THE DESPERATE SCIENTIST
... an Instagram interview
INTRO: Ah the holidays, the most wonderful time of the year are coming to a close! Eating delicious food, singing songs, more eating, drinking to excess and PRESENTS! In what should be the gloomiest and darkest time of winter.
#1: HOW DID YOU GET TO RESEARCH?
When I was growing up, my uncle had schizophrenia. I wanted to understand what was happening to him, to his mind and was always fascinated by biology. In my undergraduate I chose to study neuroscience and psychology and I fell in love with the brain. I continued with my masters in neuroscience and focused on degenerative neuroscience and stem cell research. Whilst working with degenerative neuroscience, I worked on a particular disease called Batten disease. At my time in that lab, I met actual people who were affected by these terrible disorders and knew I had to help in any way I could. So I kept studying neurodegeneration and neuroscience. When I was awarded an MRC funded PhD place at Imperial College London, I chose to study neuropathology and focus on brain trauma. Currently, I work with brains from deceased boxers and I am working on an exciting new project, called tissue clearing, where we turn the brain transparent. I love what I do.
#2: WHAT FASCINATES YOU ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AND WHY COULD IT POSSIBLY FASCINATE OTHERS?
The brain is such a complicated organ. We are on the frontier of science; we know so little about the brain and how it works! It amazes me to think that we know more about space than we do what's inside our skulls. Many individuals experience head trauma in their lives and we have no idea what happens in the long run. Some people change behaviourally and can become depressed or even attempt suicide. Others have been shown to become cognitively impaired and can even develop dementia. However, we do not know what occurs in the brain to cause these effects. We’re seeing this happen in a lot of sports players, especially NFL players. I have been able to turn the brains of deceased boxers transparent so I can see the microcellular effects of head trauma in 3D so we can get a clear view of what happens in the brain and why these people become unwell. More specifically, I have been examining the blood supply to the brain, in a way to understand what changes first and how we can stop these changes from occurring.
#3: HOW COULD YOUR RESEARCH CHANGE THE WAY WE THINK?
My research will hopefully help in 2 ways. 1) I believe that the blood supply is integral to our brain's health, and by helping us understand the link between dementia, trauma and blood vessels in the brain, we may be able to help understand other wide-reaching disorders. For example, Alzheimers and Parkinsons may have more links with the blood supply than previously thought. Understanding the basics of these changes may help us treat these disorders. 2) The new technique we are championing in our lab, tissue clearing, will help shed more light on the problems pathologists deal with. Traditional microscopy uses very thin slices (microns thick) and you lose a lot of information that may be in the adjacent environment. With tissue clearing, you use samples that are hundreds of times thicker, allowing you to get a better more complete view of the problem.
#4: WHAT IS THE SOURCE OF YOUR INSPIRATION?
The source of my inspiration is always working with people. Whenever I meet real people with real problems, it inspires me to work harder, especially when you have long nights or experiments that fail. When I meet people with neurodegenerative disorders and listen to them and their problems, I am honoured that I get to contribute to something that may help them. For me, the reason I do the work I do is so that ultimately it may be of some use to people. I can tell you it's not the pay!
END: But for some, these songs, dinners and gifts merely conjure up cold nights, being alone and none of the holiday cheer they are supposed to imbue. The fact is, some people do not get along with their families, or even have people to call relatives. The holidays for some can be associated with pain and loneliness.