Hey all, my name is Logan. I am one of the lucky recipients of the MAS elective scholarship for the first quarter of 2019. During my elective, I am conducting an 8-week research project at The Centre for the Developing Brain at King’s College London. The centre is leading the world in understanding neonatal neurodevelopment using magnetic resonance imaging. Their work is consistently published in top-tier scientific journals such as Nature and Neuroimage. Many of the challenges of investigating early brain development require a multidisciplinary approach. A range of scientific disciplines are well-represented in the department including physics, biomedical engineering, computer science, psychology, radiology, and neonatology.
My research project
Developing Human Connectome Project
One of the biggest and most recent successes of the centre was obtaining funding for the Developing Human Connectome Project (dHCP). The dHCP is a collaborative project between King’s College London, Imperial College London and Oxford University. The project aims to create the first 4-dimensional connectome of early life. The ultimate goal: create a dynamic map of human brain connectivity from 20 to 44 weeks post-conceptional age. The amount of imaging data the dHCP aims to collect is phenomenal. The centre recently celebrated their 1000th neonatal MRI scan. This imaging data, together with clinical, behavioural, and genetic information will allow the dHCP team to unlock as yet unanswerable questions about early neurodevelopment and its relation to longer-term outcomes.
I am very privileged to have access to a portion of this dataset as part of my project. I’m exploring the functional connectivity of the neonatal brain in those babies born at term, and how this correlates with clinical outcomes at 18 months of age. The project is computationally intensive, with much of my time dedicated to understanding and conducting image analysis. Although I have long been interested in neonatal neuroimaging as a research area, I have had little experience. I have now jumped straight into the deep end! Luckily, I have guidance and expertise from two amazing supervisors (Dr. Emma Robinson and Dr. Tomoki Arichi). The time in the centre so far has made me even more determined in pursing further doctoral studies and a career as an academic neonatologist.
Figure 1. London highlight: Friendly squirrel shaking hands (+/- rabies).
Figure 2. Trip highlight: Reaching the peak of Untersberg, Austria, with my fiance Tanya.
Life in London
The bitter cold temperatures and general greyness of London is certainly a far cry from the greenery and beaches of Auckland. Although, it hasn’t been as grey and rainy as I had expected.
A close encounter
Of all the things London has to offer, I feel awkward admitting that my favourite aspect of London is the abundance of squirrels. They’re adorable and curious, always scuttling around parks and through the trees! During one of my morning strolls, I got close enough to shake one’s paws (figure 1). After exclaiming to the rest of the department about my encounter, they looked rather confused, and said I’d better be careful “because they have rabies.” Suffice to say that I now just appreciate squirrels from a safe distance…
I’ve also had chance to explore the more conventional aspects of London. Namely, the awe-inspiring experience of visiting the National Science Museum. On display was the original structural model of DNA that James Watson and Francis Crick constructed out of Bunsen burners and clamps. They also had the original crystal structure model of insulin built by Dorothy Hodgkin. It is surreal to think that these are all aspects of medicine that nowadays we take for granted, but each discovery was Nobel-prize worthy.
Beyond London I’ve had the chance to spend some weekends abroad in Germany (over Christmas too!), Netherlands, Austria and Scotland. By far my favourite moment has been reaching the peak of Untersberg is the northernmost massif of the Berchtesgaden Alps in Austria (figure 2). Hopefully I can strike an appropriate work-life balance in the second half of my elective to see what else London has to offer!
MAS Elective Scholarship Recipient
Logan Williams is in his sixth year of a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Auckland. He is one of the two inaugural recipients of the MAS Elective Scholarship. He received $1,500 towards his elective at the Centre for Developing Brain, King’s College London in England. Logan is passionate about neonatology and is pursuing a career as an academic neonatologist. He is also the Editor-in-Chief for the New Zealand Medical Student Journal.