FLIER: focus on future leaders

Professors Fiona Denison, Richard Mellanby and Marc Vendrell reflect on their experiences of taking part in the FLIER programme from the Academy of Medical Sciences.

In 2019, we were selected to take part in the first cohort of the Future Leaders in Innovation, Enterprise and Research (FLIER) programme from the Academy of Medical Sciences.

FLIER is a two year programme that aims to equip future leaders with skills to help solve key health challenges, and enable them to seize opportunities afforded by new discoveries in science, technology and medicine. Edinburgh was the only university to have three participants in the first cohort, which is testament to the incredible talent we have here.

During the FLIER programme, we worked on key aspects and practices behind effective and collaborative leadership, and also reflected on how to build them in the context of cross-sector work. We have networked extensively with an exceptional cohort of leaders across multiple institutions in the UK, which has been inspiring and motivating.

The main thing we have gained from the programme is the ability to reflect and improve our approach to leadership. We have also built stronger networks with healthcare institutions in other sectors where we didn’t have any contacts previously.

Another key benefit for us has been connecting with the others taking part in the FLIER programme, who are all outstanding researchers in their field. We have built strong professional and personal bonds that will outlast the duration of the programme and we are sure will bring benefits to our career for years to come.

Fiona Denison is Professor of Translational Obstetrics and her main interest is undertaking interdisciplinary cross-sector research to drive forward healthcare innovations in developed and low and middle income countries.

Richard Mellanby is Personal Chair of Comparative Medicine, Head of Companion Animal Sciences and Head of Veterinary Clinical Research.

Marc Vendrell is Professor of Translational Chemistry and Biomedical Imaging and his primary motivation in his role is to translate innovations to the clinic so that more chemical technologies can have a direct impact on patient benefit and the society.

Extraordinary team working in desperate times

Graham Nimmo on a bicycleDr Graham Nimmo tells us about the development of COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application short online course.

Graham and his colleague David Griffiths were joint winners of a Principal’s Medal for Exceptional Service in 2020.


In late February 2020, we became acutely aware that COVID-19 was heading towards the UK. It was clear from personal communications with our critical care colleagues in northern Italy and France that this viral tsunami would shortly hit our shores, bearing the human and societal implications of which we have subsequently become so aware.

As the programme team for the MSc in Critical Care, we paused. We were half-way through running Year One of our programme for the very first time. All of our students are frontline acute clinicians, as are most of our faculty. We anticipated that these paramedics, nurses, doctors and physiotherapists would all be focussing on the clinical care of their increasing numbers of patients, with the additional practical and emotional implications of working ‘in the time of COVID-19’.

Our team agreed unanimously that we should suspend our programme and, through the invaluable support of the management team in our College, and the rapid decision making of the Principal, this was actioned on 18 March 2020.

Over the next few days, we realised that we could, perhaps, help in the response to COVID-19 by utilising our skills and experience in online learning, both by repurposing some of our existing materials and by creating new bespoke learning resources.

We foresaw that frontline clinical staff would be suddenly required to work in critical care environments they weren’t familiar with or hadn’t been trained in for some time, and that there would likely be a return to work in acute hospital care for many in retirement, and for those working in community settings and in academia.

 

Developing the course

Infographic showing countries of origin for students of the critical care online courseWith advice from the learning technologists we approached FutureLearn on  28 March and by 31 March we had confirmation that they were able to support the project. The next major step was to take the relevant course content from Learn and move it into FutureLearn.

Under normal circumstances, creation of a new short online course would take around six to nine months. However, a lot of the materials already existed, so a major component was one of migration. While the learning technology team were moving materials, the MSc team and other specially-recruited subject matter experts were creating extra resources to fill any gaps and complete the overall learning package.

Over a nine-day period, we produced the bulk of the course, which is still open online. Over 50% of the content was new. Over this time, a number of us worked collaboratively for 12-15 hours every day. A few weeks later, it dawned on me that the worn carpet under my desk at home, and the holes in the heels of several pairs of my favourite hiking socks (which I had worn during this work), were a direct result of those days of concentrated hours stuck in front of the computer!

Our team worked tirelessly through that long first weekend of April, undertaking late night quality checks and joining morning team calls from our kitchens and living rooms – sometimes even small babies made appearances! The educational resources went live at midnight on Sunday 5 April, just three weeks into lockdown, with many of the team staying up late to check that everything had launched successfully. FutureLearn have, for good reason, a quality assurance process which usually takes 30 days. But in these circumstances, we had just 26 hours to resolve 40 essential actions that had to be complete before everything went live.

On the first day we had 5,500 learners already enrolled. Since then, we’ve had excellent feedback from students.

“Five star course on COVID-19 care. Highly packed with useful resources, great teaching sessions with opportunities to participate in live webinars and real time discussions touching all aspects of COVID-19 Critical care including how to manage your own mental health as a frontline service provider.”

“I found the Covid 19 Critical Care course really informative especially in regards to working in critical care which is what I was looking for. Felt despite having worked in an ICU for a year I still had a lot to learn and the course content both included information I didn’t already know and it refreshed knowledge I did know. This definitely helped me during our own initial covid19 crisis on the ward. I would definitely recommend the course to others.”

 

A huge note of gratitude

The University’s strategic support for OER and open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s willingness to bend their own rules, helped enable us to develop this resource at speed. The team comprised staff from the University, FutureLearn, NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland, who came together to make something positive happen at what was a difficult and stressful time for many. However, knowing how valuable this educational resource would be to staff on the frontline of critical care motivated the team to make the impossible happen.

 

And what about today?

The online course has now run three times, and remains open for registration. To date, more than 48,000 learners from over 200 countries have enrolled.

The course continues to teach healthcare professionals how to care for critically ill patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of major importance it is also helping to facilitate healthcare professionals’ emotional and physical self-care and well-being and helping them to develop the practices to emotionally support both themselves and their colleagues.

In recognition of this work, myself and Dr David Griffith have recently been awarded the Principal’s Medal. We are extremely honoured, This was our statement of acceptance:

“As well as feeling both delighted and humbled by this accolade, David and I are absolutely clear that we will accept this award on behalf of everyone involved in this work including our core Programme and MOOC teams, and everyone else who has contributed and/or been part of the extended MOOC team.”

 

Profile: Chancellor’s Fellows 2021

Forty of the University’s most promising early career researchers have been awarded prestigious fellowships to develop their innovative work.

The new Chancellor’s Fellows have been selected from across the University to be part of the five-year programme. Ten of the new fellows are from the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine (CMVM).

For the first time in the programme’s seven year history, all of the fellows have been appointed from within the University – in recognition of the extreme career uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

The posts are partially funded through the Scottish Funding Council.

The University was committed to ensuring the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion informed the appointment process. Some 80 per cent of the new Chancellor’s Fellows are female and 19 per cent are from ethnic minority groups.

The ten CMVM Chancellor’s Fellows are:

 

Head shot of Adrian MuwongeDr Adrian Muwonge
The Roslin Institute
Adrian is a molecular epidemiologist based at the Roslin Institute. His work focuses on infectious disease drivers at the human-animal interface. The research work is primarily done in African countries, including Uganda, South Sudan, Zambia, Malawi, Cameroon, and Ethiopia. In previous work, he showed that understanding patterns of infectious diseases and their associated antibiotic usage can help explain a significant proportion of emerging antimicrobial resistance (AMR). To continue this work, his Chancellor’s fellowship will focus on innovative ways of leveraging distributed ledger technology (DLT) to map antibiotic distribution, access, and usage at the human-animal interface as a foundation for population level prediction of antibiotic resistance in Uganda. This will be done in collaboration with the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh and Makerere University in Uganda.

 

Head shot of Adriana TavaresDr Adriana Tavares
Centre for Cardiovascular Science/Edinburgh Imaging
Adriana is a PET scientist working at the University of Edinburgh and her team’s research aims are to develop new imaging tools to understand the development and progression of human diseases as well as to quantify treatment efficacy of new drugs. This award will allow the team to develop a new PET technology pioneered by their group called “whole-body molecular fingerprinting”, which will ultimately enable them to use PET imaging as a preventive diagnostic tool. This work will require integration of skills from two colleges at the University of Edinburgh: the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and the College of Science and Engineering.

 

Dr Ailith Ewing
MRC Human Genetics Unit/ CRUK Edinburgh Centre
Head shot of Ailith EwingAilith’s interdisciplinary research brings novel statistical and computational approaches to cancer genomics at the IGMM, exploiting the explosion of genomic data generated from cancer patient cohorts and enabling the stratification of patients for therapies. A major current emphasis is exploring the emerging role of genomic structural variation in tumour evolution and its potential for translational impact. During her Chancellor’s Fellowship, Ailith will use statistical genomics to identify novel evolutionary biomarkers. Such biomarkers describe how genome-wide patterns of structural variation evolve during tumourigenesis, as well as the spatial dynamics of structural variation within tumours.

 

Head shot of Catherine CromptonDr Catherine Crompton
Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences
Catherine’s research examines social interaction in relation to healthcare provision. During the fellowship, Catherine plans to work with a range of clinical groups to identify where communication difficulties may arise between clinicians and patients with communicative differences (for example, people with neurodevelopmental conditions), understand what form these communication breakdowns may take, understand the mechanisms underlying positive interactions between diverse groups, and examine the impact on practitioner patient interaction, and ultimately on health. By characterising the nature of communication breakdowns and implementing these discoveries in practice, she hopes to optimise healthcare delivery for all – but particularly marginalised and minority groups.

 

Head shot of Lida ZoupiDr Lida Zoupi
Simon’s Initiative for the Developing Brain/Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences
Lida is a neuroscientist. She has a degree in Biochemistry & Biotechnology and an MSc in Molecular Biology & Biomedicine. She obtained her PhD from the University of Crete in Greece, focusing on the interactions between axons and glia in models of demyelination. She joined the University of Edinburgh in 2015 as a postdoc in Prof. Anna Williams’ group working on synaptic changes in progressive multiple sclerosis. As a Chancellor’s fellow at the Simon’s Initiative for the Developing Brain and the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, she aims to understand the mechanisms with which myelin shapes network function in neurodevelopmental disorders.

 

Head shot of Oriol Xandri CanelaDr Oriol Xandri Canela
The Roslin Institute/MRC Human Genetics Unit
Oriol’s research vision is to empower researchers by enabling them to analyse large and complex genetic datasets interactively and without them requiring technical skills or access to individual-level data. Current obstacles to extract value from large datasets include data’s unprecedented size, complexity, and restricted access (relating to privacy concerns, economic interests, research limitations, and multi-institutional data fragmentation). Oriol plans to use his extensive experience in developing high performance computing tools to address some of the major challenges in the field. Ultimately, he wants to establish himself as a leader in providing genetic analysis solutions, both from an academic and a commercial point of view.

 

Head shot of Rafa AlmeidaDr Rafael Gois De Almeida
Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences
Neurons communicate with each other and with other cells in our brain by releasing neurotransmitters at synapses, but they can also release neurotransmitters away from the synapse. With a Chancellor’s Fellowship, Rafael aims to find out what roles this ‘non-synaptic’ release plays in the nervous system, what are its underlying mechanisms, and how it contributes to neurological disorders. Rafael uses the small and transparent zebrafish embryo to study non-synaptic release, since we can image this phenomenon non-invasively and at the same time determine its effect on neural circuits and behaviour.

 

Head shot of Samanta MarianiDr Samanta Mariani
Centre for Inflammation Research
After a first postdoctoral period in the United States where she studied adult leukaemia, and a second postdoc at the University of Edinburgh on developmental immunology/haematopoiesis, Samanta has been awarded a Chancellor’s Fellowship to study the role of embryonic macrophages in normal and malignant haematopoiesis . She will begin by studying the possibility that embryonic macrophages become leukaemia-associated macrophages during the onset and the early progression of MLL-AF9 infant leukaemia, with the final aim of finding new therapeutic strategies to treat the disease. She will also explore the role of embryonic macrophages in steady-state haematopoiesis to understand how they contribute to haematopoietic stem cell generation.

 

Head shot of Stella MazeriDr Stella Mazeri
The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies/Roslin Institute
Stella is a European specialist in veterinary public health and population medicine, with an MSc in Public Health Research and a PhD in Veterinary Epidemiology and Parasitology. Her main research focuses on understanding drivers and improving control of zoonotic diseases, particularly in Low- and Middle-income Countries. As a Chancellor’s Fellow at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute she aims to use a mixed-methods approach to address key challenges towards elimination of canine-mediated human rabies deaths.

 

Head shot of Ting ShiDr Ting Shi
Usher Institute
Dr Ting Shi is an epidemiologist with a particular interest in global respiratory epidemiology. She has developed wide international recognition through her successful work with international collaborators. During Chancellor’s Fellowship, she plans to continue developing her career within the important field of respiratory epidemiology and related health services research and modelling. She will develop and apply innovative research methods to large-scale multi-centre datasets to improve the safe provision, efficiency of healthcare and health service planning for people with respiratory infections. Her vision is to become a Clinical Epidemiologist with globally influential research portfolio, undertaking interdisciplinary research programme in respiratory medicine.

Read more about the Chancellor’s Fellowships

Immunity memory: creating animations

Lana Woolford at her desk with a microphone in a the foreground

The Centre for Inflammation Research recently partnered with the British Society for Immunology to present a three-part animated series on the human immune system and how immune memories form in response to infections like coronavirus.

Producer Dr Lana Woolford, Public Engagement and Communications Officer at CIR and of Cloud Chamber Studios talks us through the process.

The idea for a series of animations on COVID-19 and immune memory sprang up back in early April 2020, just after the working from home era began and just before my PhD viva.

There was a huge amount of information, misinformation and animated content being shared about how the virus enters cells and the pandemic spread. But the only animation I had seen touching on the immune cells themselves got the facts wrong, mixing up information about coronaviruses with HIV. The main reason for the lack of good quality content was probably that immune responses are fiendishly complicated even for known diseases – there are so many characters and plot-lines to contend with, it’s like a microscopic Game of Thrones playing out in your body.

They say that before you start a public engagement project, you should always ask whether you are the best person to run it. With links to the British Society for Immunology (BSI) for expert advice on public health messaging, an enthusiastic narrator and visual immunology communication expert in the form of Donald J. Davidson, an animator’s toolbox and the backing of a Centre undertaking vital COVID research (CIR), I felt I could say ‘yes!’ with some degree of confidence.

 

Story board illustrations of organs within the bodyCreating animations

Creating good science animations always follows the same pattern:
1. Literature review
2. Script
3. Storyboard
4. Narrative recording
5. Artwork production
6. Animation
7. Editing
8. Final cut, video description and captions

Like good research however, the process is iterative rather than linear. I conducted the initial literature review over the course of a month. One of the challenges of script writing in this context was that the publication landscape was shifting on a weekly basis, which kept all of us on our toes throughout the project. I wanted to offer a series which was detailed enough to be of genuine educational use, without relying on COVID-specific details that may rapidly become out of date.

As the script was passed around research and science communications experts from BSI and CIR, I put together the storyboard. As a science animator the storyboard represents the most interesting and intellectually challenging part of the process. It has to bring together scientific accuracy; slick transitions; knowledge of software limitations; and visuals which appear, provide detail and reiterate the script’s core messages. Where possible, it should also include boards that can be reused or tweaked as part of different scenes – this saves massive amounts of time when animating.

While Donald was recording the first version of the script, I set to producing artwork. You can see a few here as they progress from the storyboard, but what’s not visible is the number of layers. Each animated element requires a separate layer: every cell, tissue section, limb and mechanism. Over the course of the project, this added to thousands of layers per animation file, which would frequently crash my poor laptop!

With narration files, artwork and music ready, I started to animate. This is a time-consuming process controlled over four dimensions, as instructions are given to stacks of 2D layers alignment with the voiceover, perhaps to rotate a little or move a few pixels to the left. Splitting the videos into banks of scenes helped to reduce file sizes – the separately rendered files could be sent for review and then stitched together as a final piece.

We had to rewrite some of the script, re-record all the narration and tweak some of the animation at short notice following research updates from the BSI Congress in early December. The whole project took 85 solid working days to complete, plus quite a few very late nights adding captions.

 

Feedback

I’m delighted by how well-received the animations have been. We’ve had almost 20k trailer views on social media, shares from Devi Sridhar and Chris van Tulleken, and offers of subtitle translations into ten other languages, which will make the videos accessible across the globe.

They’ve been a testament to the power of collaborative working, the flexibility, creativity and internationality of the University environment, the breadth of our COVID research and the importance of the public engagement professionals and willing researchers who work alongside them.

The story doesn’t end here: we have plans for another piece arriving in mid-February, and plans to use clips from the videos as a springboard for better community engagement on topics like vaccines and immune health.

Watch the videos

Cloud Chamber studios

Portraits of the pandemic

We are proud of the enormous contributions of staff and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New portraits hanging in the foyer of the Chancellor's Building

Working with Edinburgh-based photographer Laurence Winram, we commissioned 13 portraits to shine a spotlight on the massive team effort behind this response – from clinical, research, teaching, technical and professional services.

The individuals highlighted represent staff and students who have worked tirelessly throughout the lockdown and beyond in response to this unprecedented challenge.

Six of the images are on display in the Chancellor’s Building foyer now and the full collection is due to be displayed in the Elsie Inglis lounge shortly. We also hope to arrange a mobile exhibition of the portraits, which will be available for display across all CMVM campuses in the new year.

You can see the full collection below and read on for the biographies of those pictured.

Biographies

Elson Musenga

Elson is a Class of 2020 medical student who graduated early to become an interim Foundation doctor and join the NHS effort to tackle COVID-19. He worked at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in the Medicine for the Elderly Department during the pandemic.

Elson represents our students who graduated early and current students who gave up their holidays to boost the NHS workforce and community response efforts.

Angela Ingram

Angela is Operations Manager at the MRC Institute of Genetics & Molecular Medicine (IGMM). Angela led on logistics to allow the COVID-19 testing centre to be set up at the IGMM.

Angela represents all of our colleagues working in building management and logistics who made it possible for our buildings to be fit for purpose in the University’s response to COVID-19.

Kev Dhaliwal

Kev is Chair of Molecular Imaging and Healthcare Technology and an Honorary Consultant in Respiratory Medicine. He established an interdisciplinary team from the Centre for Inflammation Research with other universities and industry, who were re-deployed to work on the STOPCOVID project. The initiative aims to test existing and experimental drugs to find potential treatments for COVID-19.

Kev represents our researchers and professional staff working to identify COVID-19 treatments.

Kenneth Baillie

Kenny is an Intensive Care Consultant a Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Anaesthesia & Critical Care at the Roslin Institute.

He leads a research programme across the UK to understand the new disease and to find genetic determinants of critical illness.  He also helped steer the RECOVERY trial, the UK’s flagship clinical trial for testing potential COVID-19 treatments, and contributed to the discovery of the first effective treatment for life-threatening COVID-19, dexamethasone. Kenny also supervises both undergraduate and postgraduate students and lectures current students.

Kenny represents our researchers and clinical staff working to better understand Covid-19 and trial new treatments.

Gwenetta Curry

Gwenetta is a Lecturer of Race, Ethnicity, and Health in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, based in the Usher Institute and a member of the Global Health Governance Programme and UNCOVER project.

Gwenetta represents all of our colleagues whose work has highlighted major health inequalities that the Covid-19 pandemic has further brought to light and who have called for action from governments and policy makers.

Spela Oberstar

Spela is a pharmacist at the Dick Vet Hospital for Small Animals and a played crucial role in keeping veterinary treatment going during the pandemic.

Spela represents all at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies who worked tirelessly to keep the hospital functioning and provide clinical services.

Devi Sridhar

Devi is Chair of Global Public Health and Director of the Global Health Governance Programme. She worked as an advisor to the UK and Scottish governments during Covid-19 and has given extensive media interviews to help the public better understand the pandemic. She also supervises PhD students and manages a team of student researchers working on COVID-19 analysis.

Devi represents all our staff who have given their time to provide expert advice to governments and the media, and helped shape public understanding of the pandemic.

Sarah Henderson

Sarah is Director of Postgraduate Taught Education for the College and is also the Programme Director for the Clinical Management of Pain Masters programme.

She represents all of those working in postgraduate education, both on-campus and on-line, who have worked hard to provide an exceptional learning environment to all our students, regardless of their location or programme of study.

Linda Bauld

Linda is the Bruce and John Usher Professor of Public Health at the University. Throughout the pandemic, she has provided expert advice to governments to help inform their responses to COVID-19. She has also given extensive media interviews, helping the public to better understand the rationale behind restrictions needed to prevent virus spread.

Linda represents colleagues working in public health policy and behavioural science, who have given their expertise freely to governments and the media during the pandemic.

Jennifer Marshall

Jennifer is a Research Assistant interested in infectious diseases, working in Professor David Dockrell’s research group.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Jennifer has been involved in the set-up of the new containment level 3 laboratory on the Edinburgh Bioquarter campus. This new facility enables researchers to work on pathogens that have higher health and safety requirements, including work on SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of the current coronavirus pandemic.

Rowland Kao

Rowland is the Chair of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science at the Roslin Institute. He played a lead role in the research and modelling efforts at the University that helped track the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

He represents the epidemiologists and data scientists who have contributed their expertise to the COVID-19 response.

Alan Gilchrist

Alan is part of the College Information Services team. He has provided vital support across CMVM for the transition to online and hybrid teaching since the start of lockdown and beyond. These include working with the NHS to ensure access to University resources, leading the Media Production Studio rollout, and developing solutions to ensure exams could be taken securely online.

Alan represents colleagues in professional services, who work incredibly hard to support our teaching staff to continue delivering a world-leading education for our students.

Derek Mills

Derek is the Stores Manager at IGMM, and played a key role in the success of the IGMM testing centre.

Derek represents those working in stores, servitorial staff and security, who made the College response to COVID-19 possible by helping to keep our research buildings open, safe and functioning.

About the photographer

Laurence Winram, based in Scotland, is a commercial and fine art award winning photographer with many years’ experience.

Laurence’s unique style is called on by clients from New York to Singapore and Cuba. When not shooting commercially, he is never to be found far from his camera with a constant stream of personal fine art projects keeping him busy throughout the year.

Visit Laurence’s website http://www.lwinram.com/

All images are copyright The University of Edinburgh/ Laurence Winram.

Edinburgh helps lead first online World One Health Congress

Researchers from across the College have played a leading role in organising and hosting the World One Health Congress 2020.

The conference was due to be hosted in Edinburgh this summer but with the ongoing pandemic, a decision was made to move the sessions to a new purpose-built virtual environment and deliver the event online, 30 October – 3 November.

Speakers at the World One Health Congress

The logistical challenges of producing a bespoke virtual platform were met by One Health Platform, a not-for-profit organisation which runs the biennial conference. The scientific committee, which included numerous academics from across the University, was charged with producing the programme and responding rapidly to ensure sessions were relevant in the face of the ongoing One Health challenge posed by Covid-19. The University’s contribution was coordinated by Professor Lisa Boden, from the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security, who also jointly hosted the conference.

More than 1700 researchers from 99 countries attended the virtual event, which opened with a message from the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Sessions covered topics ranging from the challenges of antimicrobial resistance, advances in vaccine technologies, coordinating disease surveillance and, of course, Covid-19.

Professor Lisa Boden said: “One Health is about the intersection between human, animal and planetary health, and never has that issue been in sharper focus than in the face of Covid-19. The World One Health Congress was a timely opportunity to bring together the world’s leading experts across multiple disciplines to discuss new ways of tackling these challenges.”

>> Read more about the conference on the new One Health blog

Pandemic insights: Medical imaging in times of COVID

Our series looking at how working lives have changed since the lockdown began continues with a focus on Edinburgh Imaging. In this post, we are highlighting our radiography teams, who helped maintain clinical imaging services and supported NHS colleagues during the pandemic.

The radiography team at Edinburgh Imaging Facility QMRI in ‘normal times’ provide imaging for research projects covering a diverse range of research interests, primarily cardiovascular, lung and dementia imaging. The facility houses a 3T MRI scanner, 2 PET-CT scanners and a PET-MRI scanner. The team also delivers the NHS clinical PET-CT service for Lothian and beyond, providing crucial imaging for oncology patients.

During the main lockdown period of the pandemic, work practices drastically changed. Most research activity stopped and the team became much more focussed on maintaining clinical services and supporting NHS colleagues.

Reorganising the team

Staff member in PPE to protect from COVID-19

The Radiography team re-structured and re-organised to support the change in scanning requirements. The main aim was to keep the PET-CT service running. Oncology patients continued to be referred for scans and the service continued uninterrupted.

Latterly in this period, the facility began to take on the task of aiding NHS Radiology colleagues with ‘catching up’ on MRI and CT waiting lists, which had increased tremendously during the lockdown. All hands were on deck to ensure as many of these patients as possible were scanned.

Bubble working

To protect staff, teams were split into two ‘bubbles’, each with a team lead and a spread of experience. These bubbles worked on a ‘week on/week off’ basis, with the weeks off being spent working from home. The staff benefited from having this time to update their CPD, take on more office-based roles and for some, get involved in supporting the Image Analysis core of Edinburgh Imaging.

David Brian, Lead Radiographer at the Edinburgh Imaging Facility QMRI, said the new way of working was very strange to begin with: “Radiographers are used to the practical side of the job and working from home every fortnight took a bit of getting used to. The uncertainty of what would happen, especially in the initial weeks when hospitals were in danger of become overburdened, was quite unnerving. We were aware that our staff could be re-deployed at any stage to work at the ‘frontline’. This did not happen in the end, but we managed to keep the facility going throughout.”

PPE challenges

There were challenges with PPE and physical distancing measures, which took a while to get used to. But the team quickly developed a system of working to ensure patients were still scanned and looked after, but in a safe manner. All radiographers were provided with the correct PPE through various means, particularly at the beginning, when supply issues caused a few headaches. However, with support from University contacts and clinical colleagues, PPE stocks were maintained throughout.

Staff wearing PPE required for COVID-19 protection

A new cleaning regime was introduced to make sure the facility remained Covid secure. Patient management was changed and several new waiting areas sprang up around the facility so that there were no issues with people waiting too close together. The numbers of people entering the facility were also limited and appointments were spaced out to accommodate social distancing.

Reassuringly, none of the team have tested positive for Covid-19 to date. This was another worry, and continues to be, as a positive result would inevitably mean a large proportion of the team would have to self-isolate.

Redeployment

Though no staff were redeployed into frontline Covid-19 services during the first phase of the pandemic, some colleagues did step up to take on new roles to support the wider team.

Receptionist sitting at the front desk behind a perspex screen

Anne Grant, Clinical Imaging Facilities Manager, said: “It became obvious early on in lockdown that we needed someone to greet patients and free up our radiography cohort for operating the scanners. The first few months were very challenging with reception being manned by our physicists, technicians, radiographers and any other volunteers who were able to help us. When lockdown was eased, we were able to welcome back our afternoon receptionist Irene McCulloch and in the past month we have welcomed Joey D’Arrigo as our morning receptionist.”

Lucy Kershaw, MRI Physicist and Senior Research Fellow, Edinburgh Imaging, said: “I was lucky enough to get out of the house to cover on reception in the department, a job for which I am hopelessly under qualified. I had to ask someone how to open the front door from the reception desk, and which of our PET scanners was which. It’s been a real pleasure to interact with members of the public for a change – physicists have so little patient contact normally. The highlight so far was guiding a couple to QMRI by phone after they got lost in Newington on their way from the Borders. They were having a heated domestic with each other and with their satnav, but I got them here in the end.”

The team also acknowledged staff from outwith the facility who helped keep the Edinburgh Imaging reception functioning over the lockdown period. Temporary receptionists Harriet Roxton, Lynn McKinley, Mike Jilka and Linda Sutherland manned the front desk, giving clinical staff confidence to carry out scanning procedures without having to be concerned about patient welfare in the reception areas of the facility.

Professional development

Staff have also been using the time to keep up to date with professional development. Charlotte Jardine, one of the Superintendent Radiographers at Edinburgh Imaging explains: “To maintain professional registration as a radiographer we need to keep up with continued professional developments in our rapidly evolving field. Day to day, we don’t usually have time to dedicate specifically to this, so the team are using time at home to develop their knowledge on different pathologies, imaging techniques and current research. They are also using their time to learn new skills in Image analysis, tutoring for online MSc’s, governance and quality assurance and IT to support our research colleagues at this difficult time.”

Returning to business

As restrictions began to ease, research slowly started up again and research scanning began to increase. The team has also been involved with two Covid-related studies. They are still continuing with a lot of clinical scanning, so the diary has filled up rapidly and this in itself has become a challenge keeping everything going.

David praised the team for their commitment over the past few months: “Throughout this year, the team have worked hard to keep going despite all the challenges thrown at us. Working together has definitely bonded us closer as a team and we are proud of what we have achieved. There have inevitably been pressures, not least not knowing how things were going to change from week to week, but throughout, a great team spirit and willingness to help out at all stages has meant we are still in good shape and have managed to keep everything going throughout lockdown and moving forward into the next stage of the pandemic.”

Our Pandemic Insights series aims to highlight the experiences of staff during the Covid-19 pandemic. If you would like to highlight a specific team to thank them for their efforts during the pandemic, please message CMVM.communications@ed.ac.uk.

Leading cardiovascular researcher, physician and pharmacologist awarded CBE

Professor David Webb is Christison Professor of Therapeutics and Clinical Pharmacology. He is based in the Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh and is also Lead for Hypertension and Renal Theme (HART) at QMRI and for the Lothian ESC Hypertension Excellence Centre.

Professor Webb works in the field of hypertension and kidney disease. His research on blood pressure, arterial stiffness and endothelial function has contributed to the development of renin inhibitors, phosphodiesterase inhibitors and endothelin antagonists as new medicines for the treatment of heart disease.

On October 10 2020, Professor Webb was awarded Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, for services to Clinical Pharmacology Research and Education. We spoke to Professor Webb about receiving the award and his career to date.

“I was personally delighted to be awarded a CBE in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours and also that my award recognised my ‘services to Clinical Pharmacology Research and Education’, which is where I have centred my medical career, and which I think remains one of the most rewarding medical disciplines” says Professor Webb.

 

Establishing new centres and new medicines

In his 30 years based in Edinburgh, Professor Webb has made a huge impact, not only in the fields of cardiovascular medicine and clinical pharmacology, but also wider clinical research.

“I have had the pleasure of living in a wonderful city and collaborating with a a fantastic set of trainees, colleagues and collaborators in cardiovascular medicine and clinical pharmacology.

I have had the chance to establish the University’s first Clinical Research Centre, the University’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science (and acting as its first director), the Queen’s Medical Research Institute on the Little France site (a team effort) and develop several cardiovascular medicines that are now in common use,” he says.

 

A team effort

Discussing his recent royal recognition, Professor Webb is extremely keen to acknowledge the contributions of colleagues to the success of the work he has led and collaborated on.

“I have had the pleasure of seeing some of my trainees become research leaders in their disciplines within the University. These include Dr Bean Dhaun, Professor James Dear, Professor Michael Eddleston and Professor David Newby” says Professor Webb.

“I have also worked with Professor Simon Maxwell and others to establish a Hypertension Excellence Centre in Edinburgh and also, with Simon as clinical pharmacology lead, to create the Prescribing Safety Assessment, an examination now taken by all 8000+ UK medical students before graduation, and which they must pass for career progression,” he explains.

The establishment of the PSA with Professor Maxwell was accompanied by both professors lobbying the General Medical Council and persuading them to increase the undergraduate medical focus on prescribing skills and in doing so, improving patient safety.

“Beyond Edinburgh, I have been involved in regulating medicines through work as a non-executive director (and Deputy Chair) of the MHRA (the UK regulator for drugs and devices) and as Chair of the Scottish Medicines Consortium. I have also held the Presidency of the British Pharmacological Society and will be President of the World Congress of Pharmacology in 2022.”

Wishing many congratulations to Professor Webb on his recognition in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Find out more about Prof Webb’s research in CVS

Pandemic insights: Animal care under lockdown

Many of us have been working differently since the lockdown began earlier this year. In this post, we are highlighting staff from Bioresearch and Veterinary Services, who have been helping to keep our research running and ensuring the health and welfare of our research animals during the pandemic.

Animal technician cleans a mouse cage

The Bioresearch & Veterinary Services (BVS) team is responsible for the housing, care and management of animals used in biomedical research at the University. 

The team provides veterinary and technical support for scientific staff to ensure high quality research and optimal animal welfare. 

During lockdown, the team were given ‘essential worker’ status to allow them to continue caring for the animals and for essential research to continue.  We spoke to members of the BVS team to find out how the pandemic affected their usual ways of working.

One of the BVS vets, Nacho, explained the immediate impact on their work: “The main challenge was not to be present in the animal units for a while. We had to cease all training and assessment of trainees and most of the experimental work stopped. Our technical staff continued to do the husbandry and look after the colonies, so we were reassured that the welfare of the animals was never compromised. Whenever there was a concern about specific animals, which was very rare, the techs were able to show us through webcams installed in all units and we would discuss the best course of action with them. Once we were able to resume some experimental work, the vets played an important role in the discussion around what studies should be prioritised and what controls should be in place to ensure that, as always, the welfare of the animals was a priority.”

As with many areas of the University, some staff were required to shield during the lockdown period while others faced childcare challenges. Researchers were not permitted into the units, so the technical team were required to step up and carry out additional duties to ensure the continuity of ongoing research.

Animal technician with a mouse on flat palmKyle, one of the technical assistants in the team, said: “Working through Covid-19 has definitely had its worries. Thankfully at my place of work, the team I work with have all pulled together and tackled the stresses, strains and worries head on. Although work had quietened down, there was still animal care and facility cleanliness to deal with. We were also working on short 4 hour shifts, with fewer staff members due to shielding and the merging of two facilities. It has been strange with fewer procedures taking place, not seeing the researchers and work load at a minimum but we got there. My co-workers pulled together and were there for each other, which made the working environment less stressful.  Steps were also taken to ensure the chances of transmission were minimum and the staff felt safe.” 

Roy, who also works in one of the facilities, added: “Mostly this has been a challenging but positive experience. Although at times a bit of a slog, the techs, cage washers and managers have all pitched in and we helped each other without complaint. The availability of staff from other facilities and research groups has been invaluable and all of them have also been willing to pass on knowledge.”

The team’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by our research community.

Dr Elisa Villalobos, a postdoctoral researcher in the Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences, recently highlighted the team’s work with a ‘Good Citizen’ nomination for the CVS newsletter. She said: “As researchers, most of our work relies on the use of animal models. During the lockdown this work was severely restricted, in some cases BVS staff were relied upon entirely to look after animals and carry out experiments for us. From a personal standpoint they have been excellent in not only looking after the wellbeing of my animals but also, they are always very kind and happy to help us to get the work done through colony maintenance, feeding mice with special diets, or carrying out specific procedures. All things that during regular, everyday, non-COVID times I and countless others do by ourselves. I am very grateful to the BVS team for helping to keep our science moving forward.”

You can find out more about animal research at the University, including how it is regulated, on our website here.

Our Pandemic Insights series aims to highlight the experiences of staff during the Covid-19 pandemic. If you would like to highlight a specific team to thank them for their efforts during the pandemic, please message CMVM.communications@ed.ac.uk.

Science Insights: the pupils’ perspective

Sixty fifth year pupils from schools all over Scotland spent a week online in July on the Science Insights Online work experience programme. Students usually join us on campus but life is a little different this year. Gracie Taylor from Firrhill High School and Evie Tynan who attends James Gillespies High School tell us how they got on with the first foray into work experience delivered online.

 

Gracie Taylor 

Pupil Gracie Taylor taking part in a Zoom sessionI first came across the Science Insights programme around a year ago when I was frantically searching for biomedical work experience. I applied in February when the week was still set to happen in person, on campus at various research institutes across the university. Then, obviously due to the pandemic, the programme was moved online. Even though I knew that I wouldn’t get the hands-on lab experience I had hoped for, I was still super-excited to get stuck in.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week but for me the highlights were the MS clinical trials ethics workshop and the Meet the Scientists sessions that we took part in at the end of every day. As someone who is hoping to be involved in medical research, understanding some of the ethical dilemmas around clinical trials was very interesting and a side of my future career that I hadn’t ever thought about before. The sessions were nerve-wracking at first but as we went through the week, I became more confident in asking questions. It’s not very often that you have the opportunity to interact with that many scientists who are all incredibly passionate about their work so I fully embraced this opportunity. I knew that science was broad and multi-disciplinary but I had no idea of just how much potential and flexibility there was. It has made me excited more than anything just to get stuck into my scientific career.

Another highlight of my week was Dr Katie Baines’ talk about her research into equality, diversity and inclusion in STEM. I’m a young leader at my local Brownies, so empowering young girls and women so that they feel capable in STEM careers is really important to me. Katie really inspired me because she came from a scientific research background but then used her experience to drive more of a social change, something that I had no idea you could do with a science degree. Our generation more than ever is likely to completely change career paths multiple times – this is something that used to scare me but now I’ve realised how exciting this is. I honestly couldn’t tell you where I’ll end up but Science Insights has shown me that there’s a world of opportunity that is waiting for me.

I feel like not only have I gained so much insight through the programme, I’ve also grown in confidence. I’ve found that meeting like-minded people has really helped me as I now know people who are passionate about similar things and we can bounce ideas off each other. My one piece of advice to any prospective Science Insights applicants is just apply! I got so much out of the week and I know that anyone who gets a place, even if it’s online next year, won’t be disappointed.

 

Evie Tynan

Pupil Evie Tynan taking part in a Zoom sessionI was introduced to the Science Insights online programme when my biology teacher showed it to me at the start of lockdown. I knew after a little research that it would be beneficial to a keen biology student like myself who was still unsure of what to study at university so I sent in my application. I was super-excited upon receiving my acceptance email, especially having spent lockdown doing lots of uni-related research. I knew this was going to be a great opportunity for me.

I had doubts knowing that it was going to be online and thought it was a shame that we wouldn’t get the practical or social aspect as other years did, but after the first day I was pleasantly surprised. After the initial introductory session where we met the organisers and our sub-groups, we took part in a webinar about where biology can take you and why science is for everyone. I loved hearing from Generation Scotland about their work and the TeenCovidLife survey where they shared the results and how they compared with adults. It showed that lockdown impacted teenagers just as much despite being excluded from many studies outwith this one.

During the week, I enjoyed speaking to different scientists about their various research projects and learning all about life as a scientist through talks and as part of ‘meet the scientist’ sessions at the end of the day.  We heard from scientists working in developmental biology, cancer research, science communication, bioethics and much more and spoke about their careers and current work. I had no idea that a career in scientific research had so many travelling opportunities. It makes me very excited about my future.

We also listened to a few talks about animal research, its importance and the ethics involved, which sparked some very interesting questions and discussions over how you measure an animal’s sentience and why one animal is preferred for research over another. I loved hearing from Cameron Wyatt about the use of zebrafish as a model organism and the process of keeping and looking after these as well as the benefits of using them over other animals.

We also took part in other ethics discussions about multiple sclerosis and the stakeholders in a clinical trial. In small groups, we talked about informed consent and the risks involved at the different stages of a trial. It was very thought provoking but difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a patient.

On one day we managed to get hands-on from home with some practice suturing using string and plastic bands. I think I speak on behalf of all participants when I say it was very difficult! I managed to complete mine after a little trial and error.

On the final day, we took part in a webinar about the current pandemic that spoke in depth about the science behind this virus and its relatives as well as simple epidemic modeling and the use of phylogenetic trees to track how the virus has spread. I loved being able to see how my knowledge from school applied to this area and others. We also heard from Martin Reijns about testing for the virus and how they get from sample collection to results. Hearing about the pandemic from experts in the field was incredible, especially how the technologies have developed in the few months since the pandemic began. It was also brilliant hearing their professional opinions on future predictions of the virus, potential for second waves and overall how we have handled it. I felt much better hearing it directly from scientists rather than rumours circulating the media.

I loved my week with Science insights and it really highlighted to me the diversity of options both in degrees and further down the line. Having previously been concerned I wouldn’t get the same opportunities to meet new people online, the platforms we used allowed us to connect with other participants and I’ve come out with many new friends, some of which I’ve already gotten the chance to meet and I hope to be able to meet the rest in the near future. I was heavily encouraged throughout the week to keep asking questions and I’m glad I did. I learnt so much because of it and I would ask more if I could do it again. I’m so inspired by all of the scientists I was lucky enough to meet and the week has sparked many new interests I previously knew little about.

Overall, Science Insights Online was completely worth it and I’d urge any S5 pupils considering a science career to apply in coming years. The discussions that arose from all the talks I took part in were truly eye-opening and showed me a whole new side to science. I learned so much, not just about different scientific areas but also navigating a science career, which you don’t often get at school. It was a truly amazing experience and I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to take part.