The Great Exhibition Road Festival is a free annual celebration of science and the arts each summer in South Kensington. The event showcases a diverse range of activities for people of all ages. One of those activities, led by researchers from the Margaret Turner Warwick Centre and volunteers from the charity Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis, included an interactive activity that gave the public the opportunity to walk in the shoes of someone living with pulmonary fibrosis. Find out first-hand from Elisabeth Pyman, what happened on the day and hear from pulomary fibrosis patient, Andy, what it’s like to live with the condition.
The June weekend of the Great Exhibition Road Festival was one of quintessential British summertime weather. This celebration of science was hosted by Imperial College London in collaboration with the local community and provided a wide range of topics for people of all ages to explore. Under intermittent spells of rain, crowds of a multitudinous diversity explored the “awe and wonder” of science, the theme of this year’s festival. To welcome the public, artists and scientists populated the streets and buildings surrounding Imperial’s South Kensington campus like a sudden desert bloom.
Meanwhile, another transformation was taking place in a stand tucked away at the end of the road in the Creative Science zone. Researchers from the Margaret Turner Warwick Centre and volunteers from the charity Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis were on a mission to spread awareness about a rare lung condition known as pulmonary fibrosis. This condition is associated with a build-up of scar tissue that leads to a steady decline in lung function, with many patients becoming terminal only five years after diagnosis. Currently, there are 32,500 UK residents living with a diagnosis, but the actual number of people affected is estimated at around 100,000.
The HIV landscape has completely transformed since the start of the pandemic. A HIV diagnosis in the 1980s was considered fatal, as people usually progressed to AIDS due to the lack of available treatments. 42 years later, we have an array of different drug options and as a result, people diagnosed with HIV today can now expect to have near-normal life expectancies. Here, Dr Akif Khawaja from the National Heart & Lung Institute (NHLI), highlights the impact of HIV treatment over the last 42 years and how it influences cardiovascular research today.
HIV Treatment: from AZT to U=U
At the start of the pandemic, there were no available treatments. Patients would progress to AIDS and were only offered palliative care. It wasn’t until 1987 that the first antiretroviral drug, zidovudine (AZT), was licenced for the treatment of HIV. A major challenge with HIV treatment soon became apparent, as the virus can rapidly mutate and change its genetic code to become resistant to the drug supressing its replication. This challenge was quickly seen by clinicians as their patients would start to rebound from antiretroviral monotherapy (one drug regimens) as HIV became drug resistant and was able to replicate again. The introduction of combination antiretroviral therapy in 1996 has been monumental to HIV management. A change in treatment guidelines meant that patients who would have previously been given one drug, were now given three drug combinations, each targeting different parts of the HIV life cycle. This approach meant that patients could suppress HIV replication and achieve a sustained undetectable viral load, meaning that the level of virus in their blood is so low, it can no longer be detected by diagnostic tests.
Professor Sir Peter Barnes FRS FMedSci, from the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI), was made a Knight Bachelor in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours “for services to respiratory science.” Sir Peter is Professor of Thoracic Medicine at the NHLI and he was Head of Respiratory Medicine at Imperial until 2017. Here he writes about his reaction to his award and describes some of the current research projects in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
My wife opened the letter “On His Majesty’s Service” as she thought it was a tax demand – I was absolutely shocked to see I had been offered a knighthood. Of course, I was and am delighted with the award. It is very good for respiratory science and medicine, which generally receives little public attention. This is surprising as chronic lung diseases are amongst the most common in the UK, affecting one in seven people and the third ranked cause of death. I would like to dedicate this award to all the brilliant students, post-docs, research fellows, visiting scientists and colleagues that I have worked with at Imperial College London over many decades.
Kelly Gleason introduces a guide, Navigating Digital Health, co-produced with 20 local diverse public partners (aged between 18-78, ethnicity: White, Black & Asian, 60% women and 40% men) to help the public navigate data and artificial intelligence and wider resources. Kelly is Imperial CRUK Lead Nurse and leads the Public Involvement for the CRUK Convergence Centre and the NIHR Imperial BRC Surgery and Cancer Theme. The guide and supporting resources are part-funded by the NIHR Imperial BRC.
What the public need to know about the guide:
- It’s made for the public by the public (with a large and diverse group of public contributors) and supported by experts in the field.
- This is a gentle introduction to data science and AI to allow anyone to begin to learn about this field.
- It can be used by patients or family members to understand more about these issues generally or to contribute to public involvement programmes in research.
- It can help people make informed decisions about accessing new technologies to support their health.
- The guide is supported by various forms of media, including the written word, podcasts and animated videos (see links at the end of this blog). (more…)
Dr Felicity Fitzgerald (who volunteered clinically during the West African Ebola outbreak) has been selected as the winner of the 2023 Simon Newell Award for her work in Zimbabwe to improve recognition and outcomes of newborns with suspected sepsis. Dr Fitzgerald spoke to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) about her research and tips for aspiring researchers.
The Simon Newell Award Recognises an outstanding young medically qualified researcher in British paediatrics. Each year, with support from GOSH Charity and Sparks, RCPCH offer the prestigious award of £2,000 to one early independent researcher in paediatrics.
Dr David Salman from the School of Public Health discusses how digital interventions could help people return to fitness following a period of illness.
I am a GP, researcher, and work at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust sport and exercise medicine clinic. Part of my work is to help people become more physically active – important because it is one of the few interventions that can improve health in many different ways. If we had a similar drug or intervention that reduced the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, depression, risk of falls, and several cancers, then everyone would probably be on it. The problem is that almost one-third of people in the UK are not physically active enough for good health. This is partly because barriers to being physically active exist across individual and cultural factors, such as illness, pain or different conceptions of what physical activity or exercise mean; infrastructure aspects such as safety, facilities and lighting, through to national and global policy. Therefore, this wonder medicine is not equally available to all.
Recently, the UK Government announced that offers of first and second Covid-19 vaccinations will come to an end after 30 June. Ahead of World Immunisation Week, Professor Azeem Majeed from the School of Public Health discusses this major change in national vaccine policy, and why it’s important to stay up to date with Covid-19 booster vaccinations.
The announcement from NHS England that first and second doses of Covid-19 vaccines will no longer be offered to adults after 30 June 2023 signifies a significant change in national vaccine policy. We will all remember the start of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in December 2020, the rapid rollout of vaccines by the NHS, and the enthusiasm for vaccination amongst most sections of the population. Vaccination curbed the impact of Covid-19, leading to large falls in hospital admissions and deaths, and allowing the government to end Covid-19 restrictions.
We are now though entering a new phase in which Covid-19 vaccination will be restricted to older people and those in medical problems that place them at higher risk of adverse outcomes such as hospitalisation and death. The very highest risk groups – such as the immunocompromised and people aged 75 years and over – have been offered booster vaccines every six months for the past two years. Other population groups – such as NHS staff, those aged 50 and over, and people with significant medical problems – have been offered annual booster vaccines.
Rory Cellan-Jones is an author and former BBC Technology Correspondent who, in 2019, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Rory discusses his visit to the ‘Living Lab’ at the UK DRI Care Research & Technology Centre – a unique mock apartment where scientists can monitor the behaviour of patients in a domestic environment.
My week started with quite a stressful day. For nearly five hours I was under the microscope, my every move watched by scientists. They made me walk up and down, rise from a chair without using my arms, open and close my hand rapidly. I spent half an hour staring at a computer screen trying to work out which shape fitted where on a grid, one of a number of cognition tests. They even made me make two cups of tea and four slices of toast.
It was tiring but it was all in the cause of science – and potentially faster drug trials. This all took place in Imperial College’s Living Lab, a room fitted out like a small flat on the ninth floor of a tower block in West London. The lab is equipped with video cameras and a series of sensors which provide data on its occupants’ activities.
The largest ever outbreak of bird flu is spilling over into mammals, including foxes and otters in the UK. Could this transmission see a jump to humans? Dr Thomas Peacock from the Department of Infectious Disease discusses.
Avian influenza virus has been featured prominently in the news again over the past few months. Headlines urge vaccine stockpiling, show images of beaches covered in dead sea birds or seals, or people in hazmat suits carrying bin bags full of dead birds or mink. Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, is another pandemic unavoidable?
We have been in this situation before, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, headlines spoke of ‘bird flu’ – H5N1 viruses ancestral to the ones currently circulating in Europe – as the inevitable coming pandemic. In fact, in 2009 an influenza pandemic did occur, but rather than the deadly H5N1 bird flu, it was caused by an obscure swine influenza virus that passed onto humans and caused the 2009 ‘swine flu’ pandemic.
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.
While HIV is no longer the death sentence that it once was, lifelong treatment is still required and there is no cure – yet. Professor Sarah Fidler from the Department of Infectious Disease discusses how a new type of HIV treatment holds promise as a longer-lasting alternative to current complex drug regimens.
Despite extraordinary political and medical advances, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, remains one of the world’s most serious public health challenges. Since its discovery in 1983 by researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France, 84 million people worldwide are estimated to have become HIV-positive and 40 million people have died from an HIV-related illness. Today, there are around 38 million people living with HIV globally, with 1.5 million new infections in 2021.
Advocacy and close collaboration between clinicians, scientists and the HIV-affected community has inspired and driven the research and drug development and access agenda. Without these close working relationships, the development of HIV treatments would have been markedly slower and many more lives would have been lost.