Sofia is a Principle Clinical Scientist who works in imaging physics and supports the nuclear medicine service at University Hospital Southampton (UHS).
She successfully applied for the SHAPE Post-Doctoral Award offered by Southampton Academy of Research (SoAR) in collaboration with Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) Wessex.
“That sounded like a really good opportunity to me,” she explains, “because I love my clinical role and I don’t want to give it up, but I do want to do more research and that’s not feasible within the clinical time.”
This has given her one day a week for a year of dedicated time and funding for her research, allowing her to successfully secure an NIHR Clinical Lectureship, which she is due to start soon.
Dedicated time for research
Sofia started working at UHS six years ago, but had little time available for research until this last year. As her research grows and develops, she plans to set aside more time to focus on it.
Her SHAPE award, which started in January 2021, has allowed her to work on research one day a week. As she moves into her NIHR Clinical Lectureship for the next three years she will increase this to 60% of her time. She says this is needed as the project grows and there is more to manage.
She says SoAR have been good at providing training opportunities and linking with courses provided by other organisations. She took the ThinkWrite course on writing papers, and although she has written papers in the past, said that she has found the pragmatic approach it suggested very useful.
In addition to jointly offering the SHAPE award, SoAR put her in touch with people who gave her a mock interview and feedback on her application for the clinical lectureship. She says this really helped her understand what an NIHR committee is interested in and the questions they might ask.
Getting the SHAPE award has also meant she has found people are more interested in supporting her research, and she is in a better position to work with collaborators.
“I think I’ve probably done more research in the last six months than I’ve been able to do in the last five years,” she says, “because of the dedicated time – it’s made all the difference for me.”
Using AI and imaging for dementia diagnosis
In her clinical role, Sofia analyses images of the brain to try and diagnose dementia. Her research is looking to improve this process by investigating the role of inflammation.
Her neuroimmunology collaborators at the university have shown that peripheral inflammation drives and accelerates the progression of dementia. Building on these findings, she’s doing a retrospective analysis on brain imaging data collected at UHS, combined with a laboratory analysis of inflammation markers, to see their effect on the progression of dementia.
For her clinical lectureship, she’s planning to take this one step further by using artificial intelligence (AI) to decipher this data, and so help neurologists use this information to better diagnose dementia.