Alzheimer’s Society Research Fellow
Department of Psychiatry
Tell us a bit about your role
I moved to Oxford in 2011, as a graduate student embarking on a year-long Master’s course in Neuroscience. Nearly a decade later, with a DPhil and two postdoctoral associateships behind me, I find myself leading my own research group (Heart and Brain Group) in the very same department. My group uses multi-modal brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to study risk and resilience for dementia. We are particularly interested in how lifestyle and genetic factors interact to influence memory and cognitive decline.
I am deeply passionate about equality in STEM and I lead initiatives supporting early career development (Athena SWAN’s Early Career Academic Development Group), public engagement and outreach (Patient and Public Involvement Group) and equality and diversity (Mosaic Network) in the Department of Psychiatry and the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
Age-related diseases like dementia have a devastating societal and economic impact, and it is especially meaningful to be leading research that can inform ways to prevent or delay dementia onset. Nearly a third of dementia cases can be prevented by modifying our lifestyle, in particular our cardiovascular (heart) health. We know that “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain”, but we still don’t entirely understand why. My research investigates this heart-brain link in detail, by studying how the health of our heart and large blood vessels affect the brain and memory as we grow older. I use different neuroimaging scans to study changes in the structure, blood supply and function of brain. In the long-term, this research can help pinpoint when and how we can modify our lifestyle in order to delay dementia.
Can you tell us about something you've done, contributed to that you're most proud of?
I try and ensure that my research is both informed by and feeds into public, patient and policy discussions on ageing and dementia. I recently had the fantastic opportunity to present expert testimony in the UK Parliament, at the House of Lords inquiry into the UK Government’s healthy ageing policy. It was extremely exciting to be able to draw on my own research to contribute to the formation of evidence-based national policy on improving the quality of life in our ageing population.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
Equality, equality, equality! When I first arrived in Oxford nearly a decade ago, I was often the only woman of colour on any panel, in any meeting or conference. The feelings of isolation and under-representation that stem from being the “only” or “first” person to achieve something can often turn young scientists away from the field. Over the years, it’s been encouraging to have witnessed enormously positive culture change within the Division, especially through initiatives like Athena SWAN, but there’s so much further to go. This year, I co-founded Mosaic, our network on supporting and promoting racial and ethnic diversity at the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging. I hope that the seeds for similar initiatives are planted throughout the Division and that the next 100 years will bring us a wholly inclusive, representative and diverse academic community.