Medical cannabis and antibiotic awareness: News from the College

David Nutt

David Nutt

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

From improving access to medical cannabis, to an exploration of the bacterial-busting powers of antibiotics, here is some quick-read news from across the College.

Improving access to medical cannabis

The law may have changed, but patients are still struggling to gain access to medicinal cannabis, says Imperial’s David Nutt.

Last year UK laws on medicinal cannabis changed following the case of a British boy with a severe form of epilepsy whose symptoms improved with CBD oil.

But Professor Nutt argues that the roll out “has been much slower than patients and parents had hoped”.

Writing in the BMJ this week , he cites lack of knowledge of the benefits among clinicians, fear of adverse effects (like psychosis) and potential increase in recreational use as factors adding to the resistance.

“We must hope the situation will soon improve,” says Nutt, adding that a cancer research model using small, specialised groups could be the way forward.


An algorithm that recognises individual faces has come second in a competition for facial recognition technology.

The competition, run by NIST in the US, places teams based on how well their technology recognises faces, as well as the team’s adherence to privacy and security standards.

Dr Stefanos Zafeiriou from the Department of Computing developed the algorithm based on well-known faces, like those of celebrities, as well as artificially generated faces.

Dr Zafeiriou said: “Imperial’s team was the highest scoring in Europe in the competition. From here we will build on our work to improve the technology even further.”

Facial recognition technology can be used to unlock smartphones and recognise passengers at airports, for example.

The team collaborated with Imperial-based start-up, FaceSoft.

Data expertise

The Belgian Parliament has appointed the head of the Imperial Data Science Institute’s Computational Privacy Group , Dr Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye (pictured far right), to the Belgian Data Protection Authority as an expert on data privacy.

Dr de Montjoye has just concluded a one-year term as a special adviser to European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. His tenure culminated last month with the publication of a co-authored report for the European Commission “Competition policy for the digital era”.

Closing the gap

Imperial has committed to working with students to end the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) attainment gap, following sector-wide recommendations put forward by Universities UK (UUK) and the National Union of Students (NUS).

Led by Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS, and Amatey Doku, Vice President for Higher Education at the NUS, UUK and the NUS have been working with universities and students since June 2018 to tackle the disparity between the proportion of first or 2:1 degrees achieved by white and BAME students.

A new report, published on Thursday 2 May, outlines a number of recommendations for universities to improve BAME student outcomes.

Close to 100 universities including Imperial, have pledged to work with students and use the report’s recommendations within their institutions. Progress made by the sector will be evaluated in 2020.

Masters of intelligence

Imperial will launch its new Masters course in Artificial Intelligence in October 2019. The MSc, run by the Department of Computing , will help students master the mathematics that underpin modern machine learning methods.

It will also enable students to evaluate the effectiveness of AI applications, to deal with real world data and scenarios, and to master the logical foundations of AI and the techniques which underpin the discipline.

Course leader Dr Fariba Sadri said: “It has never been more important to understand the fundamental underpinnings of AI. Our new MSc Conversion Degree will train students in cutting-edge AI and machine learning technology, as well as their application to real-world problems.”

Vice-Provost in Parliament

Imperial’s Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise) Professor Nick Jennings was called upon to share his expertise on artificial intelligence, automation and the future of work in an evidence session held by the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.

The Committee is running an inquiry looking at the likely impact of automation on UK businesses, productivity, growth and reindustrialisation - as well as the impact on workers and the potential benefits and choices for consumers.

Antibiotic awareness

Where did they come from? How do they work? And will they still work in the future?

These are a few of the key questions on antibiotics tackled by Dr Andrew Edwards in a bitesized video for the BBC.

“Don’t write off the wonderful bacterial-busting powers of antibiotics just yet,” he says, adding that in addition to scouring the Earth for new antibiotics, researchers are busy keeping the existing drugs working in the fight against infection.

Watch the full BBC video.

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Andrew Youngson
Communications and Public Affairs

Caroline Brogan
Communications and Public Affairs

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