Po-Wah So

Po-Wah So


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Personal profile

Research interests (short)

Dr So is Reader in Biomedical Imaging and Spectroscopy, and joint-head of the Preclinical Neuroimaging Group, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London (KCL).  

Her Phenomics Lab is focussed on brain ageing and neurodegenerative disease, in particular determining the central consequences of peripheral dysfunction (brain-body axis), especially the role of metals such as iron.  This work builds upon her research into metabolic disorders including obesity, diabetes and fatty liver, and the role of metals in normal ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Dr So is Departmental Admissions Tutor, and module lead for ‘Neurodegenerative disorders and mechanisms (BSc Psychology) and 'Biochemical Toxicology' (MSc Analytical Toxicology’. She also teaches bio- and molecular imaging on various MSc as well as supervise numerous MSc projects annually.   

Biographical details

BSc in Medicinal Chemistry (University College London, University of London)

PhD (Chemistry) on ‘1H NMR investigations into experimentally-induced hepatotoxic processes’ in Jeremy K. Nicholson’s laboratory (Birkbeck College, University of London).

Po-Wah was employed (1993-1995) at Upjohn Ltd (Crawley, UK) utilizing NMR in drug, metabolism and pharmacokinetics studies.

Subsequently, Po-Wah went back into academia (1996-1998; Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, UCL) to enhance biochemical status of livers during storage prior to transplantation using in vitro 1H and 31P NMR. She continues to employ similar NMR metabolic profiling methods, as well as in vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) methods, to study a variety of diseases especially neuro-psychiatric and metabolic diseases.

At Imperial College London (1998-2008), she applied NMR, MRI and MRS techniques to uterine cancer, diabetes and obesity research; developed novel generic molecular and cellular imaging techniques; and post-mortem human tissue imaging in neurodegenerative diseases.

  • She explored the effects of various environment factors on diabetes and obesity, including nutritional interventions (resistance starch and omega-3 fatty acids enriched diets) and viral inoculation.
  • Developed state-of-the-art manganese-enhanced MRI (MEMRI) based methods to study neuronal and pancreatic beta cell function.
  • A significant aspect of the post-mortem human MRI work was to understand the biological substrates underlying various types of MRI signals but also towards translating methods to live human imaging.
  • Since joining IoP, KCL in Oct 2008, Po-Wah continues her post-mortem human tissue work, principally to understand the role of iron and inflammation in brain ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and effects of peripheral dysfunction, e.g., metabolic disease such as obesity and fatty liver disease

Research interests

A unifying theme of much of Dr So’s current (and past) research has been the MRI-detection of paramagnetic substances especially iron; exogenous or endogenous in origin; either to study biological processes such as gene expression, cell migration, neuronal activation and/or the involvement of these metals in normal brain ageing, neurodegenerative disease and/or metabolic disease. Employing non-MRI methods, e.g histology, SR-XRF, she corroborates paramagnetic metal location indirectly identified by MRI to direct metal mapping measurements by SR-XRF and biological features to understand the basis of changes in the quantitative MRI (QMRI) signal. Dr So is pioneering the use of SR-XRF elemental mapping to understand the extent certain QMRI signals relate to specific metal content, towards recognising their role in health and disease, especially the role of iron in ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease. She has been frequently awarded beamtime at Diamond (STFC-funded) or ANKA (EU-funded) synchrotron light sources.

Po-Wah has/had funding (as Principal Investigator) from the BBSRC, EPSRC, Pulseteq Ltd and Agilent Technologies for CASE studentships, employing QMRI and non-QMRI methods to study healthy ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). She also has funding from the Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). The former (as co-investigator) is to investigate the role of copper in AD with Prof Philip Blower (KCL). The TSB Innovation Award funded her partnership with PulseTeq Ltd to develop and manufacture high quality and high sensivity (and unique) coils to perform MRI in experimental models, and assorted sized brain tissue samples. From the Newton Fund via the MRC, Po-Wah and her co-investigators (Prof Jimmy D. Bell, Drs. Benito de Celis Alonso and Silvia Hidalgo Tobon) have been funded to determine the effects of obesity on cognition in Mexican children, alongside mechanistic studies in experimental models at King's. Po-Wah is part of the KCL-Imperial College consortium that has been awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust for a state-of-the-art' London Metallomics Facility to open June 2018.

Po-Wah also engages with other researchers to apply/develop MR- and SR-XRF based methods in both neuro- and non-neuro biomedical research. Recent neurological studies including MRI and MRS of experimental models of autism and schizophrenia. Non neuro studies include MRI monitoring of transplanted islets and a new experimental model of Grave’s disease.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, 1H Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Investigations into Experimentally-induced Hepatotoxic Processes, Birkbeck, University of London

Award Date: 1 Jan 1996

Bachelor of Science, UCL University College London

Award Date: 1 Jan 1989

External positions

Member, Scientific Committee of Redox Medicine Society, Redox Medicine Society

30 Jun 2023 → …

President, International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) British & Irish Chapter

12 Dec 2019 → …

Member of Work Groups 3 and 4, European Network for Chemical Elemental Analysis by Total Reflection X-ray Fluorescence

2019 → …

Committee Secretary, British Chapter of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine

14 Dec 2017 → …

Committee member, RSC affiliated, NMR Discussion Group


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