The Blizard institute is very pleased to be able to celebrate the inaugural lecture of Professor Tom Vulliamy which took place on Friday the 15 June 2017. The lecture was title ‘Searching for genes – a long unwinding road’.

Tom Vulliamy was born and raised in west London, son of John Vulliamy, an architect and Shirley Hughes, an author and illustrator of children’s books. He was educated at University College School and Oxford University. He obtained his PhD in 1982 in Neuroimmunology at University College London under the supervision of Martin Raff. He then moved to Harvard Medical School for a short postdoc with Jim Gusella, who was searching for the Huntington’s disease gene. He has worked in human genetics ever since.

Returning to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London, he worked with Lucio Luzzatto, discovering the molecular basis of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. He then became a Clinical Scientist, working for the Hammersmith Hospital, where he established a molecular diagnostic laboratory. At the same time, his search for disease genes continued, and in the mid 1990’s he teamed up with Inderjeet Dokal and Philip Mason to study the bone marrow failure syndrome, dyskeratosis congenita. They were the first to show that this disease is the clinical manifestation of defective telomere maintenance.


He obtained honorary Lecturer and Senior Lecturer positions at Imperial College before moving to the Blizard Institute in 2006. Here, he has continued his work in gene discovery and was appointed Professor of Molecular Biology in 2015.






Through a Freedom of Information request to the European Medicines Agency, researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have gained access to data from drug trials, revealing new information about a key drug for multiple sclerosis (MS).

Alemtuzumab is a highly effective drug for MS, approved in more than 60 countries and used by more than 12,000 patients worldwide. However, there is an almost 50 per cent risk of secondary autoimmune diseases, some of which are life-threatening, such as platelet and kidney diseases.

Although knowledge about these adverse effects was included in conference presentations and licensing submissions to European and US regulators, critical data to explain secondary autoimmune disease had not been scrutinised and published following peer review.

Through a Freedom of Information request to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) gained access to the phase III trial datasets of Alemtuzumab.

Their analysis, published in JAMA Neurology, provides new insights into the drastic response of the immune system in patients with MS taking Alemtuzumab.

The researchers discovered a massive and rapid re-population of immature B cells (a type of white blood cell involved in the immune system), which they say helps create an environment for secondary autoimmune disease. According to the researchers, controlling this B cell subset “overshoot” after Alemtuzumab administration may limit the risk of secondary autoimmune disease and make it an even better medicine.

Additionally, they saw a long term suppression, not only of memory T cells (another type of white blood cell), but also of memory B cells, which they say offers a new explanation on why Alemtuzumab is effective in patients with MS.

Lead author Dr Klaus Schmierer from QMUL's Blizard Institute said: “We were very surprised to find such important information on B cell dynamics were only partially described and remained unpublished, even though they were observed and analysed several years ago following the pivotal phase III trials.

“This new information will help contribute to the effective management of people with MS, firstly during the decision process about disease modifying treatment, and secondly in people who have been treated with Alemtuzumab, to ensure the risks associated with dangerous side effects are minimised.”

More information

  • Research paper: 'Interpreting Lymphocyte Reconstitution Data From the Pivotal Phase 3 Trials of Alemtuzumab'.David Baker, Samuel S. Herrod, Cesar Alvarez-Gonzalez, Gavin Giovannoni, Klaus Schmierer. JAMA Neurology.


Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) will establish a new Centre for Preventive Neurology, thanks to £1.5m of funding from Barts Charity.

Credit: Mikey G Ottawa

The Centre will be the first of its kind in the UK and dedicated to researching how to prevent disorders that affect the brain and nervous system – specifically, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

There are currently an estimated 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with the disease contributing to 11 per cent of deaths in the UK in 2015. MS affects approximately 100,000 people, costing UK society £1.4 billion per year, and the number of people with Parkinson’s is set to rise to 162,000 by 2020.

Despite recent advances in research using animal models, the three disorders currently have no proven disease-modifying treatments in humans.

Professor Jack Cuzick CBE, co-lead of the new Centre and Director of QMUL’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, said: “Brain diseases such as dementia are among the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. By spotting them early, we may be able to prevent or delay them – and help people age more healthily.”

The new funding from Barts Charity will enable teams at QMUL and Barts Health NHS Trust to develop methods to identify those at high risk of developing a condition, and then provide initial data to demonstrate whether simple treatments – such as aspirin for vascular dementia, nicotine patches for Parkinson’s disease, and Esptein-Barr virus vaccination for MS – can delay the onset of disease.

Professor Gavin Giovannoni, Centre co-lead from QMUL’s Blizard Institute, said: “There is a big unmet need for preventive neurology. Prevention is central to health issues such as cancer and heart disease, and now we’re extending this approach to conditions affecting the brain and nervous system.”

Professor Cuzick’s past work has included proving the safety and efficacy of the drugs tamoxifen and anastrozole for breast cancer prevention, both of which are now recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Professor Giovannoni has a significant track record within the fields of dementia and MS, and helped identify risk factors for Parkinson’s with the “Predict PD” algorithm.

Fiona Miller Smith, Chief Executive of Barts Charity, said: “We’re committed to investing in projects like these at QMUL’s School of Medicine and Dentistry that have the potential to make a significant step change in healthcare. The number of people affected by these neurodegenerative diseases in the UK is enormous, and the opportunity to implement preventive measures in their onset, with potential global health significance, is an exciting prospect of which we’re proud to be an early funder.”

Steve Thornton, Vice Principal (Health) and Executive Dean at QMUL’s Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, added: “This is an incredibly important area of research in clinical practice. Given the ageing population, such conditions are set to increase in frequency and the important work done by the team will help ensure that we can prevent and appropriately treat these disabling conditions.”