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Dr Rishma Vidyasagar

 Name: Dr Rishma Vidyasagar


Age range:35

Research institution: School of Cancer and Enabling Sciences, Medical School, University of Manchester

Research career length: 10 years

Research Council: Medical Research Council (MRC)

Location: Manchester, England

Brief summary of research: Neuroimaging

School qualifications:
Camberwell High School, Victoria, Australia

Qualifications post-school:
Bachelor of Applied Science from Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia in Medical Biophysics and Instrumentation
PhD in nanoscience in biochemical processes

Career path:
Research Associate, University of Manchester
Research medical physicist, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool
Honorary Lecturer, University of Liverpool
Research Associate, University of Liverpool
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Birmingham
Postdoctoral Researcher, Manchester University
PhD: University of Liverpool
Research Assistant, Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

“It would be invaluable if my research could help with early diagnosis of diseases to make way for more efficient treatment.”

I use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to try and understand how the human brain works. I am interested in many aspects of brain function, including how new connections are made and weakened in healthy brains, and what happens in brains with degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. It is my long-term goal that my findings will directly help treatment of brain disease, by helping to repair damage, or in identifying when damage has occurred and where.

I spend a good deal of my research time, recruiting participants, running experiments, analysing data, and presenting findings at meetings and conferences, both in the UK and overseas. Another major part of my work involves writing my research into scientific papers and developing ideas for future research studies in grant applications to secure further funding. Additional time is spent obtaining ethics approval for our experiments for this work, to ensure that participants do not experience any distress or discomfort, and are fully aware of why we are obtaining data from them.

Research presents opportunities to develop an interesting and high status career, whilst at the same time contributing to improving people’s lives. Rishma Vidyasagar sees her chosen vocation as combining a fascination with the human brain, with a desire that her work will help others in the future.

Along with my experimental work, I sometimes supervise Master’s and Undergraduate students with their projects, and help in undergraduate lectures. I have taken part in public engagement activities that happen at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and as part of the Manchester Science Festival. I am also a STEM Ambassador, which means I work with schools to help encourage an interest in science amongst pupils.

I believe that you should choose to research something that is genuinely exciting and interesting to you. In my case, I am particularly enthused about medical research because of its potential for contributing to the understanding of a disease that will ultimately help improve the quality of life for someone. I changed my initial research focus from nanoscience to neuroscience because I was always fascinated by how the brain works. This interest was sparked by a special neuroscience edition of Scientific American, published in the 1970s, when lots of exciting discoveries were being made on the brain.

I also derive my inspiration from a range of other sources, including the people I meet through my work – it’s always good if I can put a face and personality to a brain! Equally, I have drawn on the success of passionate women scientists, especially when things get tough.

My most memorable experience so far was looking at some exciting data that we acquired, showing how we’d managed to change the way the brain responded after three hours of manipulating its sensory function in healthy humans to be able to measure such a sensitive change non-invasively was very exciting.

It’s great to hear about others work and to meet colleagues at conferences - especially when they are held in exotic places like Hawaii.

My current goal is to become established as an independent researcher and to build a lab that focuses on pushing the capabilities of MRI in conjunction with other methods of investigating and understanding brain disease. It would be great to help develop techniques that are able to detect ‘biomarkers’ (chemicals that are produced in response to disease) of brain diseases such as dementia, and to help with recovery of function affected by neuronal damage in conditions such as a stroke.


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