COVID genetic clues and mathematical Fellow: News from the College

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

From research into genetic variants which are linked to severe COVID-19 , to an award-winning mathematician studying statistical theory and applied probability, here is some quick-read news from across the College.

COVID genetic clues

UK researchers have identified almost 50 genetic variants linked to severe COVID-19.

In a genome wide association study (GWAS) of more than 24,000 patients with severe disease, the team led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh found 49 genetic variants associated with worse outcomes, 16 of which had not been previously reported.

According to the team, the findings offer clues to how they could better target drug treatments to enable patients to respond better.

Professor Peter Openshaw , from Imperial’s National Heart & Lung Institute , who was involved in the study, said: "This kind of large-scale genetic analysis helps to deepen our understanding of severe COVID-19, but could also point to new therapeutic targets which could ultimately help the sickest patients."

Read the full paper in Nature.

Fulbright Postgraduate Award

An Imperial undergraduate has received funding from a prestigious scholarship programme to allow her to study bioengineering in the US this year.

Sydney Lo, from Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences , has been selected for a Fulbright Postgraduate Award to study at the University of California, Berkeley. She will work on a one-year programme which will train her in leadership and innovation to tackle essential challenges in the biotech industry.

Sydney is interested in working on scientific solutions for the betterment of the human condition, such as through research on tissue engineering and synthetic biology methods for improving the immune system. She is hoping to use the scholarship to develop the skillset and confidence needed to navigate the biotech industry’s ever-changing landscape.

Commenting on the award, Sydney said: "When I got the email saying I received the award, the first thing I did was get a high-five from my dad! We thought it was a long shot, but I guess you never know until you try.

"It feels great to know that the Fulbright Commission thinks I’m a scholar worth investing in, and I’m honoured to be chosen to represent the UK as a cultural ambassador while I do some good science at Berkeley."

Trial placebo guidance

Have you ever wondered what a placebo ’pill’ for a manual therapy trial might look like? Scientists have now created guidance on how to design such control interventions for trials of non-drug interventions, including physical and psychological therapies.

Control interventions, often known as ’placebo’ or ’sham’ controls, are essential for studying the efficacy or mechanism of physical, psychological, and self-management interventions in clinical trials. However, a lack of guidance on how to develop control interventions for non-drug trials is a significant challenge that has held back high-quality research in this area.

The new guidance aims to help researchers overcome the challenge of control intervention design by highlighting key issues to address. For example, the guidance recommends designing control interventions that are as similar as possible to the tested interventions while being clear about which treatment elements are to be tested. This will make control interventions more credible for study participants and better for answering important research questions.

David Hohenschurz-Schmidt, lead author for the article, from Imperial’s Department of Surgery & Cancer and Senior Research Fellow at the University College of Osteopathy, said: "Bringing together over 50 experts from several disciplines, this paper shows how fundamental the control intervention conundrum is to the study of non-pharmacological treatment alternatives, for example in the mental health or pain fields, where drugs often don’t work.

"I hope this guidance will raise the standard of research on non-pharmacological therapies and thereby help clinicians, policymakers, and patients to make better-informed decisions about treatments."

Read the full article in The BMJ.

Mathematical Fellow

Dr Heather Battey , from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial, has been named Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS). Dr Battey received the award for contributions to statistical theory and applied probability, in particular for work on new approaches to well-calibrated high-dimensional and conditional inference, and for work on development of the theoretical foundations of statistical inference.

Established in 1935, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics is a member organisation that fosters the development and dissemination of the theory and applications of statistics and probability. The designation of IMS Fellow has been a significant honour for over 85 years. Each Fellow is assessed by a committee of their peers and has demonstrated distinction in research or leadership that has profoundly influenced the field. Want to be kept up to date on news at Imperial? Sign up for our free quick-read daily e-newsletter, Imperial Today.