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Prof Alan Thompson
UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences
Queens Square Institute of Neurology, Department of Neuroinflammation
Prof Alan Thompson profile picture
  • Garfield Weston Professor of Clinical Neurology & Neurorehabilitation
  • Faculty of Brain Sciences
  • School of Life & Medical Sciences

Alan Thompson is UCL's Pro Provost for London and Dean of the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences. He is an NIHR Senior Investigator Emeritus, and an honorary consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square.  Alan Thompson  has an H-index of 113 (Research ID C-2654-2008), and is ranked 76th out of 5444 in the Essential Science Indicators section for Neuroscience and Behavior.  He received his undergraduate degrees in 1979 and MD in 1985 from Trinity College Dublin, was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2015,  FRCP in 1994, FRCPI in 1995, FAAN in 2009, FANA in 2013, and received an honorary doctorate from Hasselt University, Belgium, in 2008. In 1998 he was appointed to the first chair of Clinical Neurology and Neurorehabilitation in the UK. He was awarded the 'Pioneer of the Nation' award at Buckingham Palace in 2003.

His research career has focused on the diagnosis, evaluation, and management of the progressive forms of multiple sclerosis.  

Research highlights include:

Improving diagnosis of MS. He was a member of the expert group defining diagnostic criteria for MS (including MRI) in 2000, 2005 and 2010, and co-led a new revision, published in Lancet Neurology in 2017;

Identifying phenotypes in multiple sclerosis, redefining the course of the disease with international experts in 2013, updated in 2017; 

Developed and evaluated scientifically sound outcome measures that incorporate the patient’s perspective (MS Impact Scale, MS Walking Scale) for spasticity, cervical dystonia, ataxia and pain;  

Characterized MRI findings in primary progressive MS;

Developed protocols used internationally for the use of MRI in assessing the effectiveness of new treatments.  New MRI techniques including tractography, provided insights into structural damage in MS, ALS and stroke;  

Led the first studies of beta-interferon in primary and secondary progressive MS;

Carried out RCTs of neurological rehabilitation and community-based treatment of relapses in MS and evaluated the role of cannabinoids in the treatment of spasticity in MS and role as a neuroprotective agent;

In neurological disability management, Alan Thompson has worked on Quality Standards (2005); developing standards of care for MS, incorporated into the NICE guidance for MS and the NSF for Long-Term Neurological Conditions;

He led on development of the MS World Atlas (with WHO/MSIF, 2008, 2011), and the Global Economic Study (with MSIF, 2010).  He was a member of the WHO International Committee for Diagnostic Criteria, leading on MS, and was a member of the WHO International Advisory Group for the revision of ICD-10/ICD-11, Diseases of  the Nervous System, leading the development of a new section for MS;  

Alan Thompson helped establish the International Progressive MS Alliance, chairing the Scientific Advisory Committee since 2013.  He chaired MSIF's International Medical and Scientific Board until 2015, is a member of the National MS Society (USA)'s Research Programs Advisory Committee, a Guarantor of Brain, and editor-in-chief of Multiple Sclerosis Journal. 

Research Summary

My current four areas of research activity are fundamental, with a strong imaging component, and  applied, all in collaboration with previous PhD students, Post-Doctoral students and clinical colleagues (Patrick Freund, Arman Eshaghi, Olga Ciccarelli and Jeremy Chataway):

1-Collaboration with Professor Patrick Freund in Zurich is to better understand how the anatomy and the function of the spinal cord and the brain change in neurological disorders involving the spinal cord, developing neuroimaging biomarkers that are sensitive and accurate in predicting functional outcome, registering more quickly the impact of therapeutic treatments and rehabilitative interventions. 

2-Working with Dr Arman Eshaghi and the MAGNIMS network, developed MRI-based measures that provide fine-grained assessment of MS worsening at anatomical locations, complementing state-of-the art whole brain outcome measures, and outperforming whole brain measures when predicting disability progression. In 2020, in collaboration with the Montreal Neurological Institute in Canada and several industrial pharmaceutical partners, we have used computational tools to explore the pattern and sequence of progression of abnormalities across the brain with MRI. Using machine learning models we have found that MRI-derived categories can complement clinical categories to guide treatment decisions and potentially be used in prospective clinical trials. 

3-Clinical application of new techniques with Professor Olga Ciccarelli:   Pioneering the application of machine learning to MRI to provide an 'individualised' prediction of treatment response in patients with MS;  we are currently working on a large NIHR-funded programme which aims to translate this prediction model to routine, clinical practice.   We have improved the diagnosis of MS through simplification of  MRI diagnostic criteria, and have demonstrated that the use of a 3T scanner does not improve the diagnosis of MS. We have found that a new biomarker (the central vein sign) distinguishes between MS and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder.   We are working towards improving MS prognosis through 15- and 30-year follow-ups in patients with a clinically isolated syndrome.  Generally we are using advanced imaging techniques to provide insights into the mechanisms of disability in MS and are developing new imaging outcome measures for clinical trials which reflect the underlying brain structure.  We have validated the use of brain volumetric scanning to calculate spinal cord atrophy and have translated it to clinical trials design;  we have developed brain sodium imaging and translated it into neuroprotective trials in progressive MS.

4-Clinical trials in MS, worked with Professor Jeremy Chataway on MS-STAT1 after which the phase 3 trial (MS-STAT2), centred on disability outcomes, was developed, co-funded by the NIHR HTA Board, UK and US MS societies.  There is an embedded MRI subproject from the UK and US MS societies looking at evolving advanced MRI scanning in this group.   A multi-arm, multi-stage platform trial in progressive MS will start in 2021 (funding has been agreed by the UK MS Society).               

Teaching Summary

Involved in multidisciplinary teaching to researchers, medical students, post-graduate students, nurses and therapists, focusing on MRI, neurorehabilitation, and the management of disability, with special focus on multiple sclerosis.
Participates in short courses and masterclasses run by Institute of Neurology.
As Director of Institute of Neurology fostered growth of the Education Unit to establish a four-year PhD programme in Clinical Neuroscience, a new MSc course in Advanced Neuroimaging, an online MSc for neurology trainees, and developing a distance learning postgraduate diploma in neuroscience (e-Brain) with the Joint Neurosciences Council and the EFNS.  Within the CBRC launched an MSc in Translational Medicine. 
Established National Treasure post in neurorehabilitation and curriculum for neurology SpRs in last year of training.
Involved in production of educational materials for patients relating to diagnosis, treatment and management of MS for the MS Society, MSIF, and the MS Trust.
International teaching role:  Teaches regularly in courses and workshops on progressive multiple sclerosis, neurorehabilitation, outcome measurement, MRI, and diagnosis and management of multiple sclerosis aimed at researchers, physicians, specialist nurses, therapists, and patient groups.  Named lectures include the Presidential Lecture, Consortium of MS Centers, USA (2018), the ECTRIMS Lecture (2015), the Don Paty Memorial Lecture (2015), the Charcot Lecture (2014), the Pringle Lecture (2011), Gowers Memorial Lecture (2009), BS Singhal Oration (2007).
Has edited textbooks on multiple sclerosis and rehabilitation.

01-JUN-2019 Pro Vice-Provost for London Advancement University College London, United Kingdom
2014 Director, Neuroscience Programme Neuroscience UCL Partners, United Kingdom
01-AUG-2011 Dean Faculty of Brain Sciences, SLMS University College London, United Kingdom
01-MAR-2011 – 01-AUG-2011 Transitional Dean Faculty of Biomedical Sciences University College London, United Kingdom
01-NOV-2010 Interim Chair Neuroscience Domain, SLMS University College London, United Kingdom
2009 – 2012 Programme Director Neurological Disorders Theme UCL Partners Academic Health Science Centre, United Kingdom
01-APR-2008 – 03-JAN-2012 Director Institute of Neurology University College London, United Kingdom
2008 – 2016 Senior Investigator National Institute for Health Research DOH, United Kingdom
2006 – 2010 Deputy Director Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre NIHR, United Kingdom
2006 – 2008 Deputy Director Joint UCLH/UCL R&D Unit  , United Kingdom
2003 – 2007 Divisional Clinical Director Neurosciences National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, United Kingdom
1998 Garfield Weston Professor of Clin Neurol/Neurorehabilitation Institute of Neurology University College London, United Kingdom
1990 Honorary Consultant Neurologist Neurology National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, United Kingdom
Academic Background
  FMedSci Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences  
1995   Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
1994   Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians Royal College of Physicians
1985   Doctor of Medicine Trinity College Dublin
1979   Bachelor of Surgery Degree Trinity College Dublin
1979   Bachelor of the Arts of Obstetrics Trinity College Dublin
1979   Bachelor of Arts Trinity College Dublin
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