Imperial College London

Who are the newly promoted academics at NHLI?

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A chance to find out more about to the latest cohort of academics promoted at the National Heart and Lung Institute.

We were delighted to be able to celebrate our newly promoted academics at the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) at an event towards the end of last year, alongside fellow award winners from across the Department. However it feels only fitting to take the opportunity to find out more about them, their research and what is on the horizon for each of them. Many of them reference the importance of wonderful colleagues and students in their work life alongside the joys (and challenges) of family life.

Congratulations to everyone who was successful in their bid for academic promotion. Hear what our newly promoted academics said when I asked them to answer a few questions on their work and what they are most looking forward to in 2024. From new pets to sporting glory – only time will tell whose 2024 works out as planned!

Professor Beata Wojciak-Stothard

What is your research about?

The research focus of my group is to understand the mechanism of vascular dysfunction in pulmonary hypertension. We aim to develop new methods for disease modelling that reduce the need for animal experimentation and identify new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of this severe and currently incurable disease. The principal areas of my research include organ-on-a-chip disease modelling, characterising signalling pathways involved in pro-inflammatory and pro-angiogenic activation of PAH endothelium, and therapeutic use of flow-induced microRNAs

What is the next challenge in your research? 

An exciting challenge would be to build patient-specific models of lung and heart tissues and to increase the prognostic and diagnostic power of these organ-on-chip platforms by introducing output measurements coupled with machine learning.

What is your proudest achievement of 2023?

I am very proud of my team's work and their outstanding contributions to equality, diversity, and inclusion at Imperial and beyond the College. 

What are you looking forward to doing in 2024?

I'm looking forward to visiting areas of outstanding natural beauty in the UK that I have not seen before and fulfilling a long-held dream of getting a dog.

Dr Christopher Rhodes

What is your research about?

My group’s work focuses on using omics approaches in patient samples to define novel clinical phenotypes and potential therapeutic targets in pulmonary hypertension (PH). Using blood and plasma samples from patients with different forms of PH, we analyse all circulating proteins (proteomics), genes’ mRNA (transcriptomics) or DNA and its modifications (epi/genomics) to try and find patterns associated with clinical outcomes, which include the high mortality in this disease. We then take these findings back to the wet lab in cell culture experiments to define mechanisms for example endothelial dysfunction and identify potential drugs which can reverse the changes.

What is the next step in your research?

To date, most of our work has focussed on ‘Group 1’ PH, which is pulmonary arterial hypertension, where PH is localised to the pulmonary arteries, but many patients have PH due to left heart or lung diseases. Supported by my BHF Senior Fellowship, we are looking to expand our work to these groups to define mechanisms that may be targetable by treatments across the different types of PH, and to find sub-groups of patients that may, for example, respond to existing drugs which are not currently available to them with the current clinical guidelines.

What is your proudest achievement of 2023?

One of my proudest achievements in 2023 was watching my trainee, former PhD student Dr Rachel Walters, now a postdoc at UCL, present her work at the American Thoracic Society meeting in Washington DC, US, which is now published in Circulation

What are you looking forward to in 2024? 

In 2024, I am looking forward to watching Sir Jim Ratcliffe making Manchester United Great Again. 

Dr Elisabetta Renzoni 

What is your research about?

My key research interests include supportive care for patients with interstitial lung disease (ILD), as well as prognostic and outcome biomarkers in lung fibrosis across ILD entities.

What is the next step in your research?

Having led a UK multi-centre randomised controlled clinical trial showing that ambulatory oxygen improves quality of life in fibrotic lung diseases, I am currently planning a study to investigate how we can best support patients in deciding whether to opt for ambulatory oxygen. Another angle which has been relatively overlooked in ILD patients is diet. At least 10% of patients with ILD suffers from unwanted weight loss, itself linked with worse quality of life and possibly to worse survival. Together with an extremely dedicated and passionate dietician, Ras Kahai, we have just completed randomisation for a novel pilot study on the impact of a three month dietary intervention  for patients with fibrotic lung disease who are underweight or losing weight. 

What is your proudest achievement of 2023?

I am very proud of Ras’ incredible dedication to the study which has allowed the randomisation of 40 patients at the Brompton over the space of little more than 6 months. Once available, the results will be instrumental to the design of a more definitive trial, which should be the first of its kind.

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

Outside of work, having recently travelled to Japan, and fallen in love with its culture (and food!), I am very much looking forward to learning a little Japanese. I have recently enrolled in an Imperial evening class taught by the excellent Shoko Middleton, and hope to find the time to study at least a little, as it is certainly a challenge!

Dr Fu Siong Ng

What is your research about?

I have a diverse multidisciplinary group (including clinicians, biomedical scientists, engineers, physicists and AI scientists), with a broad focus on cardiac electrophysiology and arrhythmias. We have many different interests. One current focus, supported by a BHF Programme Grant, is on developing AI-enhanced ECG models. We have had access to several million ECGs worldwide and have been able to train AI models with capabilities that exceed that of human experts and can predict a wide range of outcomes including time to mortality and cardiovascular events. Another part of my group is focused on using experimental models and cardiac optical mapping to understand the relationship between structural remodelling and the specific arrhythmia phenotype (or electrophenotype) in atrial fibrillation. 

What is your next to look at through your research?

Taking the AI-enhanced ECG example, now that we have developed some really accurate models, the next step is to put them into clinical practice. There are many challenges. One is that the NHS deals mainly with paper ECGs while our models require digital waveform inputs, so we are working on digitising large numbers of ECG images. We are also trying hard to make our AI models explainable and their predictions actionable, so that they are of value to clinicians.

What is your proudest achievement of 2023?

I am proudest of what my team, as a whole, has achieved in 2023. I am very fortunate to have a team consisting of some of the brightest research fellows and PhD students out there. Together, they have won national and international research prizes, been awarded prestigious fellowship funding and also published some really cool papers. Supporting and guiding these scientists of tomorrow is what makes my job so fulfilling. 

What are you looking forward to doing in 2024? 

I am most looking forward to getting back to regular sporting activities in the new year. Having had a 6-month layoff because of an achilles injury, I cannot wait to get back to running and playing tennis regularly!

Professor Philip Molyneaux

What is your research about? 

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is an irreversible scarring disease of the lung. I have shown that patients with IPF have more bacteria in their lungs which drives disease progression. However, it is not clear where these bacteria come from, nor how they may cause scarring. 

My work aims to understand (i) how bugs get into the lungs, exploring links with spill over of stomach contents (reflux) and the links between the bugs in the lungs and the gut (gut-lung axis); (ii) how bacteria drive progression of scarring by studying changes over time; assess whether targeting lung bacteria, would be a good way to treat IPF, with inhaled therapies in specific individuals.

What is next to look at through your research?

Acute exacerbations of IPF are devastating events which we really don’t understand. Over the next few years we will establish an exacerbation cohort across north west London to phenotype and study these events in detail, with the hope we can begin to understand and treat them.

What is your proudest achievement of 2023? 

I guess I have to say being promoted to Professor, but making it though a year with two children under two was probably a bigger achievement!

What are you looking forward to doing in 2024?

I’m looking forward to an upcoming holiday to Cape Town with my family!

Dr Rasha Al-Lamee

What is your research about?

I am an academic interventional cardiologist, and my research has been focussed on the study of stable coronary artery disease. In particular, I want to understand the best treatment options for patients with stable angina. The novelty of my research has been in the application of placebo-control within interventional procedures. My first clinical trial, ORBITA, was published in The Lancet in 2018 and tested the effectiveness of coronary angioplasty compared to a placebo procedure in patients with coronary artery disease on multiple anti-anginal medications. I built on this work to design the ORBITA-2 trial which tested the effect of angioplasty in similar patients on no anti-anginal medication. 

What is your next challenge to look at through your research?

My next big challenge is the completion and publication of the ORBITA-COSMIC trial. This placebo-controlled trial assesses the effectiveness of a relatively novel procedure, the coronary sinus reducer, for patients with angina with no further options for antianginal therapy. We have a busy time ahead of us but hope to be able to share the results in the next few months. 

What is your proudest achievement of 2023? 

For me 2023 will always be the year I got my first New England Journal of Medicine paper. Getting ORBITA-2 published in NEJM was one of the hardest and most gruelling experiences of my life but I was lucky to be surrounded by my fantastic ORBITA team, without whom it would never have been possible. 

What are you looking forward to doing in 2024?

In 2024 my little boy, Laith, will start secondary school. As anyone who has been through the 11+ process might know, it feels like a monumental achievement for the whole family and I’m really looking forward to watching him take his next big steps! 

Dr Robina Coker

What is your research about? 

As Clinical Director of NIHR North West London (NWL) Clinical Research Network (CRN), much of my time is spent promoting clinical research in hospital, primary care, and non-NHS settings. We lead the country in Primary Care research. 95% of NWL GP practices undertake research and over 37,000 participants enrolled in studies in 2022-23. Our Schools Research Network has 58 schools with 45,000 children, teaching students about research and involving them in suitable studies. In 2022-2023 overall NWL CRN recruitment reached 71,496, our second highest since 2014 and our best performance ever excepting Covid research.

As respiratory consultant at the Hammersmith I lead NIHR studies in interstitial lung disease (ILD) and sarcoidosis, and chair the British Thoracic Society Air Travel committee. 

What is your next step to look at through your research? 

Firstly to facilitate a successful merger between NWL CRN and North Thames CRN to create a new North London Regional Research Delivery Network (RDN), launching in October 2024. The merger provides the region with new opportunities to attract Life Sciences investment and expand our portfolio across the wider healthcare landscape.  

Secondly, I am looking forward to new and productive collaborations with NHLI colleagues relocating to the Hammersmith campus. Collaboration between researchers and ILD healthcare professionals, with well-characterised patient cohorts, are vital for us to improve both quality of life and life expectancy for our patients.  

What is your proudest achievement of 2023? 

My proudest achievement at work was undoubtedly my Professor of Practice promotion. I was very honoured, and absolutely delighted! Beyond work I was thrilled to qualify for the British Dressage Inter County Championships (South & West).

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

I am (still) looking forward to completing Hilary Mantel's trilogy of Tudor history: Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light. Her prose is magnificent and the subject matter fascinating, but it's a challenge to set aside the time it needs. I have however recently managed to visit Wolf Hall (in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire)!


All NHLI's newly promoted academics are: 

Rasha Al-Lamee is promoted to Clinical Reader in Cardiovascular Science

Vania Braga is promoted to Professor of Cellular Signalling

Robina Coker is promoted to Professor of Practice (Respiratory Medicine)

Phil Molyneaux is promoted to Professor of Interstitial Lung Disease

Fu Siong Ng is promoted to Reader in Cardiac Electrophysiology

Elisabetta Renzoni is promoted to Professor of Practice (Respiratory Medicine)

Christopher Rhodes is promoted to Reader in Pulmonary Vascular Disease

Beata Wojciak-Stothard is promoted to Professor in Vascular Biology

Reporter

Ms Helen Johnson

Ms 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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