Dr Nicholas Blockley


nicholas blockley

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Job title: Senior Postdoctoral Scientist
Division: Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences
Organisation: University of Oxford
Tags: Fellowship: Early Career Fellowship, University of Oxford
Related theme: Healthcare technologies


I received my PhD in Physics from the University of Nottingham where I specialised in the development of MRI methodologies. I continued this work during postdoctoral positions in Nottingham, the University of California San Diego and the University of Oxford, before being awarded an EPSRC Early Career Fellowship in 2013.

My Fellowship

The revolution of imaging the function of the brain using MRI, rather than just its structure, began more than twenty years ago. However, whilst so-called functional MRI (fMRI) has enabled great improvements in our knowledge about the localization of brain activity it does not tell us how intense that activity is. One way to quantify brain activity is by measuring how much oxygen is consumed, known as oxygen metabolism. By measuring oxygen metabolism we can take a direct look at the metabolic workload required to sustain brain activity.

There are MRI based techniques to measure oxygen metabolism, both at rest and during a stimulus, but they are overly complex or require specialist equipment. Therefore, the aim of my fellowship is to remove these barriers to enable a broad spectrum of users to take advantage of these methods. One area where a resting measurement of oxygen metabolism is particularly useful is in the treatment of stroke.

Here the aim is to determine whether there is brain tissue that could be saved by appropriate treatment. The only other established method to achieve this uses Positron Emission Tomography (PET), but it is unlikely to become a standard treatment due to its high cost and poor availability. It is my hope that MRI based measurements of oxygen metabolism could fulfil this unmet need, enabling widespread deployment across the NHS at a much lower cost than PET.

Career benefits of Fellowship

This fellowship has given me the space to pursue my research interests independently and to start to build my own research group. It has also allowed me to develop as a leader, both through management of more junior staff and amongst my academic peers, through the founding of an academic network.