Dr Gemma Bale
Engineering and Physics
Lecturers, Professors and College Officers,
Dr Gemma Bale is the Gianna Angelopoulos Lecturer in Medical Therapeutics and Head of the Neuro Optics Lab. Her work focuses on developing new, non-invasive brain monitoring techniques for the measurement of cerebral oxygenation and metabolism in areas where traditional brain monitoring isn’t possible.
Gemma studied Physics (BSc) at Imperial College London where she became interested in using optics for medical applications. To pursue this, she undertook a Masters in Photonics Systems Development at UCL and the University of Cambridge, and discovered near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) – a non-invasive technique that can monitor the brain.
Throughout her career, Gemma has been passionate about communicating science outside of academia. During her PhD, she was awarded the UCL Provost’s Engineering Engager of the Year (2015) award for her work in communicating science to the public in many forms – from stand-up comedy to teaching in schools. Post-PhD, she led an award-winning public engagement platform called MetaboLight (www.metabolight.org). In 2018, she undertook a Media Fellowship – working as a science journalist for BBC Radio 2, and in the same year was awarded the Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award for Engineering, Technology and Industry by the British Science Association, as part of its prestigious Award Lecture series.
Gemma’s research interests are in non-invasive optical neuromonitoring techniques. She develops diffuse optical devices to monitor brain metabolism in areas which traditional brain monitoring can’t, such as the intensive care unit or in a real-world environment. Her primary focus had been developing broadband near-infrared spectroscopy (bNIRS) techniques to monitor a metabolic enzyme, cytochrome-c-oxidase [Bale et al., Journal of Biomedical Optics, 2016]. Cytochrome-c-oxidase is the terminal electron acceptor of the electron transport chain, which is the final stage of oxidative metabolism within the mitochondria. Its near-infrared optical properties are dependent on its oxidation state, hence it is possible to monitor electron transport within the mitochondria using bNIRS. Cellular metabolism is an important measurement for a range of medical conditions.
Gemma has pioneered this technique in the neonatal intensive care unit and has shown the clinical promise of the measurements. She has also developed miniature, portable devices which are being used around the world in a range of different scenarios, from paediatric surgery to psychiatric wards. The aim of Gemma’s research is to translate biomedical optics measurements into clinical practice.