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2019 Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize

Dr Yolanda Ohene for the development of a novel non-invasive MRI technique that measures blood-brain barrier permeability to water; a possible early biomarker for neurodegenerative diseases.

Yolanda Ohene

During her PhD at UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, Yolanda Ohene developed a new MRI technique: multiple echo time arterial spin labelling (multi-TE ASL) that measures blood-brain barrier permeability to water. It is the first non-invasive technique that is able to target the polarisation of aquaporin-4 (AQP4) water channels, a recently discovered mechanism that supports the clearance of toxic proteins from the brain, such as amyloid-beta, that are associated with neurodegenerative conditions.

Ohene developed and optimised the novel multi-TE ASL MRI sequence in high field 9.4T MRI imaging systems. Over the course of her PhD, she successfully implemented the multi-TE ASL technique in two high field preclinical 9.4T MR imaging systems with different operating systems. She demonstrated the robustness of the method by performing experiments in both systems yielding highly reproducible results between the two systems, providing confidence in the applicability of the novel technique.

After presenting her work at an international MRI conference, Ohene established a scientific collaboration with leading biomedical scientists at the University of Auckland. The collaboration is to apply this novel imaging approach to patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer's Disease demonstrating the impact of the technique and its potential to be translated clinically.

Outside of the laboratory, Ohene is passionate about communicating science to the public and promoting diversity in physics. She is an avid science communicator: speaking at Cheltenham Science Festival, New Scientist Live and the Physics Pavilion at Womad festival, as well as being featured as an expert on BBC Tomorrow's World Live and BBC1's Health: Truth or Scare.

In 2017 she co-founded the Minorities in STEM network (@MinoritySTEM) which has grown to over 10,000 followers. In 2018 she initiated the first Minorities in STEM symposium at UCL to support STEM postgraduate researchers from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Through her research and activism, she continues to encourage others to build a better and more diverse physics.