But few can claim a connection to royalty.

Sir Clement Price Thomas, student and surgeon at Westminster and one of the fathers of thoracic surgery, rose to fame after an operation on King George VI. Read on to learn just how challenging this procedure would have been.


The reign of George VI was a turbulent time for the monarchy. At the end of a brutal world war and the dissolution of the largest empire the world has ever seen, the King’s health took a turn for the worse.

Because of the King’s chest problems, Sir John Weir, the Royal Family’s doctor, called in a lung disease expert, Geoffrey Marshall, and chest expert, Sir Robert Arthur Young. After X-rays and a bronchoscopy revealed a malignant tumour in his left lung, the King’s physicians set to work organising a secret operation. They all agreed that Clement Price Thomas was the best surgeon for the job.

Setting up the makeshift theatre

The operation was planned for 22 September 1951 at Buckingham Palace. But the Buhl room clearly wasn’t designed for major surgery, despite the equipment brought in for the occasion. With the stakes so high, Price Thomas demanded that the palace install emergency lighting in the room. The palace agreed – and even moved the changing of the guard to St James’s Palace to make sure the surgical team were not disturbed by the noise outside.

On Sunday 23 September 1951, the room was ready and Price Thomas, his two surgical registrars and his scrub team set to work. (more…)

COVID-19 vaccine diaries: part two, safety first

Justine is a participant in Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial – here she discusses how the trial is progressing. 


“Am I immune?” “Could I be immune?”

These are questions that have been unavoidably circling in my head ever since I received an experimental coronavirus vaccine as part of a clinical trial led by Imperial College London. 

Every time I exercise, take public transport, do my weekly food shop, socialise with those close to me, I’ve been trying to quash this invisible shield that part of my brain believes might be there, shrugging off any potential encounters with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

I didn’t enter this trial so that I’d get a free pass to behave irresponsibly in the midst of a pandemic, which is frighteningly rearing its ugly head again in my home country. I always knew that immunity was never a certainty, having never been tested in human beings before. I was more confident that it wasn’t a dangerous thing for me to do, and certain that it was a good thing to do. 

And by participating, I have certainly helped to prove both of these latter points. I’ve had two shots of the vaccine, which works by instructing my cells to make fragments of the coronavirus, thereby prompting my immune system to react and, hopefully, keep a protective memory of the threat. I’ve had no side effects at all; not even a sore arm. The devil on my shoulder sort of wished for even a little redness where the needle went in, that I could wear proudly as a mark of my contribution to research.  (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…)

‘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…)