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


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


  • 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.

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

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑