Exploring the sun and targeting cancer: News from the College

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

From commencing a space study despite COVID-19 challenges, to a new drug and diet combo treatment for cancer, here is some quick-read news from across the College.

Operating a spacecraft in lockdown

After launching in February , the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft has successfully completed four months of technical verification, known as commissioning. Despite the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the spacecraft is now ready to begin performing science as it continues its cruise towards the Sun.

The magnetometer (MAG), which was built and is run by a team from Imperial, was one of the first instruments switched on, just a day after launch. Despite not having access to campus since mid-March, the team has more than two billion scientific measurements from over 100 days of data-taking to analyse.

ESA’s website and take a look at our interactive feature on the mission.

Understanding COVID Heart Risk

researchers are set to explore why patients with underlying circulatory disease are more likely to have more severe illness with COVID-19.

The virus (SARS-CoV-2) enters cells through a protein on the cell surface called ACE2 - which normally controls the balance of hormones which help regulate blood vessels. But the virus stops ACE2 functioning, leaving the hormone levels unbalanced.

According to researchers, the hormone imbalance may have a knock on effect on blood vessels in the heart, lungs and kidney, increasing the risk of severe outcomes, such as blood clots.

In a small study, the Imperial team will look to see if a class of drug called TRV027 could redress the balance and reduce severe outcomes in patients hospitalised with COVID-19.

Imperial’s Dr David Owen , one of the lead investigators, said: “This is potentially a very exciting study. If our hypothesis is correct, and the loss of ACE2 function is indeed responsible for much of the damage in COVID-19, then TRV027 could have a profound effect”

Read more about the trial , which is funded by the British Heart Foundation.

Plastic solutions

The policy implications of Imperial’s Greener Plastic Futures project were the focus of The Forum and the Ocean Plastic Solutions Network’s latest workshop.

Professor Jason Hallett , who leads the project, described the huge growth in plastics across the world to attendees from government and third sector. Dr Arturo Castillo Castillo then discussed his role as lead of the project’s policy implications.

Project researchers Dr Zaneta Muranko, Dr Manu Mulakkal and Dr Panos Bexis then spoke about rethinking manufacturing, distribution and consumption, while Dr James Hogg and Dr Maria Mediero discussed recycling, repurposing and tracing. Dr Castillo concluded with an overview of the remaining policy barriers and future opportunities before attendees discussed onward collaboration.

Drug & diet combo for cancer

Targeting cancer’s ability to process fat using a new class of drugs can halt tumour growth in mice, but only when combined with a diet free of fats.

Using a surgical ‘iKnife’ to vaporize cancer tissue, scientists at Imperial and The Institute of Cancer Research found a metabolic weakness in cancer that could provide a target for treatment.

The team, led by George Poulogiannis and Zoltan Takats, believes it could open up the possibility of ‘drugs and diet’ cancer treatments - combining precision medicine and dietary changes.

They stress that the dietary changes would only apply in combination with a specific class of drugs (cPLA2 inhibitors), and it is unclear if they would have any benefit in any other clinical context.

The full study is published this month in Cell.

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