Interdisciplinary doctoral degrees
Innovative implants could be an alternative to high dosage medicines when treating brain disorders. Interdisciplinary specialists are needed to develop them, and they are trained at Kiel University.
PhD students Anna-Sophia Buschhoff and Igor Barg using an x-ray photoelectron spectroscope to chemically analyse materials, to find out which elements they consist of, for example. Foto: Julia Siekmann
“Our body uses protective mechanisms to prevent our blood from transporting the medicine in an uncontrolled manner into the brain,” says biologist Anna-Sophia Buschhoff. This important blood-brain barrier particularly becomes a problem in the case of brain disorders. “It means that these medicines often only reach the brain in low concentrations. Patients are therefore forced to increase the dosage, which in turn leads to stronger side effects.” Together with her colleague Igor Barg, Buschhoff is researching the potentials of a localised therapy directly in the brain, which does not affect the whole body. “The objective is for medicines to only act where they are supposed to,” says Barg.
The biologist specialising in neurosciences and the materials scientist are preparing their doctoral theses at the “Materials for Brain” research training group in Kiel. Scientists from the fields of medicine, biology and materials science work together to research how brain disorders like epilepsy, aneurysms or brain tumours can be treated more effectively with the help of intelligent, biocompatible materials. Complex tasks that require close interdisciplinary collaboration.
“We will see a significant increase in the demand for specifically trained scientists, both in Germany and worldwide. The interdisciplinary training programme in our research training group is closing a gap here,” says Christine Sellhuber-Unkel, Professor of Biocompatible Nanomaterials at Kiel University and spokesperson for the research training group.
Obtaining their doctoral degree in this way also presented an attractive option for Anna-Sophia Buschhoff and Igor Barg. Buschhoff came to Kiel from Freiburg and is now writing her doctoral thesis in the neurobiology research group of Professor Peer Wulff at the Institute of Physiology. Barg had already studied materials science at Kiel University and is writing his dissertation with Professor Franz Faupel in the Multicomponent Materials working group at the Institute for Materials Science.
They will work in a close tandem over the next three years to develop an implant with a sensor, which measures brain activity directly in the head, thus receiving much better signals than an external EEG. In their research project, the two PhD students are concentrating on so-called absence epilepsy, which is most common in children. Absence seizures are like staring spells during which the child is not responsive to external stimuli. “This can be very dangerous in everyday life, for example on the roads,” Barg explains. Their dream would be to develop an implant that automatically releases the medicine as soon as an epileptic seizure begins – or that would even predict it.
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