Lecture Reports

Below you will find reports from our lectures.  Either click the title to view the report online or download a copy by clicking on the file name next to 'Download report'. Use the search box on this page to find a particular report.

Flu, it seems, will always be with us, and even in non-epidemic years is likely to lead to 15,000 UK deaths - with many more in epidemic or pandemic years.
So far, at least, hopes of a “universal” flu vaccine, proof against all strains over long periods of time, are just that. The parts of the virus which the current vaccines attack are highly variable year-to-year, so new vaccines are needed every year. And sometimes we get it wrong: the manufacturers have to start producing vaccines six months before they are needed and rely on predictions about which strains are likely to be in wide circulation. Unfortunately, the 2014/15 vaccine was based on the wrong choices and gave reduced protection. Furthermore, influenza circulates between humans and other animal species, such as birds and pigs, so reducing the rate of transmission in people makes only a minor impact on the evolution of the virus.
Not all is gloom, however. Although vaccines that target other parts of the virus are so far ineffective at preventing infection, it seems that they may well be able to reduce the severity of illnesses. That is important: it can reduce death rates, and more rapid recovery reduces lost working time (not to say the considerable discomfort of full-blown flu). We can also reduce infection rates by widening the vaccination programme, particularly amongst young school age children, who may not suffer severely from the virus, but act as effective agents for infecting their parents and grandparents.
Dr Lambkin Williams explained that more progress relies on “human challenge” experiments: deliberately giving people flu. Animal models (ferrets are the best apparently) are too far away to give a good representation of the full complexity of the human immune system in realistic circumstances.
The take home message is: get vaccinated - and make sure it is the four-strain vaccine.

Date: Wednesday, 11 Sep 2019
Dr Rob Lambkin-Williams PhD BSc M.Pharm
Executive Scientific Adviser to hVIVO
Download Report: The_Secret_Life_of_Flu.pdf
Date: Wednesday, 8 May 2019
Stephen Holmes
Virtusa UK Ltd
Date: Wednesday, 10 Apr 2019
Colin Maggs
Railway Historian and Author

Living as we do in a relatively wealthy society it is easy to forget that most of the World’s population do not have easy access to professional health care and our prescription medicines. They have to rely on traditional medical treatments, frequently herbal remedies, using knowledge passed down from generation to generation often from mother to daughter. We also tend to draw a sharp line between “medicines” and “foods” that would also seem strange to traditional practitioners, who believe that just as some foods certainly cause us harm, others must do us “good”. (Indeed, some books on Indian cookery happily discuss the diverse health benefits of the various spices employed.)
We should not, of course, be surprised that many plants contain medically “active” compounds: evolution has given them a variety of chemical defences against consumption by animals. Nor should one be surprised that intelligent observation and experience can produce effective practical action - even if it is not labelled as “science”. Nature is frequently more ingenious that pharmacologists in their laboratories.
Drug companies have, of course, frequently looked at traditional remedies for new ideas but also have interests and motivations that run counter to the those of the communities that are the source of the original knowledge. They are in business to make money, and in particular to establish patents that grow strong income streams, and those are typically associated with synthetic production methods for the active compounds, with little return to the original owners of what is increasingly agreed should be regarded as intellectual property. In the current commercially driven World without a profit there is no investment that is able to bring new medical treatments to a wider community.
Even if we stay in the garden, not all is rosy. Traditional medical treatments sometimes get it wrong: having an effect is not the same as a cure - and people are always strongly inclined to attribute the alleviation of a naturally self-limiting condition to whatever way they choose to treat themselves - even if it nearly killed them. Furthermore, plants are highly variable: concentrations of the active compound may vary widely depending the precise variety grown, on how the plant was cultivated and how the crop was then stored and treated. (I do, in fact, remember the story of a gardener who did nearly kill himself by growing his own tobacco: he had managed to produce a crop that contains substantially higher levels of nicotine than the commercial product, and smoking a couple of pipes put him in hospital.) Plant species that become fashionable among the herbally inclined are also quickly over-exploited leading to poor quality and even substitution by related but less active (or occasionally dangerously overactive) varieties.
Professor Heinrich led us through the fascinating complexities of this situation with great expertise and argued that the current order of things needs to change, with a recognition that the current western approach to pharmacology will not provide long term answers to the much of World’s medical needs

Date: Wednesday, 6 Mar 2019
Prof. Michael Heinrich
Professor of Pharmacology, UCL London
Download Report: Waiting_for_the_Spring.pdf
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