Our focus on prevention, early intervention and mental and physical health is as important locally as it is around the world

Professor Alice P. Gast, President of Imperial College LondonPhotography: Imperial College London/Thomas Angus

On a recent family walk in Nunhead Cemetery, I was struck by the stark history of longevity in the tombstones. Recorded there are so many touching memories of babies and children dying in their early months or years in the late 19th century. Of course, this is a reminder that we can be grateful for important improvements during the industrial revolution that have greatly reduced childhood mortality.

Now we are entering another era of discoveries and advances that will improve health and wellbeing. As you will read in this issue, our understanding of not only our genetic makeup, but also the genome of the thousands of bacteria that make up our ‘microbiome’, is giving us unprecedented insight into the causes of diseases, their course and our susceptibility to them. For instance, our colleagues have made an exciting breakthrough by looking at lung diseases in a new way, from the understanding of the lung microbiome. Combining easier and more rapid sequencing with a curiosity questioning the standard thinking, we have the possibility to treat, and perhaps one day prevent, many lung diseases.

Opportunities such as this come from the great research occurring throughout Imperial and from collaborations around the world. The impact of such discoveries come together in our world class School of Public Health. Diseases are not contained by borders and world health has been a sustained focus of Imperial’s forefront research and education. Sustained global efforts have reduced the burden of disease faced by populations worldwide. Major contributions from Imperial have led to new understandings and developing interventions which have dramatically reduced major infectious killers like HIV, malaria and TB. We work where needed and we are needed where we work. Now we are needed right here in London.

We work where we are needed, and right now we are needed here in London"

We are engaged in a significant campaign to raise £100m to bring our outstanding Public Health academics, students and practitioners to a new state-of-the-art facility on our White City Campus. On this campus, a ten-minute walk from our Clinical Trials unit and excellent researchers at Hammersmith Hospital, the School will also have molecular sciences and bioengineering collaborators, housed in the Michael Uren Biomedical Engineering Research Hub (to open in 2019).

Never before have we had so much opportunity to improve health and wellbeing. Technological innovations are breaking down barriers, bringing insights from abundant data, and providing advances in areas such as medicine, nutrition, mental health and children’s health. With one of the world’s leading Schools of Public Health embedded in a top flight medical school and with strong collaborations across disciplines, Imperial’s research is improving health and wellbeing, through medical interventions and opportunities for prevention.

We need to bring this talent to White City, where lifespans are 8.5 years shorter than the London average, and where children suffer from asthma, tooth decay and extractions, obesity and other chronic and preventable diseases. Imperial is already making a difference in the community through The Invention Rooms, and by collaborating with the local residents, listening to their ideas and needs and supporting their local efforts alongside our own. We are building relationships, developing opportunities and helping improve future prospects of our new neighbours.

As we move our School of Public Health to White City, we have an important opportunity, not only to coalesce our great academic talent, but also to bring research discoveries and educational programmes to address the serious health challenges in this community on our doorstep. Our focus on prevention, early intervention and mental and physical health is as important locally as it is regionally and globally. Public health based upon modern evaluation of population and community needs, combined with a focus on prevention, will make all the difference to this community and to the rest of the world. I hope that you will visit us soon and join us on this important mission.

Professor Alice Gast is President of Imperial College London and is an internationally renowned academic leader and researcher.