• Question: Who or what got you into brains?

    Asked by emmzyx23x to Rachel, Nina on 21 Jun 2019.
    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 21 Jun 2019: last edited 21 Jun 2019 8:29 pm

      Great question – I could answer this is so many different ways! I am besotted with brains, brains of all shapes and sizes; how they work, how they stop working, and how we can try to fix them. Here are some of the people and ‘things’ that got me into brains:

      (1) Family and friends – people close to me who have suffered with brain trauma, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and seeing the impact this has had on their lives
      (2) Scientists – neuroscience is a fascinating and ever expanding subject; there is so much left to learn about how the healthy brain works, let alone the myriad ways in which that can go wrong. There have been many great neuroscientists; here are just a few who inspired me…
      Santiago Ramon y Cajal made some of the most beautiful observations of the brain that are still widely admired today: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1906/cajal/biographical/
      Hodgkin and Huxley discovered how the action potential is generated in the squid giant axon:
      Rita Levi-Montalcini who discovered nerve growth factor and lived to 103!
      Thomas Arendt who discovered how beautifully plastic the brain is under hibernating conditions; this work inspired my PhD on how cooling protects human brain cells.
      My PhD supervisor Siddharthan Chandran who taught me how important ‘glia’ are in the brain:
      (3) Patients – particularly the human and other animal patients I have met with devastating brain disorders for which we have no treatments such as intractable epilepsy, aggressive brain cancer, motor neurone disease and other neurodegenerative disorders
      (4) Work experience – my first ever work experience placement was my ‘official’ week at school which I spent at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (the government department now known as DEFRA). I worked in the Neuropathology Department on prion diseases (devastating infectious neurodegenerative disorders that affect humans and animals – including BSE, and variant CJD). This was my first opportunity to actually touch brain tissue and also to see how animals were affected by these diseases – it left a lasting impression. Later in preparation for vet school I spent time in Edinburgh working at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies where I came across another devastating neurodegenerative disease in horses – grass sickness. In this disorder the ‘flight or fight’ part of the nervous system is mainly affected and patients become unable to digest food because their gut stops working. Seeing these animals gradually waste away with little hope of treatment was heartbreaking.
      (5) My own extremely late chronotype – I am naturally a very ‘late night owl’ (which has its advantages and disadvantages), and have often wondered what effect this has on my brain, and whether my brain cell clocks are involved. Now we understand that circadian rhythms are disrupted in many brain disorders from epilepsy to dementia, I want to learn as much as I can about how brain cell clocks work so that we can control them for therapeutic benefit.