Imperial College London

A celebration of NHLI's academic staff promoted in 2018

by

James ware and Jenni quint

The National Heart and Lung Institute is delighted that 13 of our academic staff have been recognised by College and promoted in the 2018 round.

The annual round of academic promotions gives our researchers the chance to be recognised for their ongoing contribution to furthering our understanding in a multitude of research areas. Interim Head of NHLI, Professor Sian Harding commented “Congratulations to all our newly promoted staff.  Not only is this a great personal success for you individually, but your high quality research and its impact on health is an enormous source of pride for NHLI and the Faculty”. The promotions recognise the achievements and expertise of academic staff across Imperial College London and took effect from 1 September 2018.

I took the opportunity to sit down with two of our newly promoted Readers, Dr Jennifer Quint and Dr James Ware, to find out more about them and their research.

Jennifer Quint

What are you researching at the moment?

I am using multiple sources of routinely collected electronic health record data to better understand the interaction between respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.  And more specifically I am looking at why patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are at increased risk of ischaemic heart disease above and beyond the common risk factor of smoking.

What drew you to your area of research?

Knowing that there is a lot more we can do with routinely collected data to answer important research questions. Multimorbidity is common, it’s rare for someone to just have one disease, and as doctors we need to get better at treating the whole person and not just one organ. Heart and lung disease, for example COPD and heart failure, commonly co-occur so it makes sense to understand how these diseases behave together to better manage them.

How do you feel on receiving your promotion?

I am encouraged that if you keep your head down and work hard enough you are rewarded in the end.

What are the burning questions or challenges that remain in your area of research?

We want to understand how to better use routinely collected data to study disease. Which for our patients will mean a better quality of life, perhaps reduced mortality and better (more tailored) disease management.

What do you want to achieve with your research? 

I want better outcomes for patients which encompasses a better quality of life, tailoring medication to the individual, and the ability to diagnose comorbidity earlier on.

What do you like to do when not working?

Be a wife and a mum. 

What was your favourite subject at school?

German – I don’t use it at the moment although I’ve recently started taking lessons again. My grandfather was German and I was the only one in the family (other than him) who could speak it so it was always our secret language!

What did you want to be when you ‘grew up’? 

An astronaut!

What do you enjoy about working at the NHLI?

Having the freedom to explore the research questions I want to answer the way I want to answer them.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished reading ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’ by Sheryl Sandberg. I was a bit slow to the party but it was a fascinating read. Made me question my approach to a lot of things in life. 

James Ware

What are you researching at the moment?

The genetics of heart disease – specifically focusing on heart muscle diseases that run in families (cardiomyopathies) which can cause heart failure and sudden death.

What drew you to your area of research?

I was initially interested in how the body works and so medicine seemed the natural thing to do. At medical school I always enjoyed physiology, seeing how processes all linked up and were controlled, such as in the cardiovascular system. And the fact that there are areas of cardiology that also have a big public health need furthered my interest. I wasn’t originally a geneticist but I had a conversation with Professor Stuart Cook and he first introduced me to the power of genetics to find something really very new. Often in science you are looking for correlations and then have to find what caused what, whereas in genetics you don’t have that problem as direction of causation is fixed. There is also a real clinical need to provide answers to family members who have lost relatives and are wondering if they or their children will be next.

How do you feel on receiving your promotion?

I was pleased that NHLI had put me forward for it and supported me in it, giving me their backing and encouragement. I am also very aware that we are judged on our science, which is actually a team effort - so I want the team to be recognised as well.

What are the burning questions or challenges that remain in your area of research?

There is an enormous amount of variation in the human genome and we really don’t understand what that means yet. For example, it has only recently become apparent that individually rare genetic “mutations” are actually collectively extremely common – we all carry hundreds of rare genetic variants, and many that look like they ought to cause disease are found in healthy people.  And if we look at people who carry exactly the same disease-causing DNA change we often find that it manifests very differently in different people.

So my main interest is getting a better understanding of the link between genetic variation and the disease, and at the moment we are particularly focusing on understanding secondary modifiers, interactions between genetic variants … the more complex architecture of our genes rather than assuming a one-to-one deterministic relationship.

What do you want to achieve with your research? 

We’ve been studying these diseases as if they are single gene disorders and the next phase is considering more complex genetic models, which require larger genetic sample sizes. This is beyond single Centre, or even traditional collaborative Network, science – it is hard to gather 5,000 to 10,000 patients with the same rare disease. So the challenge is how to scale up the research to form larger cohorts with genetic data and how we link this data that is not all held by one institution.

What do you like to do when not working?

I have two young children who keep me busy. I also enjoy music – I sing in a choir and play the trombone – and being outdoors and keeping active.

What was your favourite subject at school?

It wasn’t Biology, I enjoyed Maths and the Physical Sciences much more as it was clear how they worked – Biology experiments never worked!

What did you want to be when you ‘grew up’?

Probably my first considered option was to be a doctor – after I’d toyed with the idea of becoming a musician. 

What do you enjoy about working at the NHLI? 

It’s a good place to be doing the research I do, it’s an exciting community and I do team science – for big data science you need collaborative networks and more than one person to tackle the problem, coming at it from different angles with their own expertise. I’d prefer to be a small part of something big and transformative than a big part of something small and not that important! 

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a book called Barkskins by Annie Proulx. I did my postdoc in Boston and still collaborate there, the book is about the early European colonisation of New England and New France. I’m struck by the environmental destruction it depicts and the taking of common resources for one’s own personal gain – it is sad to read, and I think we still see the same behaviours in the world today…

Reporter

Helen Johnson

Helen Johnson
National Heart & Lung Institute

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6843
Email: helen.johnson@imperial.ac.uk

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