QMUL has a long and distinguished history of conducting ground-breaking research that goes back many centuries. Our work in the scientific and medical fields has changed lives and greatly influenced future generations. Research conducted across all faculties makes a genuine impact on society – improving health, social and living conditions, advancing knowledge and understanding in specialist fields, and influencing public policy, culture and debate.
From our cutting-edge work in the life sciences, to the development of highly advanced nano-materials for delivering drugs, to our work informing public health policy, developing new treatments for cancer, searching for a cure for Ash dieback disease, or decreasing the internet's impact on the environment, our academics undertake a range of pioneering scientific research.
Last year, for example, Dr Neha Pathak, an academic clinical fellow in obstetrics and gynaecology published research that could one day make a difference to the lives of millions of women. Her research was into a non-invasive alternative to the HPV (human papillomavirus) smear test, the conventional test for cervical cancer. It is estimated that in 2014, a million women failed to attend a routine smear test – many because of embarrassment – despite 900 women dying of cervical cancer every year. Dr Pathak’s research is a crucial first step on the road to alternative screening methods.
Here are some other examples of high-profile QMUL scientists who have broken new ground with their work:
Transforming antenatal screening
Professor Nick Wald is widely considered one of the world’s leading epidemiologists and neonatal health experts. He was instrumental in developing the field of antenatal screening for congenital malformation and made discoveries that have formed the basis of screening for neural tube defects and Down's syndrome in early pregnancy.
Studying the outer limits of Saturn
Carl Murray, a Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, is part of an international team of astronomers and scientists working on the Cassini-Huygens project, a joint NASA/ESA spacecraft mission studying the planet Saturn. Carl’s team at Queen Mary has responsibility for monitoring the orbits of Saturn's small moons, and recently discovered strange half-mile-sized objects punching through Saturn’s F ring, which turned out to be giant snowballs.
Helping to defeat breast cancer
Professor Jack Cuzick was a founding member of the Steering Committee and statistician for the trial which led to a major worldwide change in the recommended treatment for breast cancer in postmenopausal women: in the UK alone, over a thousand women each year are estimated to be spared a recurrence of cancer through the revised treatment.
Informing NHS policy on how to quit smoking
Since 1993, Professor Peter Hajek and his team at our Tobacco Dependence Research Unit have systematically researched over 100 studies on psychological and drug therapies for persistent smokers to identify effective treatments. They have produced a targeted, evidence-based model of specialist treatment that has changed clinical practice informing the work of the NHS smoking cessation policy and service which treats 800,000 smokers per year. Their work has also informed the treatment of several million smokers worldwide.
Developing new materials for bone grafts
Seminal materials research at QMUL has led to the development of a range of cost-effective and reliable synthetic bone graft products by spin-out company ApaTech™. To date, these products have been used to treat over 370,000 patients in 30 countries.
Our research in the social sciences and humanities enriches our understanding and experience of society and culture, and helps to challenge inequalities and inform public policy.
Challenging in-work poverty
Geographer Professor Jane Wills' research has underpinned a national campaign for a living wage which has highlighted the problems of in-work poverty. In 2006, Queen Mary became the first UK university to commit to paying all domestic staff on campus a living wage.
Tackling the under-representation of women in trade union leadership and politics
Women are seriously under-represented in trade union leadership roles, despite the fact that they form over half of UK and almost half of US union membership. This striking discrepancy, and how to tackle it, has been the focus of employment relations experts Professors Gill Kirton and Geraldine Healy's recent research. Their work has encouraged unions to engage with the issue and influenced public debate.
In a similar vein, Dr Rainbow Murray's research explores why women are under-represented in politics and the role of the media in shaping attitudes towards female politicians. Her research, conducted in the School of Politics, has influenced policy debates in Israel, Ireland, emerging Eastern European democracies, and the UK, and prompted recommendations for women’s rights in China.
Informing public policy and legislation
Our research has helped to create new jobs in places as far away as Papua New Guinea. Dr Liam Campling’s research into the international tuna trade was central to the Pacific Islands negotiating a new trade rule with the EU which significantly increased economic benefits from the tuna trade and improved the working conditions in canneries. The European Parliament estimated that investment stemming from the new agreement will see Papua New Guinea’s local benefits from tuna processing grow from US$21m in 2012 to $70m by 2018, and employment increase from 5,770 to 20,000.
Our research also has a direct impact on new legislation. For example, Professor Peter Alldridge's research on the law of bribery and financial crime has led to a reformed law of bribery, clearing up a potential anomaly in a proposed piece of new legislation.
Working with cultural institutions and transforming lives through the arts
Our academics work with an inspiring range of cultural institutions to develop exhibitions and inform the content of displays, including the Institut Francais, V&A, British Museum, Imperial War Museum, National Maritime Museum and the Geffrye Museum of the Home.
Away from the UK Professor Paul Heritage in our Drama department has explored how the arts can influence social development alongside building cultural bridges between the UK and Brazil. One contemporary production of Shakespeare produced on a border contested by two rival drug factions in Rio de Janeiro, resulted in an 18-day ceasefire after 22 years of war.
Over the centuries our researchers have helped to create some of the most important moments in the history of science and medicine, moments which have changed society for ever. For example:
- In 1628, Professor William Harvey a physician at Barts hospital was the first person to describe completely how blood is pumped to the brain and body by the heart.
- Have you ever broken an arm or leg and not had to have it amputated? You have Percivall Pott to thank. He was the Barts surgeon who in 1749, after falling off his horse and fracturing a leg, worked out that you could treat the injury without the need for amputation.
- In 1775, Pott identified the link between exposure to soot and scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps, a double first: the first recognised occupational link to cancer, and the first time someone had demonstrated that cancer could be caused by an environmental carcinogen.
- In 1817, one of our alumni James Parkinson wrote one of the most famous essays in the history of medicine. An Essay on the Shaking Palsy described the condition ‘paralysis agitans’, now known as Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson joined The London Medical College in 1776 as a medical student, and went on to be a surgeon and political activist.
- In the 1950s, Professor Joseph Rotblat a Professor of Physics at Barts, identified that the fallout from hydrogen bombs was far more radioactive than stated officially and a direct cause of cancers in fallout victims. He had a lifelong devotion to nuclear abolition and the social responsibility of scientists, and in 1957 he shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
- In 1982 pharmacologist Sir John Vane, who set up QMUL's William Harvey Research Institute, shared the Nobel prize for medicine in recognition of his work establishing the pain-relief, anti-inflammatory and anti-blood-clotting effects of aspirin.