Tag: Research

Outpacing outbreaks: how we’re making cheaper vaccines, faster

Dr Cleo Kontoravdi and Dr Zoltán Kis

When outbreaks emerge, speeding up vaccine development could be the difference between life and death. In this post, Dr Zoltán Kis provides an insight into how Imperial’s chemical engineers are making speedy vaccines a reality.


The worst Ebola epidemic in history swept across West Africa between 2014 to 2016, claiming 11,300 lives. This major outbreak was closely followed by the 2015-2016 Zika epidemic in Latin America. Preventing future epidemics is more important than ever and developing new vaccines are an essential weapon in fighting disease outbreaks. However, with the average vaccine development lasting 10 years, this is not comparable to the speed and frequency of outbreaks which can cause calamity in a matter of months. (more…)

Capturing cells’ tiny messages: the emerging importance of extracellular vesicles in medicine

In this post, Dr Richard Kelwick explores exosomes – the tiny vesicles that may hold great therapeutic potential.


The adult human body is composed of around 30 trillion cells! That’s a lot of cells, and researchers are still figuring out the remarkable processes that govern how our cells are exquisitely organised into the complex tissues, organs and systems that make up our bodies. In order for our cells to co-ordinate and organise themselves correctly they need to be able to communicate with each other at the molecular level. Cells can communicate with each other using a variety of different ways, either by physically tugging on neighbouring cells, or by secreting proteins, hormones and many other types of signalling molecules. Cells can also send exosomes to each other. (more…)

Reducing, refining and replacing the use of animals is crucial to respiratory research

Animal research

Dr John Tregoning explains how the use of animals in science is properly regulated and why it’s so important to respiratory research, which could impact millions of lives.


Respiratory infection is one of the main causes of disease and death throughout the world, claiming 3 million deaths worldwide in 2016. The symptoms range from the mild (a runny nose) to the extremely serious (pneumonia, hospitalisation and respiratory failure). These infections have a large economic burden both directly in medical costs and indirectly in working days lost. They also represent a potential risk for causing major pandemics; one hundred years ago the 1918 flu outbreak led to the death of 50-100 million people, significantly more than the whole First World War. There is a clear need to understand why we get sick after respiratory infections and critically we need new drugs to reduce the burden of disease. For example, there is an urgent need for a new influenza vaccine that could prevent future pandemics. (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 biology to bedside: my journey into research nursing

From biology to bedside: my journey into research nursingIn this guest post, Emily Ashworth shares her career path, from graduating with a nursing degree to pursuing a PhD in blast injury. 


I can’t confess I always wanted to be a nurse, in fact, it was never a career path I considered. It is safe to say my progression in nursing has never been linear…

I had hit a crossroads after the first year of my biology degree and realised that instead of studying a broad subject I’d rather choose a more specific topic that suited me. I thought back to what I enjoyed when I was younger and remembered an experience at the Natural History Museum; when my parents left me for hours to wander the museum while I played with the human body exhibit, which had me captivated. (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…)

Do we need to think differently about COPD?

COPD
The internal structure of the lungs by Dave Farnham (CC BY 4.0)

Ann Morgan, a PhD student at the National Heart and Lung Institute, gives us her thoughts on why smoking isn’t the only culprit behind the rise in COPD. 


The traditional view of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is that it is a self-inflicted disease caused by smoking. However, it is increasingly likely that this description is something of an oversimplification. While still very much associated with smoking, clinicians and researchers alike are getting to grips with the reality that COPD is a more complex and heterogeneous disease than previously thought. We are also becoming more aware of the fact that it is a disease which rarely occurs in isolation. The vast majority of people who present with COPD have at least one other co-existing disease or condition, and around 50% have four or more accompanying chronic diseases or ‘comorbidities’. (more…)

Rare diseases: the hidden priority of scientific research

For Rare Disease Day, Professors Uta Griesenbach and Eric Alton tell us why rare diseases are the hidden priority of scientific research.


A rare disease, also known as an orphan disease, affects by definition less than five in 10,000 (or 0.05%) of the general population.

Hence the question arises: why a disease as rare as 0.05% of the population presents a good investment of research funding? We think the answer is simple and importantly the math adds up. Here are some facts, based on raredisease.org.uk: (more…)

Encephalitis: the rare disease with a million implications

 

22 February is World Encephalitis Day. Founded by The Encephalitis Society four years ago, it aims to help raise awareness of the disease on an international scale.


In a nutshell, encephalitis refers to the inflammation of the brain. Up until recently, it was thought that encephalitis was simply either a viral or bacterial infection. However, in 2005, research described a new version of the disease: auto-immune or ‘anti-NMDAR encephalitis’, which is caused by antibodies that attack the brain tissue. In all its forms, encephalitis is incredibly rare: herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE), for instance, affects approximately one in 1,000,000 children. Although there are clear treatment routes available, viral encephalitis is incredibly destructive. The virus can cause irreversible damage in the brain, which will continue to impact upon a patient’s quality of life well after their short-term recovery from the disease itself. (more…)