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Dr Kimberley Whitehead
Dr Kimberley Whitehead profile picture
  • Senior Research Fellow
  • Neuro, Physiology & Pharmacology
  • Div of Biosciences
  • Faculty of Life Sciences

I graduated in Clinical Neurophysiology in 2010 and worked at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and then The National Hospital for Neurology, specialising in electroencephalography (EEG) for diagnosis of sleep disorders and complex epilepsy. During my NHS posts, I conducted research into non-epileptic seizure disorders with Profs Markus Reuber and Matthew Walker, post-seizure states with Dr Beate Diehl, and activation of epileptiform discharges by visual stimulation with Dr Rosalind Kandler. 

I then moved into academia to complete a PhD in ‘Somatosensory-evoked and state-dependent neural activity during the equivalent of the last trimester of human gestation’ in Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi’s Lab at UCL.

In 2019-20 I was supported by National Institute for Health Research and Medical Research Council UK Confidence in Concept funding, to develop a statistical model of sleep-wake regulation in infants. Since 2020 I have been funded by Brain Research UK to advance understanding of the newborn brain’s natural repair mechanisms following acquired brain injury. Within this project, I am collaborating with scientific consultant Prof Mark Blumberg to analyse sensorimotor repair mechanisms and Prof Marcos Frank to apply neural plasticity concepts to my clinical data, following a successful bid from Marcos and I for a UCL Global Engagement grant. Recently, my work has broadened to examine acquired fetal, as well as neonatal, brain injury. My post-doctoral Research Associate Dr Cigdem Gelegen and I are currently affiliated to both UCL’s Institute for Women’s Health and Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, to apply insights from fetal medicine, neonatology, and fundamental neuroscience to this topic.

I maintain an international profile in Clinical and Sleep Neurophysiology. Since 2015 I have been part of the Editorial Board for Elsevier journal Clinical Neurophysiology Practice. I am a member of the ‘What is Sleep?’ international working group based at the Santa Fe Institute in the US. 

I have published scientific articles and commentary in leading journals, such as Cerebral Cortex, eLife, Sleep, and The Lancet, and featured in international media including BBC Radio 5 Live’s Naked Scientist podcast and The Times. I have contributed to numerous public engagement activities including a neuroscience-arts commission for which I secured UCL Grand Challenges funding and a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture.

I have presented my work at meetings across Europe and internationally, most recently in the symposium ‘Bidirectional Effects: Infant Sleep and Neurodevelopment’, within the International Paediatric Sleep Association’s 2021 congress. I look forward to chairing the symposium ‘Tracking plasticity: sensorimotor neurophysiology in health and disease’ at the 2022 International Congress of Clinical Neurophysiology in Geneva.

Research Summary

Electrical brain activity in neonates is up to 100-fold the magnitude observed in adults and follows a developmentally specific bursting pattern. In animal models the suppression of these bursts leads to degraded cortical organisation and their reinstatement is corrective. This suggests both a causal link with normal brain development and a potential translational intervention target in the case of acquired injuries which disrupt this maturation. My research addresses this topic using electroencephalography and synchronised behavioural quantification, to examine environmental factors which may modulate brain activity. This is a collaborative project involving academics and clinicians from UCL and partner hospital UCLH. The Clinical Investigator at UCLH is Dr Judith Meek.

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