Imperial College London

Surgery and Cancer's 2019 News Round-up


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It has been a great year at the Department of Surgery and Cancer, with numerous new papers, projects and pieces of research taking place.

Here is a round-up of the biggest Surgery and Cancer stories from 2019.

Breast cancer can form ‘sleeper cells’ after drug treatment

“If we can unlock the secrets of these dormant cells, we may be able to find a way of preventing cancer coming back” Dr Luca Magnani Department of Surgery & Cancer, Study author

Breast cancer medicines may force some cancer cells into ‘sleeper mode’, allowing them to potentially come back to life years after initial treatment.

The team, who studied a group of breast cancer drugs called hormone treatments, say their research opens avenues for finding ways of keeping the cancer cells dormant for longer, or even potentially finding a way of awakening the cells so they can then be killed by the treatment. 

Imperial academics awarded top honours by the Queen

“I am humbled for being recognised for standing up for scientific evidence against urban myth” Professor Gerry Thomas Department of Surgery & Cancer

Professor Thomas, who specialises in molecular pathology, and has advised on the risks of radiation from both Chernobyl and Fukushima, was awarded an OBE for services to Science and Public Health. 

She is the author of a number of reviews of the health effects of radiation exposure following nuclear accidents and following the Fukushima accident, she was asked to explain the health risks of radiation on both broadcast and written media in the UK and internationally.  

NHS must take urgent steps to defend against hackers, says White Paper

“For the safety of patients, it is critical to ensure that the data, devices and systems that uphold our NHS and therefore our nation’s health are secure.” Professor the Lord Ara Darzi Co-Director, Institute of Global Health Innovation

The NHS remains vulnerable to cyber-attack, and must take urgent steps to defend against threats which could risk the safety of patients. This is the finding of a new White Paper on NHS Cyber Security presented at the House of Lords.

The report, written by researchers from Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation led by Professor the Lord Ara Darzi, suggests a combination of out-dated computer systems, lack of investment, and a deficit of skills and awareness in cyber-security is placing NHS hospitals at risk.

Artificial intelligence can predict survival of ovarian cancer patients

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform the way healthcare is delivered and improve patient outcomes.” Professor Andrea Rockall Clinical Chair in Radiology, Department of Surgery & Cancer

Researchers have created new machine learning software that can forecast the survival rates and response to treatments of patients with ovarian cancer

The artificial intelligence software, created by researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Melbourne, has been able to predict the prognosis of patients with ovarian cancer more accurately than current methods.  It can also predict what treatment would be most effective for patients following diagnosis.

Immersion in virtual reality scenes of the Arctic helps to ease people’s pain

"Our work suggests that VR may be interfering with processes in the brain, brainstem and spinal cord, which are known to be key parts of our inbuilt pain-fighting systems and are instrumental in regulating the spread of increased sensitivity to pain.” Dr Sam Hughes Department of Surgery & Cancer, MSk Lab

Watching immersive 360 videos of icy Arctic scenes helps to relieve burning pain and could hold hope for treating chronic pain, a study has found.

Scientists from Imperial College London have found that using virtual reality headsets could combat increased sensitivity to pain, by immersing people in scenes of icebergs, frigid oceans and sprawling icescapes.

In a small proof-of-concept study, published in Pain Reports, a team from Imperial used VR video to reduce peoples’ scores of perceived ongoing pain as well their sensitivity to painful stimuli. According to the researchers, the findings add to the growing evidence for the potential of VR technology to help patients with chronic pain

£13m Convergence Science Centre to 'secure the future' of people with cancer

“The combined strength of our two world leading institutions will set the standard for the future of convergence science, to transform cancer research in the UK and across the world.” Professor the Lord Ara Darzi Department of Surgery & Cancer

Cancer Research UK is bringing together scientists from two of the UK’s foremost academic research institutions under the leadership of renowned cancer experts,  Professor the Lord Ara Darzi from the Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London and Professor Paul Workman from The Institute of Cancer Research, London. 

Their shared vision for a centre dedicated to convergence science integrates the knowledge, methods and expertise from different scientific disciplines – from physics to data science, and from engineering and the biological sciences to medicine.

Antibiotics reduce survival rates in cancer patients taking immunotherapy

“With prior antibiotic exposure, patients’ response to immunotherapy and survival crashes” Dr David Pinato Department of Surgery & Cancer

Cancer patients on immunotherapy fare worse if they have recently taken antibiotics, with their response and overall survival rate ‘crashing’.

The findings come from a study of almost 200 cancer patients in the UK taking a type of immunotherapy called checkpoint inhibitors, part of the standard treatment pathway for cancer patients on the NHS.

UKRI awards Imperial researcher Future Leaders Fellowship

“I am passionate about enabling both women and men to understand more about one of our most fundamental abilities – nourishing the next generation.” Dr Natalie Shenker Department of Surgery & Cancer

The Department of Surgery & Cancer’s Dr Natalie Shenker is part of a new generation of rising stars that will tackle pressing global challenges. Dr Shenker is part of the first wave of 41 researchers awarded UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowships, supported by a £900 million investment fund. 

The overall goal of Dr Shenker’s Fellowship is to lay the foundations for a diverse range of studies that aim to understand milk variability between mothers, over the course of feeding babies and toddlers. It will start to map out how milk bank services in the UK can support mothers to breastfeed most effectively.


Benjamin Coleman

Benjamin Coleman
Department of Surgery & Cancer

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