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Rozanna Meijboom on MRC/NIH partnerships in brain imaging research

rozannaRozanna Meijboom is one of three early career scientists to receive a new UK Medical Research Council (MRC) award to partner labs undertaking similar research at the US National Institutes of Health.

She talks about her forthcoming trip to the US, where she will spend time with the team led by neurologist and neuroradiologist Daniel Reich.

Applications for  the  2018/19 neurodegeneration awards are are now open. The closing date is 5 April 2018.

The awards, which are funded by the UK Department of  Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), also involves participation in a symposium at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

Reich‘s lab focuses on advanced MRI techniques to understand the sources of disability in multiple sclerosis with a particular interest in harnessing non-invasive imaging modalities to study biological mechanisms of tissue damage.

Tell me about your career so far.

My undergraduate degree in psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands, specialised in brain and cognition and first triggered my interest in the biology of the brain.

My Masters’ degree was in neuropsychology at the University of Maastricht, also in The Netherlands, and included an internship back in Rotterdam in functional magnetic resonance imaging. I returned to Rotterdam for my PhD at the Erasmus Medical Centre, which focused on neuroimaging of brain connectivity in young onset dementia.

It finished in 2016 (I obtained my PhD certificate early 2017) and a few months later I moved to the University of Edinburgh as a research associate in brain imaging, looking at  imaging of brain abnormalities, specifically in the white matter, in older people and multiple sclerosis using. I’m based in the UK Dementia Research Institute and Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences

Describe your current research projects

My PhD included a month-long international project so I looked at Edinburgh. I’d spent a few months studying at the University of Edinburgh when I was 18. I contacted Joanna Wardlaw. Professor Wardlaw created a project that allowed me to further develop specific image analysis skills for white matter measures. During my time there I also met Adam Waldman, chair of neuroradiology at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, who did similar work to the group I worked in at the Erasmus Medical Centre. Both Joanna and Professor Waldman saw my work and were very supportive when a job opportunity came up a while later.

Within Joanna’s group, I work on the Lothian Birth Cohort Study 1936, a large longitudinal study looking at cognitive ageing. Amongst many other assessments, these participants have received three brain scans so far (3 years apart for each) and the fourth wave of imaging is currently ongoing. I’m currently looking at white matter microstructure in areas of the brain where white matter lesions cross with white matter tracts. White matter lesions are common in older people and are related to cognitive decline.

Within Adam’s group, I work on Future MS, which is a multi-centre longitudinal study of MS patients at baseline and one year follow up and which tries to predict what will happen at later stages for these patients.  The disease course can be very different for MS patients. It’s very important to try and predict how the disease develops.

I have two family members with MS, so this does motivate me more. But the main reason for doing this work is that I really love working on research that might benefit patients in the end. I’m a curious person. I like learning new things and solving new problems.

Tell us about your mentors.

Rebecca Steketee at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam supervised me daily during my Masters’ research project.  She was doing her PhD at the time and told me everything about task-based functional MRI and what it’s like to work with dementia patients. She was very motivated and she made the research during my project so much fun. She’s a good friend now.

During my PhD Marion Smits was the best supervisor I could have wished for. After my Rotterdam internship Dr Smits gave me the chance to do a PhD and taught me how to be a neuroimaging researcher. She was always supportive of me and my work and ideas,  and she always made time for me and her other PhD students.  After my PhD I had a little period where I was without a job. She got money to hire me for an extra five months at Erasmus Medical Centre.

What are the challenges?

Academia is very uncertain. Is there money? Does someone want to fund us? I’m a very early career researcher, so if I want to apply for a grant my chances aren’t that great. They’ll want to know how many publications I’ve had, the extent of my academic experience etc.

Tell us the about MRC/NIH partnering award.

I fly out mid-March for the symposium on 22 March at the NIH. It’s a one-day event and everybody involved in the partnering award will be presenting. I’ll also visit Daniel’s Reich’s lab during the course of this visit to meet the people working there and discuss their work. Daniel does a lot of white matter work, mainly around MS, and his lab has developed several methods to assess white matter lesions in the brain. I’m very interested to learn about the methods, and how they can be applied to scans of patient populations available in Edinburgh.

What’s your career advice to other early career researchers?

During my PhD I really felt that I didn’t know enough and could never know enough. Over the years I’ve learned it’s perfectly fine not to know everything and to keep learning new things every day.

How do you relax outside the lab?

I like running and cycling and since moving to Scotland I realise how much I love nature and walking around in the hills. The Netherlands is a very flat country. I love visiting new places with my boyfriend (he’s a scientist too, studying neuroimaging in psychiatric disorders).

I love the diversity of Edinburgh. There are so many different types of building and architecture. It has Arthur’s Seat (the ancient volcano offering great views of the city), the sea, the castle. You can be walk on a bridge and not realise you’re on a bridge.

 

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