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NHLI community news for staff and students

Imperial joins the 30% Club

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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 http://www.imperial.ac.uk/equality/support-for-staff/imperial-women/.

 

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).


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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.

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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.

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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).

 

 

Joint Research Office School Leaver Apprenticeship

The JRO launched a School Leaver Apprenticeship scheme in August 2015. Our aim was to work with a local school to find a student with appropriate skills who would be motivated to grasp the opportun…

Source: Joint Research Office School Leaver Apprenticeship

British Society for Gene and Cell Therapy 2016 Annual Conference

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This year’s BSGCT Annual conference was held at University College London, Institute of Child Health on Friday 15th April. It was a one-day conference with a focus on adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector design and innovative approaches to implementing the technology into human gene therapy.

It was an excellent opportunity to be able to attend this conference as I have taken advanced courses in gene and nucleic acid based therapies as part of my MSc in Genes, Drugs and Stem Cells at Imperial College this academic year. The meeting therefore reinforced my knowledge of AAV gene therapy and allowed me to learn about the cutting edge advances in this field of novel therapeutics. AAV gene therapy is currently limited by its small transgene insert capacity of 4.6 Kb and its immunogenicity in the host. However, AAVs are able to transduce quiescent cells and remain episomally stable in the host cell. This means AAV gene therapy has a wide range of clinical applications in particular for the central nervous system, including treatment of choroideremia by targeting retinal host cells, as well as the cardiovascular system in targeting cardiomyocytes in heart failure patients.

The BSGCT conference was structured into three sessions broadly divided into AAV vector technology and immunological challenges, pre-clinical advances, and future visions for AAV therapies. I found it most interesting to learn about the vision for AAV therapies in a session chaired by Professor Andy Baker. As part of this session, Professor Robert MacLaren discussed that in order to advance clinical gene therapy for choroideremia, it is vital to optimise delivery, purity and efficacy of AAV gene therapy. Professor MacLaren also introduced Nightstar which is a private pharmaceutical spin-out company from the University of Oxford that is backed by the Wellcome Trust to drive phase II clinical trials across 15 centres and 7 countries for patients with inherited retinal dystrophies.

The Fairbairn prize was awarded in memory of Les Fairbairn to a PhD student for the best presentation. The prize was awarded to Dr Joanne Ng from UCL for her talk entitled Novel therapeutic approaches for childhood parkinsonism and her responses to questions from the panel.

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Following the sessions, Professor Uta Griesenbach from NHLI chaired the keynote presentation by Professor David Schaffer from University of Berkeley. The talk was focused on engineering the AAV capsid to optimise its therapeutic efficacy. I was very intrigued by the talk, which led me to ask Professor Schaffer the extent to which the epigenetic landscape of the target cell is a determinant of the success of AAV therapy. The talk was altogether very engaging and I found it a great opportunity to ask a question at the conference.

During the conference, there was an opportunity to view posters and meet delegates in the field of cell and gene therapy. I was particularly honoured to meet Professor Charles Coutelle who is an Emeritus professor of gene therapy at NHLI and contributed to the first clinical gene therapy trial for cystic fibrosis with non-viral vectors in 1992. I was interested to gain Professor Coutelle’s perspective on the progress of cystic fibrosis gene therapy and the outlook for the future, discussing specifically whether genome editing or gene therapy may be the most suitable and promising approach, or a combination of the two.

Attending the BSGCT Annual Conference as a postgraduate student was altogether an invaluable experience and I would encourage fellow students at Imperial College to also attend wherever conferences possible to broaden their subject knowledge of their research field of interest and also to engage with the scientific community.

More images from the BSGCT 2016 conference can be viewed here.

By Mozhgon Jeddi (MSc student Genes, Drugs and Stem Cells – Novel Therapies)

 

 

 

Imperial Business School to award Forté Foundation scholarships to outstanding female MBA students

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A recent news article by Laura Singleton on the Imperial College website highlighted scholarships worth £22,500 offered to high achieving female MBA students by Imperial College Business School in partnership with the Forté Foundation. The Forté Foundation is a non-profit organisation that champions women’s progression within business through access to education, and the fellowships are open to all women applying to the full-time MBA programme at the Imperial Business School.

Female students chosen as Forté Fellows will receive a wide range of benefits, including the opportunity to attend the annual Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference and a chance to meet executives from companies within the Forté network.

Diane Morgan, Associate Dean of Programmes at the Business School, is a champion of the Business School’s efforts to tackle gender disparities and is also a Forté Foundation Board member. She said: “Worldwide there is an under-representation of women pursuing postgraduate management education and this has a knock-on effect on the number of women who hold senior director roles within corporations. As a sponsor of the Forté Foundation, we can now reach out to more women across the world, and through funding Forté Fellowships, encourage more women to consider and apply for an MBA at Imperial College Business School. At Imperial we are committed to gender parity on all of our programmes because we know that having more women in leadership roles will have a long-term positive impact on business.”

Imperial College Business School also runs several other initiatives to promote gender diversity across its programmes. You can find out more on these as well as the Forté fellowships on the Business School’s website.

By Dr Maija Maskuniitty, NHLI Career Development Coordinator

PGR committee social

On Wednesday 11th May the NHLI Postgraduate research committee hosted another of its student social events. This one was held at Eastside bar on the South Kensington Campus with over 30 postgraduate research students from across the NHLI campuses. These students had the opportunity to meet up and discuss with other students some of the issues they are facing, and realise that they could find support among peers.

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With newly granted funding from the Graduate School the NHLI Postgraduate community will be hosting more of these events to foster better social and professional relationships between postgraduate students on NHLI campuses, with the aim to continue to bridge the gap between campuses.

By Koval Smith (student rep)

NHLI New Scientists Day 2016

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The annual NHLI New Scientists Day took place on Tuesday 19th of April and brought together staff and students from NHLI and beyond to hear about the exciting research our new academics are doing. All three speakers – Dr Jenni Quint (Clinical Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Epidemiology), Dr James Ware (Clinical Senior Lecturer in Genomic Medicine) and Dr Zach Whinnett (Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cardiac Electrophysiology) – were well received by the audience. Jenni (pictured above) talked about her research into using electronic health records to study respiratory diseases such as COPD and asthma, and what data sources currently exist and how they are used, whereas the talk by James focused on his research into the impact of genetic variation on the heart and circulation, and how to use genome information to improve patient care. Zach’s presentation was on novel therapeutic device treatments for heart failure and ventricular arrhythmias, and the recent improvements his group have developed for implantable cardioverter defibrillators.

This year’s New Scientists Day also saw two new features: a visit from Dr Jonny Gibbons from Imperial Innovations and a session on social media (Engaging online audiences and increasing impact using social media). The social media session included talks from Mr Al McCartney (FoM Senior Digital Communications Officer), Dr LJ Smith (Clinical Research Fellow) and Dr Mike Cox (Research Associate) on how researchers and clinicians can benefit from using social media. The talks were quite illuminating and will hopefully get more of us blogging and tweeting.

We hope all attendees and speakers enjoyed the event!

The New Scientists Day talks are available to NHLI staff and students via this link.

By Dr Maija Maskuniitty, NHLI Career Development Coordinator

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