A message to our donors
To all our donors, I offer my deepest thanks. In the midst of another difficult year, you came together to raise an inspiring £28 million for research, education and outreach at Imperial. To those who are new to our donor community, welcome. Thank you for putting your faith in the College. To those who have supported us for some time, your generosity means as much as ever.
Imperial continues to tackle the big challenges facing society, from COVID-19 to the climate crisis, and your support continues to drive this work forward. I hope this report gives you an insight into the many ways philanthropy makes a difference, whether by convening researchers around key problems, providing educational opportunities for students, or strengthening partnerships in our local community.
We know the current challenges will be with us for some time, and that new ones are on the horizon. The work of our School of Public Health and Jameel Institute will continue to be crucial, as will the interdisciplinary groups responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we look to the future, we are building on this spirit of collaboration through new centres and institutes focused on complex global challenges. Our Institute of Infection, for example, is uniting clinical, medical, engineering, natural science and economic researchers to create one of the most powerful ecosystems for infection research and intervention in the world.
Meanwhile, our Science for Everyone campaign is helping ensure people of all ages have the chance to engage with science, learn important skills and have their voices heard when it comes to the issues that impact us all. Through the Scholarships Challenge we are providing new opportunities for underrepresented groups and international students to realise their potential at Imperial. I look forward to sharing more about our plans with you; in the meantime, thank you once again for your support this year.
Vice President (Advancement)
Lifting barriers, unlocking potential
Our generous donors gave more than £4 million to students at Imperial this year, helping us work towards a future where everyone who has talent has opportunity.
Supporting our students
Gifts to bursaries, scholarships and prizes recognise talent and hard work, remove barriers to higher education, and enrich the university experience.
Postgraduate scholarships enable talented international students to join Imperial’s exciting research community. President’s PhD scholar Cassandra Seah Ei Lyn is working on new approaches to improve quality of life for people with dementia.
“My research was inspired by my grandpa, who suffers from dementia. I wanted to do something that could help him and others living with dementia; it’s an ever-growing problem and at present there aren’t a lot of interventions available. My background is in design, and I am using this perspective to develop new interventions through the use of conversational agents to bring mindfulness to dementia patients and their caregivers.
I’d like to emphasise how important this scholarship is for people like myself who would not have been able to afford to study otherwise. It helps us pursue our dreams and give back to society.”
For Medical Biosciences student Santayian Kantai, being a Beacon Scholar has made Imperial’s world-class education accessible and allowed her to make an impact in her home country of Kenya.
“Through the programme, I’m creating an online guide for a Down’s Syndrome society in Nairobi, and I’m working on a project to provide equipment for special needs societies in Kenya. I’m involved with the Imperial community in London as the President of the East African society and am enjoying my studies – particularly a relevant module in immunology.
Being a Beacon Scholar is definitely going to have a long-lasting impact on my career and my future.”
Imperial is one of six UK universities to have partnered with the Beacon Equity Trust to nurture the next generation of leaders. Young people with exceptional academic and leadership potential from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia receive financial support for their studies alongside leadership training and mentoring.
Support for bursaries lifts financial barriers so that students from all backgrounds can get a world-class education and experience-enriching opportunities outside of the classroom.
First year medical student Yasmin Baker volunteered on the NHS frontline as a COVID-19 vaccinator. “I was in one of the first groups of medical students to take part in the NHS vaccination programme. It’s been so rewarding to see patients’ smiles after they’ve had their vaccine.
I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to make a difference to people’s lives.
I come from a low-income background where financial issues were always a struggle. Not having to worry about financial difficulties is a weight off my shoulders and it has allowed me to open up a lot more, get involved and immerse myself into the myriad of opportunities that Imperial has to offer.”
The Scholarships Challenge Campaign
In June 2021, President Alice Gast announced a £10 million commitment to scholarships to promote diversity and inclusion at the College. The Scholarships Challenge Campaign seeks to raise a further £10 million through philanthropic donations from alumni and friends. In its first year, the campaign will focus on support for international students, Black students and other groups who are underrepresented at the College.
Driving discovery, enabling impact
Philanthropy enables researchers to respond freely to challenges and opportunities, to collaborate across disciplines and borders, and to pursue ambitious goals for the future.
Quick to react, and with us all
How philanthropy supported England’s largest study into the spread of COVID-19.
It’s not often that a research programme becomes a household name. However, in its first year alone, the REACT study reached more than two million households in England and it seemed that not a week went by without a mention of it in the news.
The REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) programme began in May 2020, when thousands of volunteers started receiving parcels from Imperial in the post: simple at-home tests that would help our scientists track the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community. Since then, REACT has become the most significant piece of research looking at how COVID-19 is spreading across the country, building a detailed picture of infections both past and present. One of the largest studies of its kind in the world, it continues to help shape public policy and improve understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
At the time REACT was launched, testing was limited and there was very little insight into how England’s epidemic was spreading throughout the population. The team knew they had much to discover – and not much time. The Huo Family Foundation recognised this too. Their £1 million gift gave Imperial’s team an injection of flexible funding, allowing their work to ramp up quickly and evolve as the pandemic itself has. It helped establish the vital infrastructure needed to securely host the REACT databases, creating a unique resource with no equivalent in the UK or elsewhere, and supported key analyses on the data collected.
With the Huo Family Foundation’s support, the REACT team found COVID-19 to be linked with a wider set of symptoms than originally thought, prompting recommendations for new criteria for PCR testing in the community beyond the ‘classic’ list of symptoms (fever, loss of sense of smell and taste, and a new persistent cough). Another analysis paved the way for a major new study into long COVID, a debilitating condition impacting lives and healthcare systems all over the world. Using REACT data, the team was able to study the nature and prevalence of symptoms in people weeks after infection, leading them to identify two clusters of patients with different initial symptoms, which correlated with disease severity and were predictive of its duration. These and other findings were presented internationally and led to a successful bid to the UK government for a dedicated REACT long COVID study, which began in March 2021. By June, the REACT team had discovered that more than two million adults in England may have experienced long COVID, and had exposed potential factors relating to increased risk, including obesity, smoking and living in deprived areas.
Could a virtual rainforest help scientists understand how well tropical forests withstand the pressures of human activity?
More than a third of the Earth’s original tropical rainforest has been lost in recent decades, with around half of the remaining forest in a degraded state, impacted by logging, agriculture, the expansion of roads or other human activities.
Protecting degraded forest ecosystems from complete collapse is a priority, but there is currently little evidence on how to do this effectively. A team of Imperial researchers, led by Professor Rob Ewers, is now creating the most complex computer simulation of a rainforest ecosystem ever to be attempted, in the hope of providing new insights to safeguard the future of the world’s rainforests.
The virtual rainforest project, generously supported by the NOMIS Foundation, will model the complex network of living organisms and natural processes that together make up a tropical forest ecosystem. The simulation will offer an extraordinary level of detail, tracking the birth, reproduction and death of each individual plant, animal and microbe within the virtual forest.
While observational studies in real tropical forests have given scientists an increasingly detailed picture of the individual elements that make up forest ecosystems – such as rainfall, temperature, and plant and animal populations – understanding how these interact as a complex whole is much more challenging. Using the simulation, researchers will be able to study how a rainforest behaves as a system.
“The emergent features of a forest – how stable it is as a system, or how resilient it is to external pressure – are not possible to measure through direct observation alone,” says Professor Ewers. “Much research in ecology focuses on unpicking ever more detail about the actions of individual ecosystem components. That is all vital information, but with the virtual rainforest project, we want to focus on the bigger picture with a more holistic, systems approach.”
By transposing an entire ecosystem into a computer model, Professor Ewers and his team can carry out a series of experiments that will offer new insight into the factors that influence forest resilience, stability and sustainability.
One aim is to determine whether the stability of a forest ecosystem is governed by those ecological components that are most heavily interconnected. For example, species that connect different strata of the forest, such as the ground and the canopy, may help stabilise the system in ways that species restricted to just one of those strata are unable to.
The project will also look at what forest management practices are most effective in supporting the recovery of degraded forest, providing evidence to help scientists and policymakers to design strategies that safeguard the future of forests. Professor Ewers received the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award in 2021 for his pioneering work on rainforest ecosystems. The NOMIS Foundation supports insight-driven science across all disciplines, focusing on researchers who put forth bold new ideas, exhibit a pioneering spirit, and seek to inspire the world around them.
Milestones in myeloma research
A transformative gift from Hugh and Josseline Langmuir is helping find new treatments for a currently incurable blood cancer.
In 2019, we shared news of a £10 million gift from Hugh and Josseline Langmuir, given in support of Imperial’s pioneering research into multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that develops in plasma cells. This landmark gift established the Hugh and Josseline Langmuir Centre for Myeloma Research and provided Imperial’s world-leading haematology team with funding for facilities, equipment and academic posts to advance their search for new and better treatments for myeloma and other allied blood disorders.
Since the 1990s, incidence rates of myeloma have increased by 32 per cent in the UK and are projected to rise by a further 11 per cent by 2035. Despite significant progress in myeloma research, it has long been underfunded and the condition remains incurable.
The Langmuirs’ gift provided a vital boost and in two years has already had a great impact. Refurbishment work is underway at the team’s workspace, which will house two dedicated tissue culture rooms, a large open-plan lab, and new state-of-the-art equipment. New PhD posts are increasing research capacity and the creation of an endowed chair has secured the long-term leadership of Professor Anastasios Karadimitris, who is now Langmuir Chair for Haematology and Director of the Centre.
Led by Professor Karadimitris and fellow Principal Investigators Dr Holger Auner and Dr Aris Chaidos, Imperial’s researchers are making great strides towards what they consider their first and ultimate purpose: delivering improved and more effective treatment options to people with myeloma. Among their successes, they are leading the UK trial of a novel drug that blocks the NF-KB signal pathway, which plays a key role in the development of certain cancers. Other breakthroughs exposed previously undiscovered ‘weak spots’ in chemotherapy-resistant cancer cells, which could be exploited to deliver more effective therapies, while genome mapping of areas called enhancers in myeloma cells will provide opportunities to silence cancer genes that are aberrantly activated and which drive the growth and survival of cancer cells. Finally, recently secured academic and commercial funding will support the development of the novel and highly promising CAR-iNKT cell immunotherapy pioneered at the Centre.
Professor Karadimitris said: “These advances exemplify the Centre’s ability to perform basic and translational research that informs development of new treatments for multiple myeloma. We could not be more grateful to the Langmuirs for supporting this work, which could bring tremendous benefit to patients and their families.”
Find out more about the Hugh and Josseline Langmuir Centre for Myeloma Research
The impact of giving
These stories are taken from Imperial’s Annual Fundraising Report 2020–21. They highlight just a few of the many ways in which our supporters make a difference to the College and our community. Every donation, large or small, has an impact and we offer our deepest thanks to everyone who gave. If you would like to receive a full copy of the report, either by email or post, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about giving to Imperial College London, please visit www.imperial.ac.uk/giving.