Tag: Three Wise Women

Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Sex Differences in Cardiomyopathy

Artwork by Mengmeng Tu, MSc Science Communication student

This festive period, Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Could variation in the architecture of men and women’s hearts explain why their risk of cardiomyopathy differs? Dr Paz Tayal, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cardiology at the National Heart and Lung Institute is investigating this with the aim of improving outcomes for patients affected by this disease of the heart muscle. Dr Tayal also discusses the ‘juggle struggle’ of balancing work and family life, and the importance of truth telling in academic medicine.


As winter sets in, I start to pack away the summer dresses and bring out the woolly jumpers and sturdy boots. When I do this, I will not be going into my husband’s closet to find things that fit me, nor indeed will I be wearing his shoes.

That seems obvious right, because we are different sizes.

We don’t think twice about that, yet in medicine, we are only just beginning to realise that male and female patients might need to have tailored ways to diagnose and treat disease.

Even in health, male and female hearts are not the same. At birth, the hearts of male and female babies are about the same size. However, at puberty, male hearts have a faster period of growth compared to female hearts. Whilst this eventually settles down, throughout adult life the mismatch persists, and the female heart remains smaller.

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Inspirational leadership matters: supporting the next generation of clinical academics

Dr Maddalena Ardissino

This festive period, Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.


The journey to becoming a clinical academic can be long and arduous, with many obstacles. Dr Maddalena Ardissino, from the National Heart and Lung Institute, reflects on her own experiences as a trainee and explains why mentorship is key to supporting the growth and development of young, aspiring clinical academics.

Almost exactly five years ago, I stood amongst a crowd of young academics at a poster session at the Intensive Care Society’s annual conference, experiencing a feeling of anxiety I’ve never known before or since. I was in my fifth year of medical school and standing in front of a group of excellent researchers who were about to listen to me give my first scientific presentation. It seemed unthinkable to me, at the time, to think that they might have the slightest interest in what I had to say.

Since then, my journey through clinical and academic training has been what I can only describe as an adventure. I quickly realised that there isn’t a single defined path for clinical academics, with each individual moulding a slightly different journey. When I look around at my fellow clinical academics at the National Heart and Lung Institute, however, there is one key feature that we all share: enthusiasm. And behind this feature there is one single, common theme: the support of a truly inspirational mentor.

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Setting up the Julia Anderson Training Programme: lessons learned

Clarissa Gardner

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Clarissa Gardner, founder of the Julia Anderson Training Programme, shares insight into setting up the scheme and provides practical guidance for others on how to use the model within their own organisations. 


2020 was a strange year. We lived through a pandemic that took a huge toll on our economy, our mental wellbeing, and for some of us the lives of our loved ones. 2020 was also the year in which there was renewed interest in addressing social injustices that have impacted traditionally underserved communities across the world.

At Imperial College London, like many other academic institutions, there were many discussions being held about our history, curriculum, use of language to describe people, and the representation of students and staff of different backgrounds at various levels. (more…)

World AIDS Day: We have come a very long way but there is still much to do to protect those at risk

Professor Sarah Fidler

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.

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An intense, scientifically incredible journey – our response to COVID-19

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Dr Natsuko Imai reflects on the experience of supporting the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to the pandemic.


Despite the introduction of “plan B”, I’m sure many of you will agree with me that, the run-up to Christmas this year still feels very different compared to 2020 when non-essential shops were closed, and we could only meet within our households or support bubbles. The swift introduction of measures and the fact we even have a vaccination programme to accelerate in response to the Omicron variant helps to keep me cautiously optimistic.

My colleagues in the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis and I have been working on COVID-19 since January 2020. This was when the virus was still called “novel coronavirus 2019” and only a handful of cases had been reported outside of mainland China. Since our early assessment of the transmissibility and true size of the epidemic in Wuhan City, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread to every corner of the world, changing the way we live in ways we could never have imagined.

Before the pandemic, most of my work as the liaison between the Centre and the World Health Organization was co-ordinating analytical support for outbreaks, typically in low- and middle-income countries. Since 2018, I have worked with colleagues on Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doing rapid real-time analysis to understand – “how bad is the outbreak? How many cases can we expect in the next 3-4 weeks? How many vaccines need to be deployed?”.

This year, I have worked on events closer to home, supporting the Centre’s Imperial College COVID-19 response team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to COVID-19 both in the UK and abroad. With requests for analysis coming in almost daily in the early days, it has been an intense, but scientifically incredible journey. I am especially thankful for the generosity everyone has shown under all kinds of pressures. (more…)

Standing up for the facts: COVID-19 vaccination, fertility and pregnancy

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Dr Viki Male explains how she took matters into her own hands in response to the mixed messaging around COVID-19 vaccination advice and pregnancy.


In 2003, the world was on the brink of a SARS-1 pandemic. As a Year 12 student at the time, I followed developments closely. Although the outbreak eventually died out, my interest in infectious diseases did not. Surely, the big one was coming. And I would be ready for it.

But by the time the big one came, my research has taken me in a different direction. At university, I had become passionately interested in a family of immune cells, called NK cells, that control viral infection. But these cells have another role that captured my imagination: they help the placenta to implant during pregnancy, and my lab is working out how. In March 2020, as immunologists around the world raced to make a vaccine, I shut my lab and went home to spend the next 12 weeks home-schooling my children. I would sit this one out. What use is a reproductive immunologist in a pandemic, anyway?

Some use, it turned out. In December 2020, as the vaccine rollout began, rumours started to circulate that antibodies raised by COVID-19 vaccination would target a placental protein, called Syncytin-1, causing infertility and miscarriages. There was no basis to this claim and if I, a reproductive immunologist, wouldn’t stand up and explain why, then what was the point of me? So I began engaging with the public, first on social media and then in print and broadcast. Here’s what they taught me… (more…)

We need to give everyone, everywhere, the precious gift of health

Professor Faith Osier

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Professor Faith Osier shares her vision for health equity, from tackling vaccine inequity to empowering the next generation of scientists globally.


Almost a year ago to the day, my partner and I woke up our three young children in the middle of the night, readied them for the airport, hurriedly scrambled together the last of our belongings and embarked on a new adventure. We were moving from Heidelberg, a picture-perfect city that often made me feel like I was walking into a tranquil postcard. This had been home for four years and we kept our mixed feelings to ourselves as we ventured into the unknown, London. I was taking up a new position as the Executive Director of IAVI (formerly International AIDS Vaccine Initiative), at Imperial College London. We navigated the intricacies of relocating during lockdown, settled the children into school or rather “joyous home-learning” as was the case at the time, and I began to unpack my new job.

The mission of IAVI resonates strongly within me: “translating science into affordable, globally accessible public health solutions”. The opportunity to turn years of scientific endeavour into interventions that could transform the lives of the most vulnerable on our planet still springs me out of bed every day.  I have worked for over 25 years amongst the rural poor in Kilifi, Kenya, studied immune responses to malaria antigens in samples from similar study participants across Africa and appreciated first-hand the impact of ill-health on productivity, livelihoods and hope. (more…)

This Christmas is the time to be patient, not to become one

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

As vaccines bring hope, Professor Helen Ward reflects on the emotions felt and lessons learned in a year confronting COVID-19.


What a strange year. For me, it has been full of contradictions. From one moment to the next I can feel sadness, frustration, anger but also pride and satisfaction. And guilt.

Sadness at the loss of life and the chronic ill-health that COVID-19 has brought, and for the loss of livelihoods and bleak futures for even more people. Frustration at the response of political leaders when vital decisions have been delayed, and anger that the pandemic has resulted in worsening social inequalities. Pride at my small part in the response, as an advocate for public health action when needed, a researcher co-leading one of the largest epidemiological studies (REACT), and an educator delivering a rapid online course to share the science of the COVID-19 response with over 100,000 learners. But also guilt that I have a secure and well-paid job that I can do safely from home, and that I have found research this year the most stimulating and satisfying of my career. Sometimes that enjoyment seems wrong.

My research career has focused on infectious disease epidemiology, particularly the control of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI), alongside teaching public and global health. I look back now and see how much of my career has been training for this pandemic challenge, and has taught me lessons that are very relevant for COVID-19.  From my HIV and STI research and clinical work, I learned about the complexities of controlling these infections. Understanding these “social” diseases requires a range of scientific approaches from basic immunology through mathematical modelling to anthropology. (more…)

Finding ‘me’ in the fight against inequality

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Dr Sarah Essilfie-Quaye, Project Manager in Research Strategy, discusses how we can all do more to address structural racism in academia.


I used to describe myself as an ‘early retired scientist’ – I left the lab not because I no longer loved research, but due to a series of challenges and roadblocks. However, on reflection, regardless of any career choices I made, it was unlikely I would become a professor. Because I am a woman; a woman who is Black; of African descent – Ghana, to be specific (#GhanaJollof!).

The harsh reality

To have a successful career in academia, I saw becoming a professor as the top of the achievements list, and while this is a tough goal for anyone, it is much, much tougher for some. I looked for Black women professors at Imperial. I think I was looking for my role models. Unfortunately for me ‘computer said no’, the answer was there were none. Zero. Nada. Zilch. This hugely influenced my decision to move away from academia and towards university administration, as I thought I was more likely to be able to achieve a stable and successful career that way. This was a decade ago, and despite now finally becoming part of a supportive team, I am still on short-term and part-time contracts. For this to happen I had to leave a permanent (albeit part-time) post elsewhere at Imperial – due to the toxic environment and lack of allies.

During my career, I have come to understand several key issues around race, and these include how under-represented Black women are at Imperial. There are still no women that look like me as professors. Nor in any permanent academic roles. In the whole of the UK there are only 35 professors who identify as Black women out of 21,000. And as I currently keep trying to highlight, while 25 per cent of Imperial staff are from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority (BAME) background, only 9 per cent are in senior positions, and how many of those are Black…? (more…)

Be the change you want to see in medicine

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Our first wise woman is Dr Sonia Kumar, Director of Undergraduate Primary Care Education and MEdIC (Medical Education Innovation and Research Centre).


My drive and motivation have always been underpinned by a strong and unshakable desire to make a difference, to try my best to make the world a better place. As you age you start to question where your underlying values come from, where and when did they start and from whom.

My father was a child of the Partition

Caught on the wrong side of the Indian border, my father as a very young child was forced to flee his then native country and travel with my grandmother, aunts and uncles, in the dead of the night on a train where children were muffled, and babies thrown overboard so the train could safely and silently make its way across the border. Years later he arrived in the UK in his twenties in search of new beginnings and despite the discrimination and racism of the 60s, he and my mother like many other immigrants of that time, showed untold strength and sacrifice to give us the next generation a better life.

Being a second-generation British Asian growing up in 70s and 80s Britain, I have not always had an easy ride. However, I am constantly reminded and humbled by the resilience and determination of my father and his forefathers and the opportunities and equality they fought for. It is an absolute privilege to honour those sacrifices and continue their legacy by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’  in all aspects of my work. (more…)