Researcher in Spotlight – James Boardman

In our website feature “Researcher in Spotlight” this month we ask our researcher James Boardman to tell us a bit more about himself.

Could you give us a quick overview of your background and career so far?

I studied medicine at UCL and took an intercalated BSc in Neuroscience during this time. I completed postgraduate paediatric training in London, including a part-time MSc in clinical paediatrics at UCL, and then took time out of the clinic to do my PhD in computational neuroimaging at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College London. I moved to Edinburgh in 2010.

How did you become interested in your current field of research?

A combination of fascination with the developing brain and neonatal neurology, and a handful of superb mentors who, at key steps along the way, took an interest and showed me that first class clinical care and research are necessary for child health to progress. They showed by example that contributing to
the evidence base by knowledge discovery is rewarding, energising, and that it changes clinical care.

What are you currently working on and what importance does your work have for autism research?

15 million children are born preterm each year: 10-15% of survivors develop cerebral palsy; 50% have learning difficulties; and there is a 10-fold increase in autism. My goal is to understand 
the causes and consequences of preterm birth on the developing brain using quantitative MRI, neuropsychology, and biological and social information from mother and child. Currently, this is anchored a cohort of babies born at less than 32 weeks’ of gestation.

What do you enjoy most about scientific research?

Learning new things about human life, strengthening the clinical evidence base, and working with a diverse range of experts in physics, psychology, neurobiology, genetics, and other clinical academics.

What do you like about the scientific community in Edinburgh?

The environment is collegiate, setting up collaborations is easy, and you get to work alongside world experts.

What is your favourite high tech research tool?

Magnetic resonance imaging.

What is your favourite low tech research tool?

The tape measure. There is remarkable correlation between measured head circumference and brain volume measured using MRI, so you infer a lot about fetal and neonatal nutrition and brain development by measuring the head in the weeks after birth.

Where do you usually get the best ideas for your research?

The scientific literature, often that describing advances in other disciplines. Also, high quality research about how survivors of preterm birth and their parents view their own lives and what matters to them, provides plenty of new avenues for investigation.