Women in research: science is better when women are represented

Let’s set the scene: it was a cold icy and snowy week in March when the ‘Beast from the East’ rolled into town to cause havoc. Luckily for me, I just had to get across London to Heathrow for a 6.5 hour flight to Boston; what could be simpler? Nothing, as it goes – the roads were clear and we even took off early. I touched down in Boston, jumped on the subway, found the hotel and I was “all-set”! It was very windy as I’d arrived in time to catch the tail-end of a Nor’Easter storm. This one had seen the National Guard called in to rescue stranded residents, the Fire Department even airlifted a horse from a field, and the aquarium, of all places, flooded!

Boston was playing host to the 25th CROI (conference on retroviruses and opportunistic infections), which was my first international HIV meeting. I won a New Investigator Scholarship which covered my travel and registration but also granted me access to the New Investigator Workshop. As a new researcher in the field of HIV, this proved to be a fascinating whistle-stop tour of the essentials in the field.

Women don’t get AIDS, they just die from it

The workshop kicked off with a world premiere of the viral lifecycle, expertly animated and narrated by Dr Janet Iwasa (check it out for yourself at www.scienceofhiv.org). We were also given overviews of the hot topics to be discussed over the next few days. This included advances in HIV treatment, care and prevention and the molecular virology of the disease. We were told about advances in tuberculosis (T.B.) treatment and prevention, an area that we are expanding into. There were too many cool innovations to do justice in one blog, so I will stick to my personal highlights.

A stand-out moment for me was the Martin Delaney presentation entitled “Women in research: science is better when women are represented”. In this session we heard from inspirational researchers and activists: Proessor Gandhi, Dr Poteat and the founder of SisterLove, Dázon Dixon Diallo. Talks highlighted the challenges faced by women in academia, where (un)conscious bias means that only 16% of Deans and 22% of full professors in US institutions are female. Professor Gandhi demonstrated how formalised career mentoring could go some way to improve this imbalance. Another interesting statistic shared was that despite more than half of HIV infections being in women, they make up less than 15% of the participants in clinical trials. To highlight this bias, CROI stipulated that all presentations of clinical data must show sex-stratified results, where possible. It was also revealed that this CROI was the first time that there were more female than male speakers – a step in the right direction!

Dr Poteat told us about her journey from being a HIV activist in the 1980’s, working with Act-Up (Atlanta) as a physician’s assistant and completing her PhD at Johns Hopkins University in 2012. She now researches issues around sexuality, gender identity, stigma and how these impact on HIV infection rates and transmission. Dázon gave a blow-by-blow account of the brave activists that stood up to make sure that women were included, seen and recognised during the HIV epidemic. This work is far from over and she encouraged us to think about ‘proximity’, ‘get uncomfortable’, ‘change the narrative’ and improve links between the community and research.

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HIV increases cardiovascular risk

Our Platelet Biology Group is interested in the role that these small cells play in heart disease and how other diseases (e.g. HIV) and environmental factors (e.g. pollution) can alter platelet activation. Improvements in the diagnosis, management and treatment regimens for HIV mean that people living with HIV (PLWH) have near-normal life expectancies. Consequently, studies have shown an increased rate of heart disease in PLWH and that certain antiretroviral therapies  can increase this risk further. This increase accounts for around 10% of cases and clearly warrants further investigation. We received funding from Gilead Sciences and St Stephen’s AIDS Trust to investigate this link between antiretroviral therapies and heart disease. This is a controversial topic and conflicting reports have come from a range of groups investigating the effects of antiretroviral therapies on platelet function. I presented my latest data on the pharmacological impact of antiretroviral therapies on platelet function. This was a fantastic opportunity to discuss our findings with other researchers and clinicians and discuss what the data might mean in the wider population. It was good to see other work in this area, which suggested roles for immune cells, the vessel wall and specific signalling pathways in the development of heart disease in PLWH.

TB causes one million more deaths per year than HIV

Two billion people are carriers of TB and most will never go on to develop the disease. However, seven million cases per year are diagnosed and treatment takes around six months. TB is also a common co-infection for people living with HIV (PLWH). This raises an interesting challenge as TB drugs cause HIV therapies to be metabolised more quickly. This means that patients must take double doses of HIV medication to maintain viral suppression. However, a late-breaking abstract from our collaborators at St Stephen’s AIDS Trust demonstrated that a newly formulated HIV drug might be able to bypass this effect. This could lead to a change in the management of TB co-infections.

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Challenging Stigma

The “U equals U” (Undetectable = Untransmissible) campaign launched in 2017 and serves to educate the public about the fact that people with undetectable levels of HIV cannot transmit the virus. This is an important development as reducing stigma associated with HIV improves patient adherence to therapy. This could be a key step in the aspiration to reach no new HIV infections by 2030!


By Dr Kirk Taylor

Research associate at the National, Heart and Lung Institute.

Follow on Twitter @Dr_KTaylor

 

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Gender Summit 15: London June 2018

I was given the opportunity to attend a day of the Gender Summit 15 held at King’s College London from 18-19 June 2018. The Gender Summit is a platform for dialogue where scientists, policymakers, gender scholars and stakeholders in science systems examine new research evidence showing when, why and how biological differences (sex) and socio-cultural differences (gender) between females and males impact on outcomes. The aim is to reach consensus where improvements to science knowledge and science practice are needed and who should take action.

Elizabeth Pollitzer, Director of Portia, set the scene for day two by using the example of crash test dummies to illustrate how many things  are designed by men, for men, and aren’t necessarily appropriate for women. In this example we learned that women are 47% more likely to be injured in a car crash and this is partly due to car seats being designed for men and their safety being tested by male crash test dummies.

Key overarching themes across the various sessions were:

  • The importance of gender-based research and innovation (e.g. see Stanford based project Gendered Innovations for more information)
  • An emphasis on actionable changes brought about by evidence and dialogue
  • Need for tangible metrics and actions that can be evaluated
  • Placing gender equality within a broader diversity and inclusion agenda
  • A focus on facts rather than opinions or assumptions
  • The need for managers/leaders to be gender-aware and able to develop female talent
  • Ensuring that organisations have a clear gender policy embedded within, and forming a key part of, the strategy

During the parallel sessions best practice from projects and programmes was shared, including the GEDII project which aims to improve research and innovation through gender diversity, and the PLOTINA project which focuses on promoting gender balance and inclusion in research, innovation and training. Both projects freely share useful resources and tools on their webpages.

Amanda Aldercotte from the Equality Challenge Unit presented key findings from the Athena Survey of Science, Engineering and Technology (ASSET) Survey 2016 with one of the headline findings being that:

“female STEM academics were more likely to perceive, experience or be exposed to some form of disadvantage compared with their male colleagues”

Amanda outlined how gender differences in the survey responses clustered around the following three themes: teaching and administrative duties; feeling supported and valued; and caring responsibilities. The report proposes action in these areas, with recommendations including:

  • Establish workload allocation models
  • Promotion criteria should include a specific focus on the quality of an individual’s work
  • Reduce the variability in the amount and type of support provided by line managers
  • Develop support and career progression networks and ensure staff have the opportunity to engage with senior staff/committees
  • Ensure contracts accommodate flexible working policies
  • Provide ‘Keeping in Touch’ days and flexible hours to support returners
  • Encourage uptake of paternity and shared parental leave

It was an enjoyable day with interesting presentations and discussions on a range of projects, perspectives and good practice.


by Lindsay Melling
Career Development Coordinator, NHLI

 

Increasing your profile and visibility

If you do a google search for yourself what do you find? Are you visible?

Think about the range of people that may do a search for you: colleagues, new contacts, potential collaborators/employers/employees etc. Would they be able to find you? Is the information they find what you would want them to see?

Five things you can do to increase your profile and visibility:

(1)    Create (or update) your Imperial Personal Web Page (PWP)

This is likely to be the first hit on Google when people search for you. What does your PWP say about you? Think about how you would like other people to see you. Make sure you highlight your key roles, activities or research and consider uploading your CV. Ensure that Symplectic and Spiral are up to date so that you are REF-compliant and your PWP is automatically updated with your recent publications. Finally, set yourself a calendar reminder to log in regularly to keep your page up to date.

(2)    If you are a researcher or academic get an ORCID iD

This is a unique researcher identifier which can be added to your research outputs to ensure that your work is easily distinguished from that of other researchers (particularly those with similar names). Register now – according to the website it takes only 30 seconds!

(3)    Write something for the NHLI blog or the Imperial Medicine blog

In NHLI we welcome blog posts from staff or students on interesting articles, events, training courses, work/life balance or anything else you think might be of interest to others. The Imperial Medicine Blog is a platform for researchers, students and staff to describe their work, share their stories and discuss ideas with the rest of the world, in their own words.

Alternatively, why not write a post for a group or organisation related to your work or even create your own blog? For inspiration have a look at:

If you have any queries please contact Helen Johnson or Lindsay Melling

(4)    Get tweeting

If you don’t have time to write a blog consider short, sharp tweets to share information, let people know about your research or publications or to comment on hot topics. You can also link your twitter feed to your Personal Web Page. Don’t forget to follow @ImperialNHLI on Twitter. For guidelines and tips see:

If you want any help with Twitter please contact Helen Johnson.

(5)    Create (or update) a LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn provides an additional means of increasing your visibility, particularly within sectors outside HE. It also increases your number of ‘weak ties’, people outside of your inner circle of friends and colleagues who provide access to a wider range of information and opportunities. If you are new to LinkedIn or want to find out more about what it can do for you have a look at:

 

Other sources of information:

Relevant College training courses:

If you’d like to find out more why not consider one of the following training courses:

 

Lindsay Melling, Career Development Coordinator, NHLI

Generating Genius at NHLI

On 12 February myself and a group of master’s students on the MSc Genes, Drugs and Stem Cells course hosted an all day workshop entitled “the future of biomedical sciences” for 40 black and minority ethnic (BME) students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds from across London. The event was run as one of Generating Genius’s masterclasses. Generating Genius is a charity set up by Tony Sewell that supports talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to realise their potential in STEM.

Partnering with the charity enabled us to reach this demographic, without having to do any time-consuming admin with respect to making arrangements with students/schools/parents allowing us to just focus on creating and delivering an interactive, fun workshop.

The feedback from Generating Genius was overwhelmingly positive with 99% of the young people either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the session was interesting. They particularly appreciated how we linked every topic with the careers involved, giving the young people a real understanding of the courses they could apply for and the choices they would need to make to achieve it, which is at the core of what Generating Genius wanted them to get out of these sessions.

Personally I would like to thank the masters students for getting involved in this activity, it made the day much more fun and the pupils really enjoyed interacting with them.

If you would like to get involved in any future outreach activity then please get in touch s.rankin@imperial.ac.uk.

Participants

Prof Sara Rankin, Miss Kamini Lakshmikanthan Miss Vargini Ledchumykanthan (NHLI outreach officers).

Master students, Irene Sachouli, Aisha Nawaz, Sarah Wong, Semih Bayraktar, Ana Rubio Gomez, Fatemeh Kermani.

 

By Professor Sara Rankin

Professor of Leukocyte and Stem Cell Biology

Engaging less-advantaged pupils with STEM

Dr Usmani and his clinical research team based at the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) Royal Brompton Hospital campus collectively developed, organised and delivered an innovative on-campus engagement activity to sixty Year 6 (aged 10/11) primary school children from Capel Manor Primary School Enfield called “Lung Hospital Tests” in December 2017. The aim of the engagement was to improve the learning opportunity of less-advantaged young people as part of Imperial’s widening participation and schools engagement programme.

The team adopted a kinaesthetic learning approach for the main feature of their event, with pupils having hands-on experience with hospital tests used to monitor patients with lung disease. This tactile learning style very much suits students with special educational needs or learning difficulties, and is a good way to teach pupils of different attainments.

Dr Usmani commenced with an interactive lecture, using vibrant images and minimal text to talk about the lung. His pitch of delivery with memorable analogies, ‘the lungs are an upside down tree’ eased the learning process in a complex area. Dr Usmani displayed striking images on cigarette smoke damage to the lungs, which elicited a unanimous expression of repulsion from the pupils. Dr Usmani then ‘facilitated’ an emotive ‘debate’ between the pupils on the effects of smoking, and the ethics of an individual’s choice, thereby addressing health promotion.

This was followed by 5 workstations, with rotating groups of 6 pupils learning about oxygen in blood, peak flow tests, lung blowing tests, interpreting chest X-rays and understanding lung anatomy/skeleton. Each workstation also described research from Dr Usmani’s group related to that topic and, provided an opportunity for pupils to engage with the workstation tutor to ask about careers in science and health. The team also developed a ‘personal health record’, where every pupil had their own workbook, recording their own measurements at each workstation.

The engagement activity benefitted the pupils by giving them the opportunity to engage with a variety of professional disciplines in STEM to understand the many careers they could follow in research science and health; not just ‘how to be a doctor’. Feedback from an attending teacher stated the event was powerful in supporting pupil aspirations to go to university and that they ‘wanted to come to a place like this’.

 

by Dr Omar Usmani

Reader in Respiratory Medicine

Diversity matters: creating a diverse and inclusive working environment

A diverse workforce is beneficial for organisations; staff members from different demographic groups and with different backgrounds and experience bring different approaches, perspectives and ways of thinking. A diverse group may be more creative and innovative, may be better able to spot and address risks and implement decisions, and may be more likely to be high performing and to meet or exceed financial and other targets (see summary of research and links on the Wonolo blog).

Diverse@Imperial Exhibition 2018: Celebrating the people that make Imperial

A recent article by Deloitte asserts that ‘diversity without inclusion is not enough’ (p85). Deloitte suggests that members of an inclusive workforce feel confident and inspired, and proposes that an inclusive working environment involves:

  • Being treated fairly and with respect
  • Feeling valued and having a sense of belonging
  • Feeling safe and able to speak up without fear of embarrassment or retaliation
  • Feeling empowered and able to grow and do one’s best work

I wondered how NHLI’s 2017 staff survey results would look for these categories which may help to give us a sense of where we are and where we still have work to do:

Being treated fairly and with respect

  • 57% of NHLI staff believe career progression is fair within Imperial (regardless of ethnic background, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age)
  • 72% of NHLI staff think that the College is an inclusive employer for all staff
  • 76% of NHLI staff thought that they were treated with dignity and respect

Feeling valued and having a sense of belonging

  • 50% of NHLI staff considered that their contributions to the College are recognised and valued
  • 87% of NHLI staff were proud to work for the College and 52% considered they had a strong sense of belonging to the College

Feeling safe and able to speak up without fear of embarrassment or retaliation

  • 54% of NHLI staff were confident about expressing their views and opinions without fear of negative consequences, worryingly this is a 10% reduction from the 2014 survey

Feeling empowered and able to grow and do one’s best work

  • 53% of NHLI staff indicated that they felt sufficiently involved in decisions that directly impacted on their role
  • 71% of NHLI staff responded positively to the statement ‘Working here makes me want to do the best work I can

The Athena SWAN Charter recognises advancement of gender equality, promoting representation, progression and success for all. In NHLI we use Athena SWAN as a framework to guide our policies, processes and activities to improve the work environment of all staff and students in the department.  Since 2015 the remit of Athena SWAN has been expanded and recognises work undertaken to address equality more broadly, not only focusing on barriers to progression that affect women. This broader focus covers all staff (in academic and professional and technical roles) and students, and considers the intersectionality between different demographic categories (for example being a black woman). The Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team will be reviewing the results of the 2017 College staff survey and will be identifying trends and issues to guide future initiatives and action.

Last year I attended a talk on diversity by Simon Fanshawe (co-founder of Stonewall, and co-founder and partner of Diversity by Design). One of the take-home messages was that people are not just the group that they belong to and the challenge is to understand them as individuals in the context of their situation and provide support that works for them. The important thing is to see diversity as an issue for all of us which will hopefully translate into actions that will mean something for everyone. In NHLI we can all contribute to creating a more diverse, inclusive culture where differences are respected and valued.

“In Diverse@Imperial week we want to celebrate our successes, but we should always challenge ourselves to do better, so that we can create a truly inclusive environment where diversity can thrive”

Professor Stephen Curry, Assistant Provost for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Resources

  • Diverse@Imperial recognising and celebrating the diversity of our community.
  • Take the College’s online training on equality and diversity.
  • Attend one of the sessions the Faculty of Medicine is running on unconscious bias, bullying and harassment, active bystander or working in multicultural groups (contact Fern Whyte for session dates and locations).
  • The College has a dedicated Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Centre and runs a number of equality training courses, see this webpage for further details.
  • Consider joining one of the College diversity staff networks.
  • Equality Challenge Unit supports universities and colleges to build an inclusive culture that values the benefits of diversity, removes barriers to progression and success for all staff and students, and challenges and changes unfair practices that disadvantage individuals or groups.
  • Equality and Human Rights Commission – works to help make Britain fairer by safeguarding and enforcing the laws that protect people’s rights to fairness, dignity and respect.

 

Lindsay Melling, NHLI Career Development Coordinator

Focus on families

I was rather surprised that an internet search for ‘What is a family’ brought up the definition ‘A group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit.’  As I contemplated this description, which to me seems rather outdated, I started to think about what I consider to be a family and how this might differ from other people’s definitions. When you consider your family who comes to mind? Perhaps your description includes relatives, children, friends or even pets.

Balancing the demands of a family with your work can be challenging; many people have caring responsibilities for adults or children. Finding work-life balance has been found to be a source of stress for 50% of parents (see the Modern Families Index summary report) and for those caring for adult family members.

Did you know?

A member of staff can take a reasonable period of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (e.g. partner, child, parent or someone who lives with the family). Up to 3 days paid leave can be given for such emergencies. See special leave policy for details.

In the 2016 Asset survey of STEM academics those who were caring for adults reported challenges that were similar to those expressed by those caring for children. The report authors concluded that “This overlap implies (i) that academics who are caring for another adult experience similar limitations as parents and should thus be awarded similar flexibility, and (ii) that the disadvantages experienced may be amplified in those academics who are caring for both another adult and children.” (Asset 2016, p90).

If you have caring responsibilities for children or adults you may want to sign up to work and family space for access to expert advice, webinars, emergency childcare, back up adult-care or elder-care. You may also want to have a look at the College’s Parents’ Network to find out more about the parent mentoring scheme for working parents and expectant parents, to use the maternity leave and pay calculator or to look at items that other parents are selling. Sometimes when you are focussed on caring for others you can neglect yourself so do stop and consider your own health and wellbeing.

In her book Unfinished Business Anne-Marie Slaughter calls for us to place more value on caring and stop considering it to be a women’s issue (for a summary see Anne-Marie’s TED talk). One step in this direction was the introduction of shared parental leave in 2014. If you are considering shared parental leave you may like to watch some short videos of real life accounts from working parents on the Working Families website. If you are a manager you can find out more about managing shared parental leave and managing family related leave on the College webpages.

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Bring your family to work day 2017

How and when staff members are offered support forms part of our Athena programme and our recent Bring Your Family to Work Day provided an opportunity for NHLI staff and members of their family to get together and find out more about the work that we do. In the morning guests joined their NHLI family member at their home campus and in the afternoon everyone came together at South Kensington to explore their own heart and lung function using mechanical and digital spirometers and an ECG, carve pumpkins, do art and craft and listen to some short talks. Those aged 16 and over were also given the opportunity to go on some mini lab tours. The afternoon ended with a Halloween tea in the Queen’s Tower Rooms and the opportunity to experience the College’s Planetarium and the British Heart Foundation’s ArtBeat, a unique, personalised artwork that is entirely determined by the individual’s unique heartbeat.


by Lindsay Melling

NHLI Career Development Coordinator

Parliamentary launch: A map to better care – making effective care pathways for people with interstitial lung disease (ILD)

On 17th October 2017 the British Lung Foundation launched a new policy report – a map for better care in parliament. The event was hosted by Maggie Throup MP, Conservative MP for Erewash and member of the Health Select Committee in the Strangers Dining Room at Westminster

Originally a Peers’ committee room the Strangers’ Dining Room was renamed in the interwar period. The room is used by Members of Parliament to meet their guests who are referred to as the ‘Strangers’. Designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) the room and combines intricate wood carvings; elaborate red flock wallpaper and offers an impressive view of the river Thames.

Parliament

The report launch was attended by 16 MP’s and 50 guests including Pulmonary Fibrosis support group members and patients; stakeholders and healthcare professionals. There was a lot of discussion with the ‘strangers’ rapidly becoming acquainted.

Guests and speakers were welcomed by Steven Wibberley – Chief Operating Officer of the British Lung Foundation (BLF). Steven spoke of the importance of establishing taskforces for lung health; creating local ILD networks across the UK to bring together health care professionals, policy makers, commissioners, charities and patients to improve local ILD plans, services and to develop ILD pathways.

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Steven Wibberley of BLF and Elisabeth Bray from Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis Charities

NICE guidelines which were published in 2013 lead to the development of NHS England’s service specification on ILD. However the availability of new treatments has substantially changed the services required by patients and future planning is urgently needed improve access to these treatments, a timely diagnosis and to the support of ILD specialist nurses, peer support groups and palliative care.

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Stats provided by the BLF (see webpage)

John Conway who lives with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) – a chronic disease characterised by a progressive decline in lung function – and is a member of the British Lung Foundation patient think-tank reminded delegates in his address that over 30,000 people are living with IPF across the UK – yet many people have never heard of it and it’s severely underfunded compared to diseases with similar prevalence rates.  John spoke of the importance of improving services and communication and the pivotal role of specialist ILD physicians and nurses

I am an ILD clinical research fellow; BLF professional and Co-Chair of the ILD-Interdisciplinary Network and took the opportunity at the launch to lament that there are not enough ILD nurses to meet demand. Often the nursing profession is one of the professional groups hit hardest by local and national budget cuts. A BLF survey found that only 39% of people reported they had frequent contact with an ILD nurse and 36% of people said they had no access at all.

More needs to be done to retain staff and make the ILD specialism an attractive career path. These staff also need specific training in ILD care, robust clinical supervision and mentorship.

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Anne Marie talking with parliamentary guests

by Anne-Marie Russell

@anmari_russell

NIHR Clinical Research Fellow

Respiratory Epidemiology Occupational Medicine and Public Health

NHLI and Weill Cornell Medical School joint meeting

The National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) and the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical School have an ongoing collaboration. NHLI hosted the first joint meeting in September 2016. The second NHLI-Weill Cornell joint meeting took place in New York in September 2017 when we had two intense days of great science.

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Our hosts had put together a very inspiring programme with a focus on the work from younger principal investigators. We had oral presentations, poster presentations and, most importantly, we had lots of discussions. The focus of the meeting was on lung inflammation in a range of different lung diseases that include pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Projects included both pre-clinical and clinical approaches in the young and the elderly.

The association of NHLI with Weill-Cornell is an exciting opportunity and there is already a sense that collaborations and joint projects will follow from these initial meetings.

There was a surprising amount of synergy between the research programmes of the two institutions, both at the junior and the senior PI level. Over the two days we covered a large variety of topics such as infection, stem cells, microbiome, tissue repair, remodelling and fibrosis. Our hosts had arranged our visit in the best way possible and treated us with great hospitality – making the time to show us some of the different labs across the campus, setting aside opportunities for collaboration discussions and hosting a very nice dinner party.

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Personally, the opportunity to attend this meeting not only gave me the chance to get to know my own colleagues at NHLI better, but also to foster links with our colleagues at Weill Cornell. We look forward to the continuation of these joint meetings and further scientific interactions with our Weill Cornell colleagues.


by Dr Cecilia Johansson

Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Infection, based in the Respiratory Infections Section of NHLI.

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