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…)
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…)
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.
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…)
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:
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…)
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…)
Jenny Shelton highlights the potential for invasive and chronic fungal lung infections with Aspergillus fumigatus in COVID-19 patients and the dangers posed by growing antifungal resistance.
Virtually unknown just a few months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions worldwide. The pathogen responsible, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), infects alveolar cells in the lungs. Parallels are already emerging between severe COVID-19 infection and severe influenza. Influenza, or ‘the flu’, is also caused by a virus that infects cells along the respiratory tract and is associated with similar symptoms to COVID-19 but has a lower death rate (<0.1%). Studies have found that up to 65% of individuals hospitalised with severe influenza infection are co-infected with bacteria. A recent review found 9 studies, undertaken in China and USA, that reported bacterial coinfection in a combined 62 of 806 (8%) individuals admitted to hospital with COVID-19 infection and the majority of patients (72%) received antimicrobial drugs.
Another secondary infection associated with severe influenza is invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA), which develops when spores from the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus grow in the lung and pass into the bloodstream to cause sepsis. IPA is diagnosed in up to 19% of individuals hospitalised with influenza, with significantly higher mortality in the patients with IPA. (more…)
Dr Teresa Thurston shares her experience as a relatively new PI of looking after a new-born, homeschooling and keeping in touch with her lab during lockdown.
The pressure of the pandemic has been felt particularly hard by parents juggling work and childcare, often with fewer hours available for work. In some households, the burden of care work continues to fall disproportionately on women and this may be true for academia as well; journal editors have noted that early evidence suggests fewer paper submissions from women than men whilst under quarantine.
Every one of us has been hit by lockdown and many people are struggling to juggle work with kids at home. It has been more than 50 days since my family of five begun isolation. My husband came down with a fever and cough and went to bed and I picked up the kids for the last time. After telling our afterschool nanny not to come over, panic hit. I had no idea how I was going to cope. I was still recovering from delivering a 5Kg baby who was just four weeks old and now I was solely responsible for three kids and a sick husband. This was not going to be any ordinary maternity leave. (more…)
Professor Danny Altmann explores how the pandemic has offered new perspectives on his research, leading to new collaborations and engaging with policy.
If any of us ever wished for greater prominence, respect, or public understanding of our scientific contributions to society, this is not the way we would have wished to achieve it. For so many at Imperial working in diverse aspects of infection, immunity and global health, this has been a time of much urgent soul-searching as to how we can best bring our skill sets to bear on the problem most effectively, whether as clinicians, disease modellers, vaccinologists or basic immunologists. It’s hard to turn on a news broadcast or open a newspaper without seeing opinions from Imperial colleagues, clinical and scientific.
At a time when the mantra is ‘policy led by the science’, this is absolutely as it should be. We often have it ingrained as scientists to keep our heads down lest we be accused of showboating or playing ‘Johnny-Big-Potato’ by making inflated claims about our research. Yet, this is a time when it’s OK and even laudable to stick your head above the parapet: when it genuinely matters, and people genuinely want to know, what are these different types of antibody tests, is antibody protective and how long does it last, which may be the most effective vaccines. This surely is the time to step up to the plate, whether by adapting the research focus of our labs to the current issues, by communicating and trying to clarify the nuances, and of course, by remembering our commitments to our students and trying to work out how to keep them stimulated and scientifically productive despite lockdown. (more…)
Historian of medicine Dr Jennifer Wallis explores some of the parallels between 19th-century health concerns and the current pandemic, and introduces us to one of her favourite Victorian objects.
I spent most of Sunday afternoon sewing face masks out of old t-shirts, pretty inexpertly and with more than a few pricked fingers. In a recent article for the BMJ, Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and colleagues argue for the precautionary principle when it comes to mask-wearing during the COVID-19 crisis. They argue that ‘we have little to lose and potentially something to gain’ from wearing masks. A quick Google search for news items about masks yields a constantly growing number of results and questions: Who should be wearing masks and where? What should masks be made of? Can/should masks be fashion items? (more…)