Brain Awareness Week: Q&A with Dr Olga Ciccarelli
17 March 2011
Dr Olga Ciccarelli is a Reader in Neurology at the UCL Institute of Neurology and Consultant Neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Her field of interest is in the study of Multiple Sclerosis, which can be a devastating disease, with no known cure, which affects the brain and spinal cord.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your research?
My research involves using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and other advanced imaging techniques to try to understand how people with Multiple Sclerosis can recover, so that in the future treatments can be designed to assist clinical improvement.
Q: What is it about MRI that makes it so useful for your research?
MRI is a painless, non-invasive technique that provides detailed photographs (or scans) of the brain and spinal cord, which give us information about the structure and function of these areas.
Q: How will your research make a difference to people's lives?
It will help doctors to diagnose patients with Multiple Sclerosis at an earlier stage than at present, will provide a more accurate prognosis to individual patients, and will hopefully lead to the introduction of effective and novel treatments for Multiple Sclerosis.
Q: How do you find combining the role of being a clinician with running a research programme and would you recommend your job to others?
I find it challenging, especially because I feel I do not have enough time to do both things properly. My clinical work is important because it provides a context for my research. My job is highly rewarding, but does require a great deal of perseverance to obtain funding and publish papers.
Q: How has working at UCL benefited your research?
My research has benefited from access to a research dedicated MRI scanner, a large and varied pool of patients who are willing to participate in research, and talented colleagues. UCL is an internationally renowned university, which therefore makes it possible to attract funding for research.
Q: What advice would you give someone starting their research career in the UK now?
This is an exciting time to be a researcher, especially in neuroscience, since we are making significant breakthroughs in our understanding of brain functions and disease mechanisms. My advice is to stick at it!
Q: Science has a reputation for being male-dominated. Has this been your experience?
Yes, but hopefully this will change, though change will only be possible with the introduction of more flexible working practices that take account of mothers' domestic commitments. Change will also be possible if men played a more active role at home ... and more women had faith in their ability to pursue a career in research!
Q: What is your favourite brain-related fact?
The ability of the brain to reorganise itself after an injury, such as a new multiple sclerosis lesion, so that the patient's symptoms improve.
Q: What is it like being an Italian neuroscientist working in London?
At the first it was a culture shock, no sun, bad coffee and pizzas with pineapple on, ... but over the years I have learnt to understand the English sense of humour and to appreciate their efficiency!
Q: If you weren't a neuroscientist, what would you be?
I would be an art restorer ... ideally I would like to get my paintbrush on some of those fabulous paintings by Italian artists, such as Caravaggio!