Professor Richard Frackowiak was born in London and studied medicine at the University of Cambridge where he first became interested in the neurosciences. He joined the Medical Research Council’s Cyclotron Unit at Hammersmith Hospital, London, in 1979, under Professor Terry Jones, who had just installed one of Britain’s first Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanners.
Professor Frackowiak has always worked in brain imaging and his particular focus has been on determing how the normal brain functions, and how individuals’ activities and environments collaborate to shape their brains. In 1995, as Professor of Cognitive Neurology at UCL’s Institute of Neurology, he established the Functional Imaging Laboratory (now the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging), developing new techniques for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In a now famous study, Professor Frackowiak and his team showed that in London taxi drivers, there was a connection between an area of the brain – the hippocampus – and their highly developed spatial and navigation skills. The hippocampus had enlarged as a result of navigational experience.
The Centre’s current research focuses on how the brain recovers after injury, particularly strokes, and on structural brain characteristics with the aim of improving diagnosis and commencing early therapy in degenerative and devastating neurological diseases such as Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s. Professor Frackowiak has won the IPSEN and Wilhelm Feldberg prizes and during the 1990s was the fourth most highly cited British biomedical scientist. His books include Human Brain Function and Brain Mapping: The Disorders. He is currently setting up a new Clinical Neuroscience Department at the University of Lausanne.