by Stefanie Rudrich
Marketing Manager (Brain Products)
On May 3, 2018 the “UCL-CNT Early Career Investigator Award in Neuroimaging Techniques 2017” was presented to Dr. Thomas Blacker at a seminar given by Dr. Jeff Duyn (NIH/NINDS) at the University College London’s (UCL) Center for Neuroimaging Techniques (CNT).
The award, which was now presented for the 10th time, aims to reward an exceptional contribution by a UCL student or staff member in the early stages of their career in the field of Neuroimaging. The awardee receives a trophy, a certificate (signed by UCL President and Provost, Prof. Michael Arthur, and UCL-CNT chair, Prof. Louis Lemieux) as well as a cheque for £1000 – all of which sponsored by Brain Products and Brain Products UK.
This year’s winner, Dr. Tom Blacker, is a BBSRC funded postdoctoral researcher working in Prof. Michael Duchen’s lab (Department of Cell and Developmental Biology) in a collaboration with Dr. Angus Bain in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Tom has been with the Centre for Mathematics and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology (CoMPLEX) at UCL for around 10 years now and completed his PhD (“ Monitoring cell metabolism with NAD(P)H fluorescence lifetime imaging“) in 2013. He was elected* as winner of the “UCL-CNT Early Career Investigator Award in Neuroimaging Techniques 2017”, because of his achievements identifying the underlying biochemical mechanisms that define changes in the fluorescence lifetime signal generated by NADH and NADPH in response to pulsatile excitation – as opposed to more familiar, classical intensity measurements.
Full supporting statement of Prof. Michael Duchen:
Tom has been a most exceptional student and colleague, and his work has had a major impact in his field. As a Physicist who came to our labs through the CoMPLEX PhD programme and then stayed as a post doc with BBSRC funding, he has worked at the interface between fundamental cell biology and biophysics, developing a remarkable understanding of cell metabolism. His major breakthrough has been to identify the underlying biochemical mechanisms that define changes in the fluorescence lifetime signal generated by NADH and NADPH in response to pulsatile excitation – as opposed to more familiar, classical intensity measurements. Many groups have previously measured fluorescence lifetimes of the combined NADH/NADPH signals (I’ll refer to as NAD(P)H), but the data have been descriptive rather than analytical.
Tom carried out a series of highly systematic experiments using multiphoton confocal microscopy and fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM) that revealed that lifetime measurements enable us to differentiate between changes in NADPH and NADH, important metabolic intermediates that play very different roles in cell biology. Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy achieved a high spatial resolution of the lifetime signal that revealed hitherto unknown differences in metabolic state between different cell types in complex multicellular preparations and between intracellular compartments at the level of the single cell.
Tom has applied this approach to a number of important biological questions, developing a mathematical model to maximise the information content of these measurements. His contributions have been crucial in clarifying the roles of distinct metabolic pathways in several major biological systems, in early development, in cardiac reperfusion injury, in stem cell biology and in cancer. In a short time, he has positioned himself at the forefront of this field, attested by invitations to speak at the premier meetings dealing with these approaches. Tom in a highly original, creative and productive scientist making major contributions at this interface between biology and physics, and this award is a very well deserved and timely recognition of his excellence.
On behalf of the whole Brain Products and Brain Products UK team, congratulations to Tom again on winning the “UCL-CNT Early Career Investigator Award in Neuroimaging Techniques 2017”. We wish you all the best for your personal and professional future.
* This year 9 excellent nominations were received; the winner was determined though voting by the UCL CNT’s executive committee members and one external voter. Each voter was asked to rank the candidates based on standardised statements written by their proposers, and the winner was elected using the single transferrable vote system.