This year, the second British Lung Foundation (BLF) Alumni conference was held on the 18th March at Imperial College London. The BLF’s alumni scheme was originally launched in 2015 with the purpose of keeping the charity in touch with the researchers it has previously supported through both research grants and travel bursaries. By making such large investments in lung research in the UK, the annual alumni conference of the BLF has already become a prominent event in the respiratory research calendar, with influential bio-medical scientists attending, and will undoubtedly continue to be a huge success in future years.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the BLF, this year’s conference was opened by Professor Sir Malcolm Green, founder of the BLF. Providing an entertaining history of the charity, including a witty description of the many hurdles they had to jump through to set up the charity in the first place, Professor Green recalled how the first fundraising schemes were run from a dilapidated basement at the Royal Brompton Hospital. Describing the launch of the charity in an event at the Chelsea Physics Gardens, Professor Green recollected his triumph in successfully persuading HRH Princess Margaret to host the launch. The charity also saw the enlistment of Diana, Princess of Wales, as Patron of the BLF, who was a committed supporter of the BLF’s work and provided tremendous help in raising the profile of the charity. Among his other memories, Professor Green also recalled how the original BLF logo was designed; the original logo of a balloon cleverly encapsulated the chemical symbol of oxygen, O2, subtly depicting the symbolism of respiratory research. In support of the celebration, Professor Green’s inspirational talk was ended with the BLF official charity song.
Next, Ian Jarrold, Head of Research for the BLF, spoke candidly about the current state of UK respiratory research, highlighting that significant under-funding for research in respiratory disorders, compared with other disease areas with similar disease burdens, remains an unfortunate fact. After Ian Jarrold’s enlightening talk, the first of the BLF previous grant holders, Professor Terry Tetley, presented the importance of the scientist-clinician partnership in translational research. Professor Tetley originally began as a cellular and molecular biologist, but through collaborations with clinicians made significant contributions to research into pulmonary surfactant. More recently, Professor Tetley has also initiated Imperial College’s strategy on “nanoparticles and health”.
The next talk was given by Dr Sarah Martin, who presented work on mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer that holds significant research focus for the BLF, and into which the charity has invested significant funds over the last few years. While discussing her research, which is currently funded by the BLF, Dr Martin discussed her interest in potential therapeutic targets of malignant pleural mesothelioma, such as normal argininosuccinate synthetase 1 (ASS1).
The conference was adjourned for lunch, during which time junior researchers showcased their current projects and findings in a poster session. Posters were judged by a panel of established researchers. After much deliberation, the winner was selected and the prize was presented by Professor Holgate to Vinodh Kannappan, from the University of Wolverhampton, for his research into an anti-alcoholism drug that may be of particular benefit to lung cancer patients.
The conference resumed with a fascinating talk from Professor Wisia Wedzicha with details of her career path through respiratory research, which has received huge support from the BLF. During her research, Professor Wedzicha has focused primarily on the causes, mechanisms, impact and prevention of COPD exacerbations. Outside the laboratory, Professor Wedzicha has also acted as Editor-in-Chief of Thorax and is the current Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Next, a talk was given by two researchers, Dr Joerg Steier and Dr Deeban Ratneswaran, who enthusiastically described how a small BLF travel fellowship inspired them to not only strive hard and continue their research, but also to set up workshops for medical students.
The day was ended by the hosts of the conference. Ian Jarrold provided an update on the funding schemes available to respiratory research from the BLF. Sasha McKenna and Rosie Short from the BLF Events and Community team encouraged the audience to support the BLF by fundraising, with suggestions such as persuading work colleagues, family and friends to run, skydive, walk, swim or bake to raise money for the charity. If you are inspired to hold event and raise vital funds for the BLF, get in touch with the events team (https://www.blf.org.uk/events)
The conference yet again proved to be a fantastic event, provided a chance for the charity to sustain its valuable relationships with previous grant holders, and encouraged communication and collaboration between respiratory researchers. As well as continuing to inspire researchers to apply for BLF grants and other funding schemes, the conference also successfully highlighted that the BLF is intensely focused on promoting and supporting lung research in the UK for the sake of the overabundant numbers of people suffering from respiratory diseases.