Brain Sciences

Prof Alan Thompson

Prof Alan Thompson

Garfield Weston Professor of Clinical Neurology & Neurorehabilitation

Faculty of Brain Sciences

School of Life & Medical Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Aug 1997

Research summary

Research Summary:

Uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate the underlying pathology of multiple sclerosis (MS), measure brain atrophy, and establish reliable markers for disease progression and extent of disability.  Methods are being developed to measure grey matter atrophy and abnormalities accurately, which, when incorporated into clinical trials as an outcome measure, will allow effective treatments to be identified, and show the likely relationship between grey matter atrophy and physical disability and cognitive impairment.

With Professor Olga Ciccarelli studies mechanisms of damage in acute lesions affecting the motor tracts and, in particular, the effect they have on the axons that traverse them.  New research hopes to establish the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in MS and whether the reversibility of mitochondrial dysfunction causes clinical improvement in MS patients.  

 With Dr Ahmed Toosy studies structural/functional recovery mechanisms following optic neuritis to develop new strategies to enhance recovery and identify effective treatments.  Collaborates with Dr Patrick Freund and team using imaging to identify morphometric changes which may predict clinical recovery after spinal cord injury. 

Within the Faculty of Brain Sciences, led UCL's successful bid to host the UK Dementia Research Institute Hub (£250 million granted in December 2016), enabling the therapeutic agenda and delivery of a transformative research initiative.  Leads comprehensive programmes of research in dementia and mental health.  As Chair of the Neuroscience Programme for the UCLP Academic Health Science Centre, bringing together researchers and patients groups to enhance information flow, transparency, and clinical effectiveness.   Research into neurodegenerative disease is developing to create a dedicated national resource for testing novel therapies.  Using a combination of novel biomarkers, at-risk cohorts, and sensitive and precise measures of progression, early proof of concept studies are planned  to identify potential disease-modifying therapies.  As UCLP Programme Director for Neurological Disorders held overview of improvements in stroke outcome in the London area and establishment of a quality metric across the area.  Jointly led on a unified brain cancer service in North Central London culminating in a unified, single-site neurosurgical service and a dedicated Brain Tumour Centre for North Central London, and a collaborative research programme with the Cancer Institute.  Established an Academic Medical Centre in Neuroscience, and a Dementia Strategy Board.

Work on Neurological Outcome Measures focused on the development, evaluation, and application of rating scales to measure health outcomes, predominantly from the patient's perspective.  Amongst the achievements are the MS Walking Scale, which contributed to the recent approval of a symptomatic treatment for MS (Fampridine), validation of a generic walking scale, and the MS Impact Scale (MSIS-29 with Professor Jeremy Hobart). The MS Impact Scale and the MS Walking Scale are used in clinical trials and epidemiological studies world-wide.

In neurological disability management, Alan Thompson has worked on Quality Standards (2005); 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 is 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 multiple sclerosis. 

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.


Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
Doctorate, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians | 1995
Royal College of Physicians
Doctorate, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians | 1994
Trinity College Dublin
Doctorate, Doctor of Medicine | 1985
Trinity College Dublin
First Degree, Bachelor of Arts | 1979
Trinity College Dublin
First Degree, Bachelor of Surgery Degree | 1979
Trinity College Dublin
First Degree, Bachelor of the Arts of Obstetrics | 1979


Alan Thompson is UCL's Pro Vice-Provost for London, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, and Chair of the Neuroscience Programme for UCLP Academic Health Science Centre.  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 110 (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.  He was awarded the 'Pioneer of the Nation' award at Buckingham Palace in 2003.  His MD thesis on immunological and biochemical markers of disease activity in multiple sclerosis (MS) demonstrated for the first time active demyelination shown by the detection of breakdown products of myelin basic protein in the CSF in the absence of clinical symptoms.  His post-doctorate research has been at the UCL Institute of Neurology and the National Hospital, Queen Square, where he carried out the first serial MRI studies of the natural history of individual disease groups in MS, demonstrating the value of MRI in monitoring the disease process, and developed protocols used internationally for the use of MRI in assessing the effectiveness of new treatments. He has developed MR techniques which improve pathological specificity, and developed techniques for measuring spinal cord atrophy and cerebral atrophy (indicating axonal loss).  He has identified the unique characteristics of the primary progressive MS group, and is a member of a group of international experts who defined diagnostic criteria for MS in 2001, 2005 and 2010.  In 2013 he was part of an expert group which looked at phenotypes in multiple sclerosis and redefined the course of the disease.  In 1998 Alan Thompson was appointed to the first chair of Clinical Neurology and Neurorehabilitation in the UK, and in 2007 established and led the Department of Brain Repair and Rehabilitation at the UCL Institute of Neurology.  He chaired MSIF's International Medical and Scientific Board until 2015, Chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee for the International Progressive MS Alliance (PMSA), 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.