NHLI community news for staff and students

NHLI welcomes children into its labs for Bring Your Child to Work Day 2016

By Emily Timcke


Having never attended a bring your child to work day myself when I was a child, I was unsure what to expect. As the National Heart and Lung Institute is a higher education institute renowned for high-quality research in complex cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, it was difficult to see how children as young as two would be able to get an insight into what their parents did at work. Nonetheless, my skepticism was unfounded, and my NHLI colleagues beautifully demonstrated how some of the scientific principles used at the NHLI on a daily basis could be communicated to the youngest of audiences.

It was great to see how Monty, a soft toy macrophage, could be used to illustrate the function of our white blood cells in locating and ‘eating’ microscopic foreign bodies to ensure a healthy immune system.   

I spent the morning at the Guy Scadding Building with the children aged 2-3 and their parents. Activities included colouring in different cell structures and fishing for bacteria in a ball pit. Teddy, the youngest of the children, commented how he was “fishing for bugs.”

During the lunch break Maggie, age 8, explained to me how she had spent the morning performing a strawberry DNA extraction which involved immersing a strawberry in extraction solution in a zip lock bag and then filtering the liquid through a cheesecloth, before adding alcohol and removing the DNA with a pipette.


In the afternoon, parents, children, vampires and aliens attending the event from across the NHLI campuses met at the spookily decorated Queens Tower Rooms for a Halloween Party, which included face painting, apple bobbing, and the Mummy Wrap game. 

Coming from a non-scientific background, I found that I had learned something new and gained a valuable insight into some of the scientific research that takes place here as well as a new appreciation for the multiple uses of a toilet roll.



Carry on Ceilidh

By Emily Timcke

004Students and staff danced the night away at the NHLI’s welcome and farewell event for post-graduate taught programmes.

The dinner and dance event took place last week at the Queens Tower Rooms on the South Kensington Campus. The aim of the event was to allow our graduating students the opportunity to meet and share their experiences with the new students. So those who have already studied one of our post-graduate taught programmes can pass on first-hand their ideas of what to expect during their studies. Staff from the education, administrative and teaching teams were also on hand to answer any student questions and join in the dancing, including course leaders and Director of Education at NHLI Sue Smith.

Attendees were brought together by local folk band ‘Muscadin’ who succeeded in spreading their love of folk dancing, even with those of us who may not have done much, if any, folk dancing before. The dances of the night involved moving around the room and mingling with people who you may not have met beforehand, therefore encouraging the interaction between students and staff from different courses.

Ellie Wilde, Trainee Education Administrator with NHLI, attended the evening and remarked “This was my first Cèilidh experience and I had great fun.  The live band, Muscadin, were excellent – everyone likes a bit of folk music and dancing.  I enjoyed swinging all the NHLI students and staff around on the dance floor.  It was certainly a very lively evening, filled with lots of food, wine, skipping, hand-clapping and brow sweating. Luckily, kilts or tartan were not required!”.

A great night was had by all, a fitting hello and goodbye for NHLI students.


Communication and negotiation for female leaders

Originally posted on the Biochemical Society blog

By Dr Charlotte Dodson

Prepare, prepare, prepare. These were the three most important take-home messages from the EMBO course on communication and negotiation for female leaders at the end of September 2016.

charlotte-planning-to-negotiate-her-holiday_highresEverything was defined in a scientific business context (no communication to lay audiences here) and after two and a half days of active listening, transactional analysis, thinking about relative needs and head-down building roadmaps for hard negotiations we wanted more!

Step one: ignore the other party and decide what you want. Oh so easy to say, but so hard to do. In detail. More detail. The more detail I write down, the more flexible I can be in my negotiation (apparently).

Step two: place an ambition on everything – in the ideal world how much lab space do I want, what equipment do I need access to, what would I like to be paid…

Step three: what are my limits? For what things is there a point at which I will stop and walk away? What is that point? Would I really walk away for one unit lower?

Step four: what other criteria don’t have limits but are ‘important’? What information would it be in my interest for the other person to know about me? (Make a list, make sure you tell them!) What questions do I have? (Questions must be facts, and can’t be negotiation points – don’t put the same thing in two places…).

Only once I know all of this can I even talk to the other side (or so I learned).

dodson2We negotiated to buy a house, a holiday, to start up a lab, to get a job. We watched each other, we gave feedback (‘I really liked… and next time I would change…’), we got stopped mid-sentence from giving abstract advice such as ‘…couldn’t she have…?’ and instead were invited to change places and have a try ourselves. It’s a bit harder when you’re sitting in the hot seat (I learned). Am I trying to negotiate? Or convince? Offer an alternative, buy, compromise or impose?

Aside from the roadmaps, the one exercise that will really stick in my mind is the one on body language:

  • ‘Find a partner where each person speaks a language that the other doesn’t understand,’ we were told.
  • Next, ‘relate a story to the other person about something which has an emotion involved, eg happy, sad, angry.’
  • And finally, ‘Ask the other person what emotion they thought the story was about’.

Vraiment, GCSE French m’a equipé pour communiquer avec mes collègues, and astoundingly the emotion of the story was communicated absolutely perfectly, even through the struggle for scraps of vocabulary. Perhaps more interestingly, conveying emotions wasn’t just limited to communication within European languages.

My only regret is that my colleagues know what I’ve been doing. ‘What,’ I hear them thinking, ‘is she going to ask for next?’ Good question, but we also learned that there isn’t always a negotiated solution. What we can do though is try: ‘it may take two to tango, but it only needs one to lead the dance’.

Charlotte Dodson is a Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Her attendance at the course was funded by a Biochemical Society Travel Grantand her Imperial College Research Fellowship. She is assured that there are plans to run the course for all sexes in 2017.


Photo credits: Hilde Janssens

‘Fortune Sides with Her Who Dares’: Highly acclaimed cardiologist Barbara Casadei to deliver the NHLI Athena SWAN Lecture in January

British Heart Foundation awards £900,000 to top Oxford Professor Barbara Casadei. Picture by Danny Fitzpatrick / dfphotography Copyright

Professor Barbara Casadei hopes to inspire the next generation of female scientists by encouraging women in the progression of their scientific careers.  As such, she is the perfect speaker for the next NHLI Athena Lecture. The NHLI Athena SWAN lecture series highlights high profile female scientists and asks them to talk about their research and career path as a woman.

Prof Barbara Casadei: Fortune Sides with Her Who Dares

Tuesday 31st of Jan 2017, 4 pm

Room G34, Sir Alexander Fleming (SAF) Building, South Kensington campus

The talk will look at Barbara’s research and how her career has expanded, leading to her current posts as a Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford, Deputy Head of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Fellow of Wolfson College.

After studying medicine in Italy, Barbara Casadei moved to Oxford to undertake her clinical and research training. She was awarded the Joan and Richard Doll Fellowship at Green College in 1991, a DPhil in Cardiovascular Medicine in 1995, and a BHF Senior Research Fellowship in 2001.

To register for this popular event, please email Ms Emily Timcke at to ensure your place.

After the lecture, all attendees are invited to join us for drinks and nibbles from 5 pm onwards.

More about Barbara Casadei can be found here.

High Altitude Games at Summer School

tank-with-students-lab-coatsEarlier this year Dr James Moss, Dr Saleh and I created a game based tutorial called the High Altitude Game that aimed to bring together a years’ worth of pharmacology and physiology knowledge for 1st year medics. The game has a simple premise; you (in a group of 6 people) are a single medical officer on an expedition climbing Everest with the responsibility for the medical needs of your climbers. There are six timed challenges and points are scored for each including your team name. You start at base camp and must decide who can and cannot go on the trip i.e. should someone with COPD climb Everest? As the game takes twists and turns you must diagnose and treat party members including a wondering exile who is slowly making his way down the mountain. There are board game style pieces that you assemble giving a practical feel to the tutorial. The game was designed to be challenging to 1st year medics requiring them to make quick decisions to treat their climbers.

I was asked by Dr Rebecca Holloway from Imperial Outreach to play the game with lower 6th form students at their annual summer school.  Imperial Outreach, headed by Dr Annalisa Alexander and her highly dedicated team, focusses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and gives school children of a variety of ages the opportunity to experience university teaching regardless of background. Every student I have taught at outreach over the past 2 years has been focussed, enthusiastic and dedicated so I was really looking forward to playing the High Altitude Game with them.


I did not alter the game to fit the level of 6th formers, but rather opted to teach students the medical physiology that would be needed, through a lecture in the first half of the day. The students were told to take notes on the information that they thought would be relevant to the game. I hoped here that when playing the game they would share their notes learning from each other.

The lecture was broken into discussion sessions where newly learned topics were discussed in groups related to diseases such as asthma and COPD to solidify the new knowledge acquired. Ideas from these discussion sessions were presented to the class via a poster that the students created. There were further discussions as a class on the presentation and the students were eager to ask questions. The subject matter was further broken up by other mini games, one of which involved handicapping one group of students with lab goggles covered in cling film and pitting them against another group of students at a buzzwire game to highlight the effects of high altitude cerebral oedema on vision, focus and dexterity.

In the second half of the day, we played the High Altitude Game. The students were split into different teams with a mentor whose task was to facilitate discussions during the game in a PBL style without giving the answers to the challenges.  The mentors, Anabelle (Biomedical science), Charlotte (Biomedical science) and Rishi (2nd year medic) worked incredibly hard to keep the game running smoothly especially when we played the sound of a mountain storm for half of the game full blast through the speakers.

At the end of the day the mentors and I tallied the scores and were delighted to see that all groups completed the game with high marks above 70%. However, as there could only be one winner the group scoring the highest marks received Terry’s chocolate oranges.


It was a very challenging and fun filled day. I would like to thank the mentors, Shreya (Outreach lab technician) and Dr Holloway for their hard work and effort in making the day run smoothly.

We received positive feedback for the day from the students. Generally they liked the way the lecture fit into the High Altitude Game. They aspect of the game they particularly enjoyed was that the tasks were practical and that they integrated into the game narrative. The students worked very hard to deal with all challenges the day had to offer them. I wish them well in their future pursuits whether they be academic or otherwise.

Written by Tankut Guney

Imperial joins the 30% Club


I’m very encouraged to see that Imperial has joined the 30% Club, which is a global campaign aiming get a minimum of 30% women on key governing bodies.  It was first for FTSE-100 boards but has since expanded to organisations such as universities.

Read the article

Imperial started this initiative when we hosted the meeting to launch WomenCount Leaders in Higher Education report earlier this year.

This declaration by the College is backed by practical initiatives such as a new Executive MBA scholarship scheme for women in partnership with the 30% Club. In addition to the financial scholarship from Imperial, successful applicants will receive a range of support from the 30% Club, including a cross-company mentoring scheme and exclusive event invitations.  Although we clearly have Alice Gast to thank for much of this, it’s a very positive message to see other senior leaders in the College very much present at the events around this and actively promoting the Athena agenda.

See also


Written by Professor Sian Harding

NHLI Olympics Summer Social for Students

Written by Ms Katherine Strong (Research Postgraduate Student, Treasurer of the NHLI Postgraduate Committee) and Mr Liam Couch (Research Postgraduate Student, Chair of the NHLI Postgraduate Committee).

Olympics Social_photo_2016-08-31

As an end of year summer event, the National Heart and Lung Institute held an Olympic themed social event for students at Eastside bar in South Kensington. The aim of this event was to encourage interactions between students based at different campuses and to improve the student experience in NHLI. As the department is spread across five different campuses with a lack of common social space, some students can feel isolated. Holding cross-campus social events helps build networks between students in different research groups and campuses and promotes an informal support network for students.

Olympics Social_photo2_2016-08-31

Following the success of a previous event in May and to celebrate the Olympics, we decided to hold an Olympic themed social event, where students enjoyed pizza and Brazilian snacks while watching the Olympics. Around 45 students from across all NHLI campuses attended the social, which received good feedback. Students suggested creating a Facebook group for NHLI students to keep in touch and to provide a support network for students. We are looking forward to our Christmas social event, which the Graduate School has provided funding for.

Research Councils’ Diversity Data Reveals Worrying Gender Differences

Over the past few years, Research Councils UK (RCUK) have begun to systematically collect and report diversity data – and the findings regarding gender differences in grant application and success rates are worrying. The latest report can be found here: Research Councils Diversity Data (April 2016).

RCUK have stated that they are committed to ensuring that the best potential researchers from a diverse population are attracted to research careers. The report on diversity data includes information on gender, age, disability status and ethnicity and the data is generated from grant and fellowship applications submitted to each of the research councils. This report makes interesting reading and I wish this data was given as much publicity in the national media as some of the more positive ‘new medical cure for…’ stories that research councils and journalists make sure to highlight.

As a female academic, I was shocked by the scale of the difference between female and male submissions to research councils and the results are even more alarming when viewing the gender of PIs who are actually awarded grants. Some of the differences may be attributed to the smaller number of women PIs employed in academia and encouragingly the most recent data from 2014/15 shows evidence from at least some councils that the gap is closing between the percentages of awards made to women versus men.


By Dr Charlotte Dean, Lecturer in Lung Development and Disease

Multi-disciplinary approach to combat antimicrobial resistance with EMBRACE

Mike Cox reports on the ‘sandpit’ event held by the Antimicrobial Research Collaborative (ARC) to encourage multidisciplinary research, where he was part of the winning team. The groups were looking at novel ways to tackle the issue of antibiotic resistance.

“Attendance at the sandpit was selective, they wanted a wide range of skills represented, from mathematical modelling, point of care sensing and engineering, to chemistry, veterinary science and microbiology.  The problem of antibiotic resistance is global and requires a multi-disciplinary approach.  My interest came from our work on the respiratory microbiome, where we’ve seen the whole community of bacteria present in the lungs respond to antibiotics, not just the organism causing the problem.  There is huge application of antibiotics for respiratory infections – 16 million prescriptions a year in the NHS, so it was important that respiratory microbiology was represented.

Over the course of the sandpit, we were grouped with people with completely different skills, and had to come up with ideas for how to tackle the problem.  Groups were constantly changed to ensure a wide variety of different ideas.  Towards the end, we then focused in teams on developing a single idea, with the aim of pitching this to a panel of judges for pump-priming money.  Picking a single idea was difficult, as actual a large number of potential projects were developed over all, and hopefully new collaborations formed that can take these ideas forward.

Dr Andrew Edwards of the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection lead our team and had the idea of boosting the immune system response to bacteria in general, while avoiding the inevitable development of their resistance to antibiotics.  The resulting proposal from our team’s efforts, Promoting Immune Clearance, draws on the skills of the entire group of 8 people, from chemistry, immunology, bacteriology and bioinformatics to my human microbiome input, where I will be looking at whether our approach is selective as hoped, and only targets the pathogens, without effecting other harmless or beneficial bacteria present.

We now have to try and get our rapidly put together idea into a real project, with the hope of performing a proof of principal experiment and then following up with further funding”.

The sandpit event was part of EMBRACE which is sponsored by the EPSRC, as part of its ‘Bridging the Gaps‘ initiative. The purpose of EMBRACE is to nurture multidisciplinary research within Imperial College to challenge the catastrophic threat of antimicrobial resistance. The programme is principally designed to develop a cohort of interdisciplinary research fellows who will develop a unique set of hybrid research skills, a positive attitude to multidisciplinary research and the ability to communicate across traditional academic boundaries. More details on EMBRACE.

Members of the winning team:

Dr Andrew Edwards, Lecturer, MRC CMBI (project lead, expert in infection biology)
Dr John Tregoning, Senior Lecturer, Medicine (infection biology and animal models)
Dr Ali Salehi-Reyhani, Chemistry (Single cell analysis)
Dr Avinash Shenoy, Lecturer, MRC CMBI (Innate immunity)
Dr Myrsini Kaforou, ARC Fellow, Medicine (Host immunity)
Dr Lindsay Evans, Embrace Fellow, Chemistry (Medicinal chemistry)
Dr Thomas Lanyon-Hogg, PDRA (Tate group), Chemistry (Drug design and development)
Dr Mike Cox, PDRA, NHLI (Microbiome analysis).



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