Brain Awareness Week: Q&A with Julie Moonga
15 March 2011
Moonga is a PhD student at the UCL Institute of Neurology. Her research focuses
on a cellular mechanism that breaks down and removes 'damaged proteins' from
the brain and has important implications for our understanding of a range of
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your research and its significance?
My research involves investigating how cells break down in patients with neurological disorders such as prion disease. Our study shows a dysfunction in this cellular degradation system much earlier than previously reported. This has important implications for many neurodegenerative diseases in particular Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease. We are addressing key questions to better understand these diseases.
Q: Although you are just beginning your career as a neuroscientist, you recently presented your research at the preeminent Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego. How did that feel?
The SFN meeting in San Diego was a terrific opportunity for me to present my research to the world and network with some of the best neuroscientists in the field. It was encouraging to see so many people interested in my research. I was amazed about the wealth of information and resources available in the meeting. It was time well-spent and a breath of fresh air. I was truly inspired!
Q: Why did you choose to do your PhD at UCL?
UCL was an obvious choice when I started looking at graduate schools in London, because it has a superb Neuroscience department with an unparalleled global reputation. As an international student, I was looking for a university where I could blend in; and coming from New York, I was looking for an atmosphere of diversity. UCL was the perfect match.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a neuroscientist?
During my undergraduate studies in Philadelphia I became interested in neuroscience. In my senior year, I volunteered at a nearby brain injury rehabilitation facility and while I was there I interacted with people with brain trauma and injuries. I became fascinated with the brain and its complexity. My experience in Philadelphia pretty much shaped my scientific path.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
Wow! I hope to be a well established neuroscientist in my field by then. I would eventually like to move onto therapeutic approaches and the drug discovery side of brain research.
Q: What is a typical day in the lab like for you?
Work in the lab varies from day to day since there are many aspects to my project. For example, last year I spent the entire summer at a nearby facility conducting behavioural assessments. But I also do a lot of histological studies, so a great deal of my day is spent on the microscope analysing brain sections.
Q: What do you think is the most extraordinary/fascinating thing about the brain?
The multiple layers and cell layers of the brain are fascinating. But the circuitry and connectivity of the brain is extraordinary.
Q: Do you think we will ever completely understand the brain?
The brain is an extraordinary and a complex piece of art. We have come a long way since the birth of modern neuroscience, but we still have a long road ahead before we will fully understanding the brain.
Q:Which scientist, dead or alive, do you most admire and why?
I admire Galileo. He made an enormous contribution which led to the revolution of modern science and technology.
Q: What do you do to relax outside of work?
I travel a lot as my family lives across several States in the US. My husband is currently working in Singapore and his entire family lives in Southern Africa, Zambia. I also like attending Christian church services.