Blog posts

Consulting and involving the public in the first human COVID-19 human challenge study

How do you engage members of the public with medical research? Dr Emma Smith, HIC-Vac Network Manager, outlines how consulting the public was crucial during the world’s first COVID-19 human challenge study.


It is important that health and social care research aims to improve the overall well-being of the population, from advancing treatments for patients to helping us live healthier lives. People are at the heart of medical research and so engaging and involving them is an integral part of the research process and one that is mandated by most funders.

When we set up the world’s first COVID-19 human challenge study, acceptability of research to participants and society more broadly was particularly relevant because of the study’s ethically complex nature.

With volunteer participants being deliberately exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) and the associated risk (albeit very small) of serious illness or death, the public’s perspectives were an important element of assessing if the study was acceptable and ethical (and was stated by the WHO1  as one of the key criteria for the ethical acceptability of COVID-19 human challenge). (more…)

Don’t let a fear of the unknown limit your ambitions – my experience of studying for a Master of Public Health during the pandemic

Graduating is a significant milestone, especially if your studies have been impacted by Covid-19.  Jasmin Adebisi, now an alumni of the Master of Public Health programme, shares what it meant to walk across the stage at the Royal Albert Hall.


Graduation represents the culmination of a journey and the attainment of a goal. It is an exciting period in any student’s life which brings a long journey of hard work to a close. Graduation day can be filled with an array of varying emotions, including feelings of joy, pride and contentment but also thoughts of anxiousness, worry and concern of what’s to come next.

Having been a part of the Covid cohort of 2021, I can say with confidence that I have also experienced these emotions during my time studying. Reflecting on the start of my journey, I was bursting with excitement on getting accepted to my master’s course but was also deeply concerned because of the pandemic and the future.

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Speaking authentically within higher education

How can we foster a sense of authenticity within ethnically minoritised students? Dr Zoe Moula, Teaching Fellow at the School of Public Health, aims to raise awareness of how we can promote a more inclusive educational environment and understand the barriers which can affect a student’s sense of authenticity within higher education.


The underrepresentation of ethnically minoritised students at university, and even more so in medicine, often results in identity suppression in order to ‘fit in’. Yet, this can lead to increased anxiety, and interferes with a student’s ability to succeed academically and professionally.  Societal, structural and institutional factors, such as racism, discrimination and socioeconomic inequalities may all play a part into why a student may not be able to express their true self.  It is therefore crucial that any effort to promote Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) must also protect and promote a student’s sense of authenticity. (more…)

Empowering women through the Elevat(Her) Podcast

PhD students Salina Nicoleau & Maike Haensel outline their vision for The Elevat(Her) Podcast and share the importance of highlighting positive female role models to empower other women to achieve their full potential.


Look around you – how many women are in senior positions across your university? Lucky you if you can count more than a couple. According to a recent report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), women account for only 28% of professors in UK universities in 2020/21 (1). This is a recurring theme within many sectors, not just higher education, where there are fewer women than men in senior positions. In 2021, the number of female Fortune 500 CEOs was only 41. Yes, out of 500 CEOs, 459 were men (2).

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The trials and tribulations of applying for a PhD

Finding the right PhD programme can often be a time-consuming and lengthy exercise. Emre Yavuz, Translational Neuroscience Master’s student, shares his experience of applying for a PhD programme and the many challenges he faced along the way.


This September I’m going to be starting my PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, supervised by Professor Hugo Spiers. Excited as I am about moving onto the next chapter of my career, choosing the right PhD for me was no easy process.

Choosing the right PhD programme comes down to many variables. When I had initially applied for several programmes in early December, I was excited by the possibility of travelling and living abroad after two years of lockdown. I had received interviews from places including Toronto, Montreal, Zurich, Lausanne and London. Although studying abroad seemed highly tempting at first, there were many other factors I had to take into account. (more…)

There is good evidence for the benefits of osteoarthritis treatment – but we should not accept the status quo

Following the publication of new draft guidance by NICE on the care and management of osteoarthritis, Dr Fiona Watt breaks down the misconceptions surrounding its impact on patients and healthcare professionals, and why developing effective treatments for the condition is more vital than ever.


8.75 million people live with osteoarthritis in the UK and the condition is the fourth leading cause of years lived with disability worldwide. Osteoarthritis commonly affects joints such as the knee, hip or hand, leading to progressive change and damage in joint tissues, frequently causing joint pain and functional difficulties. It is the leading cause of joint replacement. As an osteoarthritis researcher and someone who treats people with osteoarthritis in the NHS, I awaited the draft updated National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on the management of osteoarthritis with some anticipation. This guidance is important because it shapes (and restricts) the way that the NHS approaches advice and treatment, based on scientific evidence.

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Alzheimer’s disease: why your genes aren’t always your destiny

For Dementia Action Week, Kitty Murphy, second year PhD student at the UK DRI Centre at Imperial, shares the complex nature of Alzheimer’s disease and why there’s more to it than just our genes.


Dementia diagnosis rates are dropping for the first time ever. I wish I could tell you that this is due to less people developing dementia, and not because more people are living with it undiagnosed. According to research carried out by Alzheimer’s Society, many people are not being diagnosed due to the misconception that memory loss is a normal part of aging. However, memory loss is often an early sign of dementia, particularly in the most common cause known as Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Action Week, an annual awareness campaign, has made diagnosis their featured theme.

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Tips and tricks for a successful mentor/mentee relationship

A figure of a man made from wood walking up stairs


Dr Fouzia Haneef Khan, Teaching Fellow on the MSc Genes, Drugs and Stem Cells – Novel Therapies programme,  outlines her recommendations to create an effective partnership as mentor and mentee.


Over the past seven years, I have had a variety of teaching experiences, some excellent, some awful, and some in between. Thinking about the start of my teaching journey, I remembered feeling slightly unconfident when delivering a teaching session, with a sense of doubt about whether I was reaching my potential to give the best learning experience to students. However, with the help of more experienced colleagues, I feel that I have significantly improved in these areas. These mentors have supported me on my journey by giving specific and useful recommendations about teaching strategies and general career advice.

The most important aspect of this relationship to me is that I know that I can rely on someone who is experienced in the field and has gone through similar challenges as I have. Underlying this mutual respect and trust is a feeling of genuine friendship.

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How can we manufacture the safest possible challenge agents for human infection studies?

Pipettes in a scientific lab
Dr Emma Smith—HIC-Vac Network Manager—explains how specific guidelines for the provenance and manufacture of challenge agents could make human infection studies even safer.


Human infection studies, also known as human challenge studies, are clinical trials where volunteers are intentionally given a carefully considered dose of a pathogen—known as the challenge agent. These models can be used to study host-pathogen interactions and disease progression; identify and test the efficacy of promising vaccines and drugs in development; or be used as proof-of-concept studies for testing novel medications. In this controlled environment it is possible to study infections in ways that aren’t possible in traditional field studies.

One of the first steps towards establishing a challenge study is the selection, isolation, development and production of the challenge agent. However, unlike medicines, the regulation of challenge agent manufacture varies internationally; an area that the research community has identified as a potential weakness in the field. Although human challenge studies have an excellent safety record—a recent literature review identified just 24 Serious Adverse Events (SAE) and zero deaths or cases of permanent damage among 15,046 participants in 308 studies spanning 1980 to 2021— the lack of specific guidelines for the provenance and manufacture of challenge agents warrants attention.

HIC-Vac—an Imperial-led international network of researchers who are developing human infection challenge studies—has been working with the global charitable foundation Wellcome and the company hVIVO to address this unmet need. Our purpose was to promote volunteer safety whilst maximizing access to challenge agents and challenge models globally. (more…)

How can technology be shaped to fit our lives? The power of Human Centred Design in healthcare

Matthew Harrison provides an insight into the world of human centred design, highlighting how involving users early in the design process can allow us to tap into their expertise and find creative solutions.


COVID has changed many aspects of life permanently. One change is the way we have and will interact with healthcare services. It has put the path to remote and smart care on an accelerated trajectory. Virtual consultations, at home diagnostics, and remote sensors, tablet computers and smart speakers are increasingly part of our lives. But the rush to technology in healthcare risks leaving the demographic who most need it behind. This is a prime example of where Human Centred Design (HCD) comes in. Design is about optimising the relationships between humans and technology, whether it is the clarity of a printed communication, the impact of a building on well-being, the confidence you feel from a new outfit, or the usability (and safety) of an Electronic Patient Record.

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