The NHS has a critical role to play in pioneering new treatments that draw on the best, new research

At Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, we have a particular focus on supporting staff to undertake clinical research that allows us to continually improve the treatments and care we provide to our patients. Our ambition is to take innovative and pioneering research outcomes and translate them rapidly into new and accessible NHS therapies. Professor Jonathan Weber, director of Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre, explains how we work, reflects on our most innovative and far-reaching achievements to date and provides a glimpse of what’s in store for the future.

There is a rich research history at our Trust that includes the Nobel-prize-winning work of Alexander Fleming, who made his ground-breaking discovery of the antibiotic penicillin in his laboratory at St Mary’s Hospital in 1928, and continues with an on-going commitment to investing in hundreds of clinical trials for patients across all our hospitals.

One current clinical trial, led by consultant radiologist Professor Wladyslaw Gedroyc, is featured in Hospital on BBC Two. In the episode three, you can see consultant neurologist Dr Peter Bain, consultant neurosurgeon Mr Dipankar Nandi perform this first-in-the-UK procedure – a non-invasive form of brain surgery that uses MR-guided focused ultrasound to treat essential tremor, a condition which affects roughly 1 million people in the UK. This particular trial was made possible with a £1 million grant from Imperial College Healthcare Charity.

As we show, this non-invasive technique is already delivering real results for patients – after just a few hours of treatment, the patient is able to use his right hand to hold a cup of water for the first time in years. The trial is now closed to new applicants, but pending publication of the trial’s results and approval from NICE and NHS England, this procedure will hopefully become available to NHS patients all over the country.

Other recent developments include a study showing the natural hormone kisspeptin can be used to stimulate ovulation in women at risk of experiencing complications during IVF treatment. The best performing dose of kisspeptin resulted in pregnancy and live birth rates at twice that of standard IVF treatment. Of the sixty women who participated in the study, 23 gave birth, including seven women who gave birth to twins.

The iKnife and its use in surgery is another exciting new treatment being developed. The iKnife harnesses the biological by-products of electrosurgical knives – vaporised tissue– to quickly identify the chemicals in a sample of tissue, allowing surgeons to differentiate between healthy and cancerous tissue mid-surgery. This allows surgeons to remove cancerous cells with remarkable precision and reduces the risk that a patient will need to undergo further surgery to remove cancerous tissue left behind.

These innovations are possible because of our commitment to strengthening the relationships between NHS clinicians and scientists. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London formed the UK’s very first academic health science centre (AHSC) ten years ago and in 2016, the AHSC partnership grew to include the Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, broadening our potential to translate research discoveries into improvements in patient care.

At Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) provides a large part of the infrastructure to conduct experimental medicine research and enables discoveries in Imperial College’s faculties of medicine, engineering and natural sciences to bring breakthroughs into clinical settings in a diverse range of specialties. In 2016, the NIHR Imperial BRC was awarded £90 million to continue its world-class research into cancer, heart disease, brain sciences, immunology, infection, surgery and metabolic disorders.

Looking ahead, we will continue to use the expertise and technologies being developed at Imperial College to address the clinical needs of patients at the Trust. Realising the potential of “big data” to identify new and more targeted treatments as well as assessing patient outcomes more rapidly will be a priority. Alongside other investments in genomics, imaging and molecular phenotyping, we will continue to pursue innovative approaches for patients.