Category: Department of Surgery and Cancer

Providing medical care during a mission to Mars: science or fiction?

50 years on from the historic Apollo Moon landings, the race to Mars is on. With this in mind, Dr Matthieu Komorowski is examining how to provide medical care during long-flight space missions.


“The extension of life beyond Earth is the single most important thing we can do as a species” once said Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX.

Many other eminent minds have expressed a similar vision, including Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Buzz Aldrin and so on. They all argue that there are too many risks that can befall life on a single planet. As nicely put by Robert Heinlein: “The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.”

Could we possibly support such a bold idea ourselves? Is it more important to colonise Mars than to: improve our earthly existence, achieve equality and peace for all humans, protect our delicate environment, or cure diseases and world hunger? The argument is that these endeavours, as charitable as they are, all become meaningless if the following day life is wiped out from the face of the planet by a giant asteroid or a superbug. The long-term vision of space colonisation spans way beyond the blink of our existence and space advocates insist that in the long run, there are only two possible avenues: expansion into space or extinction! (more…)

There’s a whole world inside of you: a guide to microbiome research

Kate Gallagher provides an insight into microbiome research; a promising area of science that may pave the way for new treatments for a number of conditions ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to cancer.


You may be familiar with the age-old phrase, ‘you are what you eat’. Whilst I can assure readers that despite ingesting an inordinate amount of Reese’s pieces, you probably aren’t nuts, recent developments in research into the gut microbiome are beginning to tell us that the population of microbes inhabiting our gut may be much more powerful than we’ve previously given them credit for.

What is the microbiome?

The term microbiome refers to the additional set of genes arising from the diverse and unique array of microbes that have established themselves in a variety of habitats throughout our body. This is not to be confused with the term microbiota, simply referring to their names and quantities. These communities of bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeasts can be found in significant proportions in regions such as the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts, your oral cavity, and skin. Overall, bacterial cells in our body match the number of human cells at a 1:1 ratio, meaning the microbiome has a significant contribution towards our genetic diversity, harnessing great potential to aid our understanding of a number of medical conditions targeted by decades of research. (more…)

Think small: solving the global challenge of malnutrition by looking at metabolites

Dr Jonathan Swann’s research looks at thousands of small molecules called metabolites in an attempt to better understand a bigger problem of malnutrition and infection – a vicious combination.


Around the world, chronic undernutrition burdens the lives of over 150 million children. The effects of early life undernutrition can extend beyond infancy, stunting the physical and cognitive development of children. This stunting can often have wider societal effects including a decrease in the productivity and economic output of a community, restricting its overall progress. To make matters worse, chronic undernutrition is closely associated with repeated and persistent infections.

Such infections are common in resource-constrained settings due to inadequate water supplies and lack of access to basic healthcare. This double burden of malnutrition and infections can combine to drive inflammatory processes in the gut leading to malabsorption of nutrients and impaired immune responses, further exacerbating the malnourished state and persistence of infections. Breaking this cycle of undernutrition, infections and poverty represents a significant challenge.

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Leading from the front: what we can learn from the Army

Army leadership

Former British Army officer and current PhD student, Nadia Soliman, discusses the importance of leadership in academia and the lessons we can learn from the Army’s renowned leadership programmes. 


In my opinion the Army and academic institutions are very similar: both are organisations that work globally, across cultures and are dependent upon their people doing remarkable things to tackle some of the greatest challenges. However, one of the stark differences between the Army and academia is how the two train and equip people for the challenges they face in their job. (more…)

Why I’m running a marathon for dementia research

Dr Luke Whiley, a researcher at Imperial’s UK Dementia Research Institute, is taking on this year’s London Marathon, all in aid of Dementia Revolution.


To coincide with the launch of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI), the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK have partnered with the Virgin London Marathon to create the Dementia Revolution – a year-long campaign to raise awareness of dementia and the ongoing research that is happening throughout the UK. As a research associate based at the Imperial UK DRI, I will be running the marathon as a representative of the centre and its research.

I have always been a keen runner, but have never completed a marathon. When the opportunity arose to promote the exciting work happening throughout the DRI and to be a part of the Dementia Revolution at the iconic London marathon, I was very eager to get involved. The experience has been very important for me, as I have met many other Dementia Revolution runners at both outreach and training events, and talking to them, hearing their story of how dementia has affected them personally, has further emphasised the importance of the research that I am doing within the UK DRI. (more…)

How we’re ensuring better care for older people with traumatic injuries

How we’re ensuring better care for older people with traumatic injuries
Originally publishing on the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust blog, consultant geriatrician Dr George Peck explains how the Trust is ensuring better care for older patients, and how trauma medicine is evolving to meet changing needs.


Bringing geriatric expertise to trauma care

As a registrar working with consultant geriatrician Dr Michael Fertleman, I was increasingly called to the trauma ward to offer geriatric assessments to patients who struggled with multiple issues. Best practice is to give a patient with suspected frailty a comprehensive geriatric assessment within 72 hours, but the volume of patients we receive who qualify has grown so much that this cannot be done without having a consultant geriatrician embedded in the service full time.

As a result, I became the first geriatrician in London to run a dedicated, embedded service in the trauma department. I will sit in the multidisciplinary team meeting with trauma surgeons, go on joint ward rounds with them throughout the week, and see major trauma patients whenever I am needed. I also help look after our surgical rehabilitation ward, which is for patients who are stable but require a longer period in hospital to recover. It is very rewarding to be able to offer continuity of care to our older trauma patients. (more…)

Thinking outside the ice box: revolutionising pancreas transplantation

Karim Hamaoui provides an insight into an innovative solution for the organ donation shortage – a technique that allows the pancreas to be preserved for longer and for better function.


The pancreas responsible for producing one of the body’s most important hormones: insulin. Since the first pancreas transplant in 1966, this procedure has revolutionised the treatment of type 1 diabetes. To date, pancreas transplantation is the only definitive treatment to render patients free from daily insulin injections and provide a better quality of life for these patients.

A key problem in the UK and worldwide is the limited supply of organs available and suitable for transplantation. The majority of pancreases used for transplantation in the UK come from a person who has died, and whose relatives have given permission for them to become an organ donor. To meet demand, the criteria used to identify suitable donors can be expanded from ‘ideal’ to ‘extended’ criteria. Extended criteria donors can also be euphemistically referred to as donors with ‘medical complexities’. They are normally aged 60 years or older, or aged over 50 years but with at least two of the following conditions: high blood pressure history, degree of kidney impairment, cause of death from a stroke. Unfortunately, complications are more pronounced for these types of organs. (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…)

Why curing breast cancer isn’t a piece of cake

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr Luca Magnani unravels the complexity of cancer research, from recent advances in genomics to the power of patients in research. 


In today’s fast-paced world in which everything quickly rotates, spins loudly for your clicks and sights, deciding where to focus our attention is a decisive factor. When trends come and go at lightning pace, it is somewhat surprising that October is still Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’m glad we can still manage to stop and reflect on what this means. Last year we discussed how Breast Cancer Awareness Month has evolved in the era of social media and marketing. This year I thought we could be more optimistic and discuss when October becomes ‘tea and crumpet’ appreciation month. (more…)

You don’t need to be a doctor to change healthcare

HELIX design studio

Healthcare and Design MSc student Peter White makes the case for why we need to think outside the box when it comes to innovation in healthcare.


Have you ever looked at something and thought, “how on earth did no-one invent that before?” You know the feeling. It’s the one you get while staring numbly at a copy of Harry Potter – all the while wondering how the idea of a boy who goes to school went unwritten for so long. It’s the one people probably had when the first guy rolled by with casters on the bottom of his chair. Even Facebook seems like such a simple idea in hindsight.

Forget happiness or sadness or the feeling of ‘it’s coming home’. It’s this constant ‘so close yet so far’ that’s the prevailing emotion in my life right now. A perpetual reminder that, yes, I’ll never be Mark Zuckerburg, or even a Google elf for that matter. All this is compounded by the fact that, according to my shiny laminated ID card, I’m supposed to be a healthcare design masters student at St Mary’s hospital in London, a building so old it seems to look down enviously at the geriatric ward within. (more…)