In the Lab. Photo/Credit: Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Ravichandran Rajkumar
Dr. Ravichandran Rajkumar is working at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen and Forschungszentrum Jülich on multimodal neuroimaging – a very interdisciplinary field of research. He will participate in the 70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
Without any doubt, the field of neuroimaging research is benefitting and growing from openly available datasets and tools. In neuroimaging research, data sharing and open access have been common for a long time and even prior to the pandemic, efforts were being made to make „open science“ a reality. A few examples include the openly accessible datasets from OpenNEURO, the Human Connectome Project, the UK Biobank, etc. These invaluable resources are well known among the community and are frequently used. In addition to data, most of the popular tools being used by the neuroimaging community are also open source and crowd developed solutions.
Solving Problems by Data Sharing
During the pandemic, the research community and public authorities have seen the unprecedented use of COVID-19 genome sharing, which was used to trace and monitor the mutant variants and vaccine developments. Long term open collaborations and data sharing will lead to finding solutions for problems faster and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the research topics of our working group is the use of individual psychiatry to aid improvements in diagnostics, precision medicine as well as disease and therapy monitoring. To this end, we are measuring psychiatric patients from the University Hospital Aachen both before and after psychiatric treatments (2-4 weeks). Using ultra high field (UHF) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, we have been able to identify changes in the functional organisation of the brain at an individual level, following psychiatric treatments. However, the question remains whether the changes seen in the brain’s functional organisation after the treatment are due to random fluctuations in the brain or whether they are a tangible demonstration of the brain responding to the therapy. In order to validate this, similar experiments with healthy control groups without any neuro-psychiatric disorders are needed.
Impact of Corona on Research
However, due to the corona pandemic lockdown, it has not been possible to conduct these experiments. Luckily, we found another group from Berlin who had uploaded similar UHF fMRI data from healthy subjects measured twice (a one-week interval, for test-retest purposes) in an open-access format with all the required meta data.
This openly available resource enabled us to continue our study as we were able to use the data to investigate whether the brain’s functional organisation remains similar in healthy individuals, tested at an interval of one week.
One of the drawbacks during the corona pandemic has been that data acquisition for neuroimaging studies involving psychiatric patients and healthy volunteers has simply not been possible, although as mentioned, open-access data resources have helped. Another impact that the pandemic has had in terms of my career is that I have been unable to take part in any research exchanges, which would have enabled me to gain more international experience.
My PhD work focused on projects that combined multiple imaging modalities (positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG)) to further our understanding of the human brain, both in terms of psychiatry and neuroscience in general. It is anticipated that such studies will lay the foundation for the development of ‚multimodal fingerprints‘, which will be applied as biomarkers for diagnosis, disease staging, treatment response and monitoring of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Moreover, due to the interdisciplinary nature of the approach used, the research will likely lead to an improved understanding of the neurobiological alterations underlying a range of diseases. I find these possibilities particularly exciting and am motivated by the fact that my interests and passion may ultimately help people. Luckily, my PhD work was not affected by the corona pandemic and I was able to give a closed defence of my PhD research work with only the examiners present. Soon after, I was offered a post-doctoral position in the same working group and I have been able to continue with my research.
Inspiration by #LINO70
I am lucky enough to have the support of fantastic teachers and mentors at the RWTH Aachen University; however, participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and gaining insight from the Nobel Laureates themselves will be a precious thing. The Nobel Laureates are a truly inspirational group and the opportunity to interact with them, and other talented scientists, is one of my main goals for the Lindau Meeting in the summer.
The Lindau Meeting will undoubtedly aid my understanding of how I can actively shape my future ambitions. I am very interested in the Agora Talks and panel discussions, and I am keen to hear the thoughts of the Nobel Laureates regarding open science and emerging fields, such as artificial intelligence in medicine. Finally, I am anxious to interact with other like-minded scientists from around the globe.
About This Series
Within the next months you will find more young scientists who are selected for #LINO70 on the blog to learn more about their career, their research and their plans for the future.
Further articles in this series:
Lindau Scientists and the Pandemic
How other scientists in the Lindau community are dealing with the coronavirus: