Category: Department of Brain Sciences

A letter to our taught students and their loved ones

This is an open letter from Mr Martin Lupton, Vice-Dean of Education to taught students in the Faculty of Medicine and their loved-ones.


Dear Students and their friends and families,

My eldest son has recently returned to University in the UK and, even though I work in both the health and education sector, I have to acknowledge that I have a certain level of anxiety about him. It is very difficult to read the news about all that has happened during this time of COVID and not to worry.

I am telling you this because I want you to understand that I have some inkling of what you may be feeling right now, particularly if you come from overseas or your daughter, son or relation, has just started their university life. The first thing I want to say is “Welcome to the Faculty of Medicine”. We are very proud of what we have achieved during this global pandemic; the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College has been a key player contributing to the world’s understanding of the virus, the mapping of the virus, teaching people about the virus and developing a new vaccine. However, that is not all that we have been doing. (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…)

Eating disorders: why are they so important to study?

Around 1.25 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. Eating disorder psychiatrist, Dr Dasha Nicholls, provides an insight into this group of complex disorders and the factors that influence them.


It’s common for people to be dismissive when I tell them I work in the eating disorders field. Unless you have suffered from or know someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, the public perception, and indeed the scientific and clinical one often too, is that eating disorders are not serious. Of course, everyone knows of a few high profile people who have suffered or died from an eating disorder, but they may be seen as rare casualties of a celebrity lifestyle.

What many people don’t know is that most people with an eating disorder are of normal or even higher weight, that boys and men are affected too and that eating disorders don’t discriminate by ethnicity or social class. For most people, eating disorders start in the teenage years or young adulthood, but children as young as seven and adults as old as 90 can suffer too. The incidence in children has increased significantly in the past 15 years, for reasons I will speculate on more below. (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…)

How does coparenting influence children’s behaviour?

Ellen Grimas draws on her PhD research investigating the role of coparenting in children’s development and behaviour.


I remember a child psychiatrist saying during a keynote at a conference that the only mental health that mattered was child mental health. This made me think back to working at a mental health crisis house, where I was often struck by how many people said their symptoms first emerged in childhood or adolescence. Research tells a similar story, with recent figures suggesting that 75% of mental health problems emerge before the age of 18, and yet only 30% of people reported receiving proper and timely support.

This is worrying as there is a wealth of research suggesting that early intervention is not only beneficial for the individual and their family, but also for society as a whole. Childhood is clearly a key period in the development of our mental health, and also offers a unique opportunity to intervene. So, although it may not be the only mental health that matters, it is evidently an incredibly important component. In the context of an over-stretched NHS, the idea of low-level interventions in childhood that could help avoid the need for services in later life is a powerful one. (more…)

Back down to earth: From astrophysicist to desk-bound medical scientist

In this post, Dr Sujata Sridharan shares her career path, from graduating with an astrophysics degree to being a postdoc in brain imaging.


I’m not a scientist, not really. At least, that’s what I’ve heard countless times from my non-academic friends, and sometimes even colleagues. I’ve deduced that this belief dates back to my decision to take an MPhys in Physics with Astrophysics as my undergraduate degree.

Physics first

As a (comparatively) fresh-faced 18-year-old, I undertook my first degree at the University of Manchester, (somewhat naively) under the impression that astrophysics involved a lot of actual stargazing. My first year was a pleasant 60:40 split of lectures and laboratory-based work. Albeit the latter was rather generalised; at one point I remember making a hologram of a bronze Buddha statue for no apparent scientific reason. My main concern at that point was that I hadn’t yet bumped into Brian Cox, who had recently taken up teaching duties at the university in between – what we physicists considered – glamorous filming of the ‘Wonders of the Universe’ documentary series. (more…)

Challenges in motor neurone disease: from ice buckets to new therapeutic targets

Challenges in Motor Neurone Disease: from ice buckets to new therapeutic targets

On MND Global Awareness Day, Professor Jackie de Belleroche looks at how increased awareness and collaboration, alongside advances in genetic and molecular research, offers hope for the future.


Without doubt, the last few years have seen phenomenal developments not only in research, but also in public awareness of just how devastating a condition motor neurone disease (MND) is. There is hardly anyone who has not heard of MND thanks to Professor Stephen Hawking, well-known to the public as an outstanding scientist who was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 21. The ALS “ice bucket challenge” certainly caught the imagination of the international community too, as well as raising £88m in a single month for MND research across the world (it’s important to note here that MND is usually referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS] outside the UK). (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…)

Could gut hormones help make Dry January last all year?

Dr Tony Goldstone

In this post, Dr Tony Goldstone looks at the role of gut hormones in controlling alcohol addiction and how they may provide a basis for future treatment. 


After the excesses of Christmas and New Year, it has become fashionable for January to be promoted as a time for reassessment and resolutions. There are promises and attempts at living a healthier lifestyle, including stopping drinking alcohol (‘Dry January’), joining that gym, stopping smoking, and eating better. However, we know how difficult it is to maintain behaviour change over the longer term. People start drinking excessively again, put back on the weight they lose, start smoking again, and their attendance at the gym wanes. For people who have hazardous levels of drinking, and those who are dependent on alcohol, this is particularly problematic. (more…)