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Entrevista a la Dra. Ivana Rosenzweig

La Dra. Ivana Rosenzweig trabaja en el King’s College London. Como consultora en neuropsiquiatría investiga el rol del sueño en nuestros cerebros y los raros y complejos desordenes que nos mantienen despiertxs en la noche.

What are you working on?

I am exploring the role of sleep and hypoxia (i.e. low oxygen) on brain plasticity, with a particular focus on the neurobiology and cognitive effects of various sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea.

Sleep and sleep stages are characterised by specific brain rhythms. These rhythms or oscillations could be broadly explained as the ways brain cells communicate one with another. During sleep, brain rhythms orchestrate memory, emotions and overall brain cells maintenance. Unlike those of wakefulness, sleep rhythms are maintained free of external inputs. This means that any transient input during the sleep can have a lasting impact on how we function, think and feel during the day.

Non-rapid eye movement (nREM) and REM sleep stages can be seen as unique states for any potential therapeutical intervention in memory and brain plasticity, as well as a myriad of neuropsychiatric disorders that have been identified as having a particular sleep stage or sleep “oscillopathy” fingerprint.

What does your average day involve?

I work at several South London sites, juggling clinical and academic duties. It can be stressful, but the truth is that this is exactly how I like it – I feel immensely privileged to be able to combine several roles in my research, each of which presents an important part of working as a clinical scientist.

The research that I do demands a precisely tuned multi-disciplinary effort, and I am fortunate to be surrounded by amazing colleagues from various different fields.

In my clinical role, I work as a Sleep Consultant at one of the biggest sleep disorders centres in the UK, at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals. We are a small team of highly dedicated and enthusiastic clinicians who see some of the most complex and rarest sleep disturbances in the country.

Dr Guy Leschziner, who is our clinical lead, ensures we rise to this challenge and more importantly, he has also undertaken to establish us as a Centre of research excellence. In order to do so, we recently formed the Sleep and Brain Plasticity Centre at the Department of Neuroimaging.

The idea and the name for this was originally derived from the collaborative research platform that my close friend and colleague, Professor Mary Morrell from Imperial College and I co-established. The need for such a hub of clinical and academic excellence in sleep research in London has been long recognised but never fully materialised. I am delighted that it is now up and running and that I am part of a stellar team.

During sleep the brain structure called the thalamus orchestrates several of sleep rhythms, much like a conductor conducts a symphony

During sleep the brain structure called the thalamus orchestrates several of sleep rhythms, much like a conductor conducts a symphony

Why is your work important?

We spend one third of our life sleeping, and if we for whatever reason stop being able to do so – we know that we will die. Yet we know so little about why that is the case and what happens during sleep with our brain and our body. Also, in the 21st century, we are still ignorant as to how to treat the majority of sleep disorders.

What do you hope the impact of your work will be?

In the short term, I hope that we help gain more insight into what happens in brains of people with sleep apnoea. We have already taken some important steps in that direction and we are shortly going to publish some of our preliminary data that suggest a mechanism behind how that chronic process may act to increase the risk of accelerating the neurodegenerative process in some patients.

The Holy Grail as far as our patients are concerned would be to learn how we could prevent the process from ever starting in the first place.

In the longer term, I have many ambitious new ideas, some of which I am already working on. For example, what if we could help develop therapeutical paradigms and safe technologies to treat memory and neuropsychiatric deficits by enhancing/entraining and/or inhibiting various sleep brain rhythms? What if we could use the know-how we gain from the mechanisms involved in sleep to develop treatments for people in a coma, or to provide an alternative lucid dreaming world for those unable to enjoy this one due to their disability?

How did you come to be working on this topic/in this field?

Serendipity, as is the case with most things in life. Sleep research has always fascinated me, but it was not before I started considering the problem of sleep apnoea and the neurocognitive deficits it causes in some patients that I was hooked.

How has Wellcome funding helped you/your research/your career?

Polysomnography set up

Polysomnography set up

In times of austerity, funding of high risk – but also potentially high gain – ideas and projects is a huge luxury and rarity. Nonetheless, without support for such risky projects, in my mind, crucial steps forward in science will not happen.

The fact that the Wellcome Trust as an independent organisation recognises this and tries to nourish this entrepreneurial spirit in scientists is priceless. This inspires a great loyalty in those fortunate enough to be helped by the Trust – and I personally would like to use this opportunity to thank Wellcome’s amazing team for making me a part of this ever growing family.

What’s the most frequently asked question about your work?

The one that I get asked most is whether we will ever be able to engineer our bodies and brains so that we do not need to sleep. The answer to that one is likely no.

I am personally deeply in awe of nature’s design and I think we should not contemplate sabotaging it – we may find that the price is too high to pay.

Which question about your work do you most dread – and why?

I dread being asked if I regret not staying in basic science. The truth is I am who I am because of my life path and I wonder if I could ask the same questions, or feel so passionate about them, if I were not also a practicing clinician.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us…

I am a decent free-diver and a feisty fencer.

What keeps you awake at night?

Full Moon and quirky research ideas….

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.

Never look back, except to learn which patterns not to repeat.

The chain reaction question from previous spotlightee Alex Julyan is this: What constitutes risk in your field of work?

Not being brave enough to swim against the current vogue of thinking.

You can find out more about Ivana’s work by visiting the King’s College website.

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