DNA folding and quantum imaging: News from the College | Imperial News – Imperial College London


Here’s a batch of fresh news and announcements from across Imperial.

From DNA folds offering ways to predict diabetes, to new funding for harnessing the power of quantum science, here is some quick-read news from across the College.

DNA folding offers diabetes insights

The way your DNA folds and loops inside your cells could be used to predict your risk for type 2 diabetes (T2D).

The findings come from research published in Nature Genetics, in which Imperial researchers analysed DNA from insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas, looking at how their DNA is folded.

Previous research uncovered a number of single ‘letter’ changes to DNA, called ‘SNPs’, are implicated in T2D.

But the Imperial team, led by Prof. Jorge Ferrer, found that that many SNPs are located in regions of DNA that form loops, placing them closer to specific genes, which they can then influence the activity of, affecting diabetes risk.

Dr Ines Cebola, from the Department of Medicine, said the findings bring us “closer to precision medicine in type 2 diabetes”.

Read more at Imperial NIHR BRC website.

Brazilian health focus

Brazil’s unified healthcare system turned 30 last year, but much has changed since it’s inception.

In a review of the changing social, political and economic landscape influencing the Brazilian model, an international team explains that while it has improved health and wellbeing in Brazil and reduced health disparities, these gains are fragile.

Looking ahead, they highlight a number of key recommendations to keep the system on track.

Dr Thomas Hone, from Imperial’s School of Public Health, one of the authors, says: “The SUS system has had a huge impact on public health in Brazil and has been a model for Latin America. But the government needs to nurture and protect its healthcare system to sustain these improvements and make sure people aren’t being left behind.”

Read the full review in The Lancet.

Speaking out

Imperial is the first university to pledge its support for LGBT STEM day. The day, held by Pride in STEM last Friday, aims to raise awareness and increase support for LGBTQ+ people in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) who continue to struggle to openly be themselves.

Researchers from Imperial and Digital Science put on an evening to celebrate the day and raise further awareness. The sold out evening in Balham featured a range of talks from scientists who identify as LGBTQ+ and a ‘pub queerz’. They raised £190 for LGBTQ+ charities and attracted an audience comprising about twenty percent allies.

Dr Kirk Taylor who co-ran the event said: “This was particularly important as speaking to people outside of the community helps break down the stigma around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues”.

The event was supported by Imperial 600, Digital Science, and the National Heart and Lung Institute.

Disability Confident Leader

Imperial has been granted Disability Confident Leader status. The College has been a Disability Confident Employer since 2016. The leader status means the College has been externally assessed by the Business Disability Forum and will act upon recommendations to further disability inclusivity.

Imperial’s new commitments include reviewing the information on support offered to disabled applicants, rolling out a new reasonable adjustment process, and building a stronger more active Able@Imperial network to help enhance the engagement around disability.

Disability Confident is a government scheme designed to encourage employers to recruit and retain disabled people and those with health conditions. The scheme has taken over from the previous Two Ticks Positive about Disabled People scheme.

Tackling global challenges

Imperial has joined the U7 Alliance, a group of more than 50 international universities, to discuss ways to address the most pressing global challenges.

The first global summit at Sciences Po in Paris brought university leaders – including Imperial’s President Gast – together to pledge commitments around five major themes; the key role of universities in a global world; climate change, biodiversity and cleaner energy; inequality and polarised societies; technological transformations; and community engagement and impact.

The commitments will be presented to French President Emmanuel Macron – who hosted the university leaders – among the broader G7 discussions later in the year.

Quantum imaging

Imperial is part of a £28m grant awarded to the UK Quantum Technology Hub in Quantum Imaging, QuantIC. Led by the University of Glasgow, QuantIC focuses on harnessing the power of quantum science for applications in imaging by creating multidimensional cameras operating across a range of wavelengths, time scales and length scales.

  • Professor Chris Phillips with digistain equipment

  • A quantam image of old cancer biopsy (left) and Digistain (righ)t

Central to Imperial’s contribution is the ‘Digistain’ technology pioneered by Professor Chris Phillips and his team in the Department of Physics. Digistain uses invisible mid-infrared light to photograph tissue slices to improve cancer diagnosis, and the new grant will help develop this technology further.

Read more on the University of Glasgow’s QuantIC website.

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