Portugal, Sweden, France, and now Russia. Ana Rita Lorenzo Ignacio have studied and worked in all these countries, her research issue remaining the same ? human brain.
- Ana Rita, how did you come to brain researches? How did it all start?
- I studied biochemistry at the University of Coimbro (Portugal). I have always been very interested in science and wanted to do brain research. At the university I got interested in neural stem cells, it was very fascinating for me.
For my research project I went to Sweden where I found a group of Professor Patrick Brundin who was associated with the first stem cells transplantation. And then I started working with Dr. Tomas Deierborg and proposed to study the fact of inflammation of neural stem cells proliferation and differentiation. For our research stem cells were taken from the brains of animals that had had a stroke. So I got interested in the inflammation and its role in pathological conditions of the brain such as stroke.
Professor Tomas Deierborg and Professor Tadeusz Wieloch, working on the role of inflammation following ischemic stroke, proposed me to do my PhD in this area.
At some stage I applied for a PhD scholarship of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, one of the major granting institutions for science. When I got it, I studied the role of inflammation and ischemic stroke for 4 years. I was working with the inflammatory mediator and the role of MMIF - macrophage migration inhibitory factor. While doing so I found out that this protein is typically expressed by macrophage. It was known that MMIF it is highly expressed in the brain, however there was no description of it. And to my surprise I found under normal conditions that MMIF was expressed in neurons. That?s how I started reading about neurons and getting interested in neuroscience.
For my postdoc project I was happy to join the group of Rustem Khazipov here, at Kazan Federal University.
- You were awarded the Marie Curie fellowship, weren?t you?
- That?s right. When I came here and started working with Rustem Khazipov, we applied to Marie Curie Fellowship to study in France and received it.
- Could you tell about the researches you are running here, in Kazan?
- We study vertebrates at the early stages of their life. Here we work with baby rats and study the short contractions of muscles they show during the sleep, by the way they sleep 80% of the time. We think these movements may be contributing to the development of sensory motor system.
The spinal cord has the neurons that generate spontaneous activity; these neurons in the motor zones of the spinal cord are connected to muscles. We have sensory receptors that will then communicate with the information back to the spinal cord and then to the brain. The spontaneous movements of baby rats provide good conditions for the calibration of our sensory motor system.
When I came to Kazan, one of the main things was in fact to demonstrate the students of Kazan University the stroke model that I had done at the laboratory in Sweden. It?s a very complicated model which needs a lot of practice.
I do data analysis with my Russian colleagues here. And in fact, we have started to discuss our research results from the visit of György Buzsáki, one of the most successful brain researchers in the world, who came with a lecture to Kazan University. We discussed the projects we focus on here with him.
By the way, we are doing an important type of research as the stroke is a major health concern around the world, and there is no effective treatment for stroke patients.
- What is your impression of Kazan University and the city in general?
- The university has the feeling of inspiration to do good work. It has fantastic buildings, the lab is well equipped.
As for the city, I was incredibly lucky to participate in a guided tour to the Kremlin together with Professor György Buzsáki. I liked it very much. I was impressed by the influence of Bolgar culture to the city.
- Could you share your plans for the future, please?
- I still have some time left for the Marie Curie fellowship and would like to continue my research and have some new experiments.