Three questions in your field that you would like to see research answers to?
Does the nervous system use a generic coding principle or are there multiple neural codes; are psychiatric disorders heterogeneous in terms of causation; does the brain have a common valuation system that ascribes value to money, food and art?
After so many years studying the brain, what still fascinates you about this centre of the nervous system?
What is fascinating about the study of the brain is that despite a whole industry of scientists working on various aspects of brain function, we still know so little about its operations. Equally, the fact that the brain is the organ of consciousness renders it unique insofar as the questions you ask about its function address what is the ultimate question!
What do you aim to achieve as director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging?
The most important thing is to continuously innovate in terms of the science produced by the Centre, train future generations of scientists and provide a scientific framework so that we can address in a meaningful way the neural basis of behavioural aberrations seen in neurological and psychiatric disorders.
What is the most interesting paper in your field that you have come across recently?
Interesting papers appear on a weekly basis so there is a real recency effect to my response. A paper by Flagel et al in Nature showing that dopamine is not involved in all forms of reward learning but seems to be specific for learning where incentive motivation is assigned to reward cues. The interest here is that, at least in animals, this type of learning, varies across individuals and the basic mechanism seems highly relevant for understanding addictions.
Could you describe some of the proudest moments in your career?
There are many proud moments, but the ones that stand out are renewing the Centre for another five years in 2010 (receiving the endorsement of one’s peers) and being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2010.
What are your interests outside of medicine?
I have long standing passion for hiking, a pleasure I have pursued around the world. I retain a great affection for the Chiltern Hills which provides a proximal escape from the din of London. I also love music and like many growing up in the Sixties have a particular affection for what I would call “real rhythm and blues”, in other words the sounds of the Mississippi Delta and Chicago. I am an avid record collector, (or was until the complete demise of record/CD stores). In the past 10 years I have acquired increasing skills as a dry fly fisherman which I practise on the chalk streams of southern England. I also have a keen interest in literature and poetry.
Kinross Professor of Neuropsychiatry, Institute of Neurology, University College London
Director, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London
Previous academic appointments
Wellcome training fellow in Mental Health, Academic Department of Psychiatry, Royal Free Hospital of School Medicine
1987–94 Senior lecturer, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine
1994–96 Reader, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine
1996 Professor, Institute of Neurology and University College, London
University: National University of Ireland (NUI)
Medical School: University College Galway Medical School
1977 MB, BCh, BAO (Hons) (NUI)
1988 MD (NUI)
1981 Member of Royal College of Psychiatrists (MRCPsych)
1995 Fellow of Royal College of Psychiatrists (FRCPsych)
2000 Fellow of Medical Academy of Sciences (FMedSci)
2002 Fellow of Royal College of Physicians (FRCP)
2010 Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)
Awards and prizes
Alexander Von Humboldt International Research Award for Outstanding Scholars (2004)
Kenneth Craik Research Award (2006)
Minerva Foundation Golden Brain Award (2006)
Max Planck Research Award (2007)
Doctor Honoris Causa, Ghent University (2010)
Einstein Fellow, Berlin (2010)