NHLI community news for staff and students

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  As I contemplated this description, which to me seems rather outdated, I started to think about what I consider to be a family and how this might differ from other people’s definitions.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.

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.


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.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 10.56.22
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.

Anne Marie talking with parliamentary guests

by Anne-Marie 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.


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.


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.

NAVBO featured lab Oct 2017 – Prof Anna Randi

Originally posted on the North American Vascular Biology Organization webpages October 2017, reposted here for posterity. We are pleased to have one of our research groups chosen to be featured by NAVBO.


Department of Cardiovascular Medicine
National Heart and Lung Institute
Imperial College London, UK

Primary Research:

The focus of the group is to understand the basic mechanisms which regulate endothelial homeostasis. Endothelial cells regulate critical vascular functions, such as traffic of cells from blood to tissues, clotting, permeability and angiogenesis. Maintenance of endothelial homeostasis is essential for the prevention and control of vascular inflammatory diseases, thrombosis and atherosclerosis. Endothelial cells are also essential to maintain tissue homeostasis, making this area critical for a wide number of diseases and for regenerative medicine approaches.

The laboratory investigates the molecular pathways that regulate endothelial homeostasis, angiogenesis and vascular stability, with a view to identifying novel target and approaches for the prevention and treatment of diseases. Projects in the group focus on three main areas:

1. Transcriptional and epigenetic control of endothelial homeostasis and angiogenesis by the ETS transcription factor ERG
2. von Willebrand Factor regulation of angiogenesis
3. Circulating endothelial progenitors (Blood Outgrowth Endothelial Cells) in regenerative and precision medicine


Lab Web Site:

Members of the laboratory:

Dr. Graeme Birdsey, Lecturer and PI
Dr. Claudio Raimondi, BHF Research Fellow
Dr. Neil Dufton, Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Claire Peghaire, Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Koval Smith, Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Koralia Paschalaki, Clinical Fellow
Ms Viktoria Kalna, Graduate (PhD) Student
Ms Josefin Jansson Edqvist, Graduate (PhD) Student
Ms Oisin King, Graduate (PhD) Student
Ms Linda Inuabasi, Research Assistant

Recent Publications:

  • Dufton NP, Peghaire CR, Osuna-Almagro L, Raimondi C, Kalna V, Chuahan A, Webb G, Yang Y, Birdsey GM, Lalor P, Mason JC, Adams D and Randi AM. Dynamic regulation of canonical TGFβ signaling by endothelial transcription factor ERG protects from liver fibrogenesis Nat Commun. 2017 in press
  • K E Paschalaki, A Zampetaki, J R Baker, M A Birrell, R D. Starke, M G Belvisi, L Donnelly, M Mayr, A M Randi*, P J Barnes*. Downregulation of microRNA-126 augments DNA damage response in cigarette smokers and COPD patients. AJRCMM, 2017 in press
  • Shah AV, Birdsey GM, Peghaire C, Pitulescu ME, Dufton NP, Yang Y, Weinberg I, Osuna Almagro L, Payne L, Mason JC, Gerhardt H, Adams RH, Randi AM. The endothelial transcription factor ERG mediates Angiopoietin-1-dependent control of Notch signalling and vascular stability. Nat Commun. 2017 Jul 11;8:16002.
  • Randi AM. and Laffan MA. von Willebrand factor and angiogenesis: basic and applied issues. J Thromb Haemost. 2017 Jan;15(1):13-20
  • Shah AV, Birdsey GM and Randi AM Regulation of endothelial homeostasis, vascular development and angiogenesis by the transcription factor ERG Vascular Pharmacology, 2016 Nov;86:3-13
  • Birdsey GM, Shah A V, Reynolds LE, Dufton N, Osuna Almagro L, Yang Y, Aspalter IM, Khan ST, Mason JC, Dejana E, Göttgens B, Hodivala-Dilke K, Gerhardt H, Adams RH, and Randi AM. The endothelial transcription factor ERG promotes vascular stability and growth through Wnt/-catenin signalling. Developmental cell 2015; 32(1):82-96
  • Starke R, Paschalaki K, Dyer C, Harrison-Lavoie K, Cutler J, McKinnon T, Millar C, Cutler D, Laffan M, Randi AM. Cellular and molecular basis of Von Willebrand Disease: studies on blood outgrowth endothelial cells. Blood;121:2773-84; 2013

Collaborative Relationships:

  • Ralf Adams (Munster University, Germany)
  • Shahin Rafii (Cornell, USA)
  • Michael Simons (Yale, USA)
  • David Adams (Birmingham, UK)
  • Michael Laffan (London, UK)
  • Justin Mason (London, UK)
  • Elisabetta Dejana (Uppsala, Sweden; Milan, Italy)

Recent Presentations:

  • 9th International BIC meeting, Rome, Italy – September 2017
  • Angiogenesis Gordon Research Conference (GRC), Salve Regina, RI, USA – August 2017
  • International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) Meeting, Berlin, Germany – July 2017
  • 2nd Joint European Microcirculation Society – European Vascular Biology (EVBO) meeting, Geneva, Switzerland – May 2017
  • Vulnerable Plaque Meeting, Crete, Greece – May 2017
  • Society of Thrombosis and Hemostasis Research (Plenary Lecture), Basel, February 2017

The original post by NAVBO can be viewed until the end of October 2017 here.

British Association of Lung Research (BALR) New Committee Members

by Lareb Dean
National Heart and Lung Institute

The BALR Summer Meeting 2017 took place on 30 August – 1 September in Belfast, where the new committee members were announced in the Annual General Meeting. Amongst the new roles, I was nominated to be the PhD Student Representative of the BALR 2017-19. As such, I want to introduce myself to the NHLI community and encourage students, particularly in the respiratory field, to take advantage of what the BALR and I have to offer.

The BALR seeks to promote respiratory research throughout the UK and therefore provides a platform for all respiratory researchers to exchange ideas, form collaborations and further their pulmonary research. Another aim of the BALR is to offer support to early career researchers and this year’s Summer Meeting is a prime example of how they achieve this; there was an oral competition for both PhD students and early career researchers, giving them an opportunity to nurture their presentation skills.

As PhD Student Representative, my responsibilities include voicing the needs of the student members in the society as well as assisting them in concerns raised to me, from questions about abstracts to what they should wear to meetings. I will also disseminate information about opportunities and news relevant to the PhD student members.

I’m very excited to take on this new role and would encourage all current student members to get in touch with me should they like or need to. I’d also recommend non-members to join the society; amongst the benefits are discounted membership to the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and discounted registration fees to the British Thoracic Society (BTS) Winter Meetings. I continue to profit from being a member of the BALR and hope other students can gain from it as I have. Please see the BALR website for more information.


The Art of Communication

A000On 12th – 14th July 2017 the Eighth NIHR Infrastructure Doctoral Research Training Camp titled The Art of Communication was held at Weetwood Hall Conference centre in Leeds. The Imperial Clinical Academic Training Office had been invited to nominate 3 doctoral students for consideration for a place at the camp.  I was pleased to be chosen as one of the 3 successfully nominated candidates.

100 delegates from centres across the UK attended.  This was the 8th training Camp offering delegate’s access to workshops, inspirational speakers and the practical experience of communicating with a challenging panel of ‘experts’. The specific aim was to equip delegates with the skills and ability to successfully defend and communicate their research effectively with a range of people including fellow scientists, research funders, the media, patients and the public.

Panel in action
The panel

There was a dedicated poster session held during the afternoon of 12 July at which I presented my doctoral work on Patient Reported Outcomes. Plenary sessions included a presentation by Dr Giles Yeo Director of Genomics & Transcriptomics, Institute of Metabolic Science University of Cambridge, publically known for his appearance on the BBC2’s Horizon programme Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth.

Dr Yeo gave an amusing and engaging presentation of his experiences of working with journalists and the media. In one encounter his eloquent scientific explanation of obesity was distilled on his behalf to ‘fat is bad’.

The importance of the message was reinforced by Professor Anthony Redmond Professor of Clinical Biomechanics University of Leeds. Delegates were challenged to be able to describe their research in 20 words and themselves in 10 seconds.

giles Yeo
Dr Yeo

Professor Anne-Maree Keenan, Chair of Applied Health Research and Assistant Director and Training Lead, NIHR Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Unit University of Leeds, introduced the delegates to the NIHR Making People Healthier Research Programme. Delegates then worked in 10 small groups supported by a designated mentor with a brief to develop a communications plan for our research. Each group was assigned a published paper to adopt as their research which had been funded by the NIHR Making People Healthier stream.

Two days were spent working with colleagues from Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs), Biomedical Research Centres (BRC’s) and Public Health Research units from across the UK we developed a communication plan and presentation for the B-type natriuretic peptide for incident atrial fibrillation – The Heinz Nixdorf Recall study, published in Journal of Cardiology.  Mentored by Dr James Frith from University of Newcastle we also had access to workshops on top tips for media interviews using media effectively and PPI in communications we also had 1:1 appointments with the press officer; PPI advisors the NIHR Director and NIHR comms team. There were a few surprises in and amongst such as being hauled out of a media interview with the unrelenting Professor Waljit S Dhillo.


The final morning required all groups to pitch their comms proposal to six members of a Dragon’s den type panel. Professor Dave Jones Dean of NIHR Faculty Trainees and Professor Waljit  Dhillo in particular had sharpened their critical appraisal skills and wit in readiness. They were met with well-prepared teams skilled in rebuttal.

Sadly we were not the winning team but it was an excellent learning experience shared with some wonderful colleagues in a supportive NIHR family environment! I advise all NIHR / NHLI doctoral students to get ready for the ninth NIHR training camp next year.

by Anne-Marie Russell

NIHR Clinical Research Fellow
Respiratory Epidemiology Occupational Medicine and Public Health

Inspiring research: President’s Scholars Symposium 2017

After months of preparation, the President’s Scholars Committee launched the 2017 Research Symposium, which was a great success with over a hundred attendees and really positive feedback from the event. Everyone seemed to enjoy this day in which students interacted and shared visions, practised for their next national/international conference – both presenting and chairing the sessions – learned from their peers and very distinguished Imperial College London Professors, and had a good time networking with other postgraduate students.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 1

The event began with the inspirational talk by Professor Simone Buitendijk, Imperial’s Vice Provost for Education. Many female young researchers were looking forward to hearing her speech. She is a member of the League of European Research Universities Gender Steering Group (LERU); she has a long-lasting interest in gender equality in academia. She not only gave a sensational talk but also showed genuine interest in meeting the committee and making sure she provided absolutely everything that could have been expected for the day.

The Natural Sciences talks were introduced by Professor Fay Dowker, who captivated the audience providing a smart simple physics explanation of time. She also opened the debate on the fact that unexpected results, which may seem not to fit with previous knowledge, can, in fact, lead to groundbreaking results; such as the measure of the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, which lead to a Nobel Prize. She set the bar high, but students Simon Schoeller and Michael Sachs managed to keep the wheels spinning until the coffee break time.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 2Having had interesting discussions over a coffee, we welcomed the Engineering keynote speaker Professor Nick Jennings. He showed how artificial intelligence (AI) aims to help our society – such as optimising resources in a catastrophe – instead of taking over humankind. Some algorithms have indeed demonstrated they can beat human abilities, although they are only able to respond to very specific commands. This talk was followed by lots of questions from the audience, demonstrating the large interest in AI around Imperial. Students Thibaud Humair, Sana Waheed, Konrad Leibrandt maintained the level when presenting their research afterwards.

Dr Lucia Li was absolutely remarkable as Medicine keynote speaker. She not only showed us how to make magic but also to keep our heads up, and safe. She highlighted the challenges of the acute and long-term management of post-traumatic brain injuries in young people. She is an incredible active doctor and researcher, hugely committed and so lovely to engage with. We all enjoyed her talk, which was noted by the numerous questions she received both during and after her presentation. Once again, postgraduate students – Leor Roseman, Midhat Salman, and Silvia Sposini – did not let the audience down presenting their hard-work.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 3The event was closed with the thanks from the President’s Students Committee, who had organised the event – Niall Bourke, Maria Anna Chatzopoulou, Amit K. Dwivedi, Terrence Lai, Helena Lund-Palau, Anya Ramgulam, Midhat Salman, Abellona U – gifts for the speakers and poster presenters, and a nice group picture.

Written by the President’s Scholars Committee

How does the heart adapt to stress? Prof Brand explained to pupils as part of an outreach day.

On the 26th of May Professor Thomas Brand, Head of the Developmental Dynamics group participated in a science outreach activity, which was organised by the Native Scientist Organisation and the Goethe Institute in London. Two classes with pupils aged 15-16, who had German as second language for at least three years participated in this activity. Four scientists including Prof. Brand gave 15 minutes lectures on their scientific subject.

The lecture by Prof. Brand dealt with the ability of the heart to adapt to stress. He explained what the heart looks like, where the pacemaker is localised in the heart and how an electrocardiogram tells about how the heart functions.

Professor Brand with students

Subsequently, the fight or flight response was discussed.

Experiment. Heart rate measurement before and after a brief exercise.

In order to illustrate the ability of the heart to increase its rate of beating, each of the students had to measure their heart rate (pulse) before and after 10 knee bends.

Students do knee bends
Students do knee bends
students measure heart rate
Students measure their heart rate after brief exercise

Surprisingly we found there was a wide spread of student heart rates – which varied from 36 beats per minute (bpm) to 90 bpm. After the brief training heart rates in most cases went up by around 20-40 bpm.

graph bpm

graph 2 bpm

In two cases however the heart rate was slower than before training, which maybe related to the fact that sitting in front of a real professor may make the heart beat faster and the physical activity was actually relaxing.

graph bpm range

The brief lecture ended with some information on the actual research of Prof. Brand who discovered a family of proteins called the Popeye domain proteins, which are involved in the fight or flight response. Mice, zebrafish and also patients carrying mutations in these genes display abnormal heart rates in response to physical stress.

staff and students
Both, the students and teachers enjoyed the day.
Professor Thomas Brand sits at desk smiling
Professor Thomas Brand

Report: Inaugural Health Protection Research Unit PhD Academy

By Lareb Dean & Kirsty Meldrum

On the 30th and 31st January 2017 the inaugural Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) PhD Academy was held at the University of Liverpool in London. The National Institute for Health Research created the HPRUs with a view for collaborative research between universities and Public Health England (PHE). The event aimed to stimulate discussion and collaboration across the HPRUs, which include priority areas ranging from blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases, to the health impact of environmental hazards.

“We think it’s very important to understand where your research fits into the wider picture and world around you and what patients and the public actually think is important”

Held over two days, the academy consisted of oral presentations by students introducing their HPRUs and individual projects. In addition delegates from each HPRU were invited to present posters and discuss their ongoing research.

Tom Solomon
Professor Tom Solomon, University of Liverpool

On the first day guest speakers from Public Health England (PHE) covered topics including the importance of the students’ contribution to PHE and developing a career in public health, as well as conducting an outbreak workshop. Topics covered by the PhD students included evaluating the burden of antimicrobial resistance, a review of Salmonella and determining patient outcome following acute Ebola virus infection.

Dr Ruth Ruggles
Dr Ruth Ruggles, Public Health England, leading an outbreak response exercise

Each unit was asked to give a brief introduction to their HPRU and the students involved, before two presentations on work within that HPRU. The presentations were kicked off by the HPRU in Health Impact of Environmental Hazards. As a student with this HPRU, I (Kirsty Meldrum) was joined by Alex Cooper (PHE) to give an introduction to our work. Within this unit we are looking at the hazards particles and chemicals may have on the population through the use of wet lab and in silico modelling methods.

Crowd look at posters
Poster presentations

The next unit to present was the HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response. These presentations were really interesting as they discussed vaccinations and the reasons behind why the uptake of them might be poor. They also presented interesting work on the side effects of medications that might prevent people taking them, and the “nocebo” effect where volunteers are given a placebo and still experience these side effects.

Third to present was the HPRU in Environmental Change and Health who discussed the potential for tick-borne diseases in urban green spaces. The government currently wants to increase ‘green spaces’ yet the potential for these diseases to increase is something that hasn’t been investigated.

“Overall the two days were informal, but very informative – definitely something that would be brilliant to repeat in the future”

The final talk was from the HPRU in Evaluation of Interventions who initially talked about the implication on changing vaccination policy on BCG vaccination, and then went onto to discuss looking at Meningitis B vaccine development at different phases and densities of colonisation.

After a short break there were then further invited speakers that talked about ethics, research integrity and governance (a valuable talk on what is actually required for a clinical trial and the various avenues that could be used to start one) and a talk about getting patients and public involved in research. This talk used personal examples to demonstrate why getting patients and public involved was important and how to go about doing it. Both these speakers were very informative and opened our eyes to the larger world of research, not just being in the lab!


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