Department of Medicine

The Julia Polak Research Trust


Professor Dame Julia M Polak

Professor Dame Julia M Polak

The Julia Polak Research Trust was created after my heart and lung transplant, back in 1995. At the time I realised that much research was needed in order to find ways of restoring normal lung function in patients with lung diseases. It was also recognised that funding for lung diseases was not at the level of other diseases with more emotional appeal, like cardiac diseases, cancer or paediatric illnesses.

A number of world “firsts” were then achieved, including the discovery that pluripotent stem cells can be converted into lung cells, that bone marrow stem cells can be mobilised to the circulation and engraft into disease areas, like the lung and that umbilical cord stem cells can also converted into lung cells.

Current research aims include the restoration of normal lung function by:-

a) The administration of exogenous cells into the lung.

b) The mobilisation of endogenous stem cells to engraft into the lung

c) The creation of a three dimensional lung structure for subsequent implantation into the thoracic cavity.

While following the above research lines we realised that our research needed to be genuinely multidisciplinary. We needed the expertise the engineers, material scientists, developmental biologists, mathematicians and physicists amongst others.

So when I stepped down as founder and head of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Centre (TERM) and became an Emeritus Professor, we decided to relocate from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital to Imperial College Main Campus, where all the above expertise was ready at hand and interactions with different groups was physical easier.

Our Research Trust was exemplary run by a formidable person, the late Lady Rhys Williams. Sadly she passed away and we decided that the fund will be better served if it is under the umbrella of the Imperial College Trust, a very professional organisation that takes care of our Administrative needs, even though Ms Sandra Lock, my own PA, also takes care of the basic administrative tasks of the Fund (e.g. Receiving cheques and depositing them into the appropriate account within the IC Trust, organising fund-raising events, keeping our newsletter well updated etc).

Currently research into lung diseases is divided into different groups, each headed by an experienced Principal Investigator and attempts to resolve a number of important current challenges including:-

a) Investigations as to the best cell type ( being either pluripotent stem cells, stem cells from the bone marrow or the umbilical cord or site specific stem cells amongst others ) necessary for lung repair

b) Investigations as to the best way to scale up the number of differentiated lung cells for clinical purposes, using especially designed bioreactors and sensors

c) Investigations on man -made or natural biomaterials, that can be configured three dimensionally, and with nano modified surfaces, for the recruitment and expansion of differentiated stem cells. These 3D constructs can be used clinically or for drug screening.

d) Development of appropriate animal models to investigate safety and efficacy of stem cell therapy for lung diseases. This part of the project is done in collaboration with colleagues at the Royal Brompton Hospital, also part of Imperial College.

e) Overcoming immunological barriers, if allogenic cells are to be administered.

f) Understanding developmental cues and the role of the microenvironment. This is important since ultimately we would like to encourage the body to “heal itself”.

g) Preparation for initial clinical trials after successful small and large animal experimentation. Engagement with clinicians, other members of health care profession and hospitals themselves.

Each of these research aims, as said before is run by an experienced Principal investigator with a team of an average 6-8 researchers working under him/her.

There is no question that the work will continue for many years to come and well beyond my life time. Respiratory diseases are on the increase, environmental factors added to genetic predisposition, are the main contributing factors, but help is at hand, with this novel and exciting research. It is highly unlikely or practically impossible that the research will not continue after I have gone. We have set the scene for fruitful future successes in clinical practice.


I very sadly regret to inform you that Dame Julia and Professor Daniel Catovsky's beautiful, kind and gentle Daughter, Marina was involved in a horrific and tragic road accident with a motorbike on the morning of Thursday 2nd June and sustained severe head injuries which, very sadly, she never recovered from and passed away early that evening.  I know her Father, Daniel, Mother, Julia and her two brothers, Sebastian and Michael are devastated and reeling from this very, very sad news. 

Marina will be greatly, missed by all who had the pleasure and opportunity of knowing this lovely, thoughtful and kind young lady, foremost by her Father, Mother and Brothers. 

The Funeral Service for Marina Catovsky will be held on
Wednesday 15th June 2011 at 1.00 p.m.
Putney Cemetery and Crematorium, Stag Lane
London SW15 3DZ

Marina Catovsky

The family of the late Marina Catovsky, beloved daughter of Professor Daniel Catovsky and Dame Julia Polak, adored sister of Sebastian and Michael who was sadly and tragically taken away from them on Thursday 2nd June would like to convey their thanks to friends and colleagues for their heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies in their recent sorrow and great loss.

In lieu of flowers and in light of their beautiful daughter’s spirit of generosity they request any donations to go towards your favourite Charitable Organization.

There will be a reception after the service at the Wyndham Grand London Chelsea Harbour, Chelsea Harbour SW10 0XY.

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