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Meet the Researcher – Alessandra Cardinali

30 March 2022

Alessandra Cardinali is a final-year PhD student at the University of Edinburgh and is part-funded by My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. She spoke to our Research and Grants Officer, Olivia Bird, about her research and what inspired her to pursue this career.

  1. What is your background and what motivated you to pursue research in MND?

I have been fascinated by biology since I was very young. When I was around 10 years old, I got a microscope as a birthday present. I absolutely loved it and spent so many long afternoons playing with those slides! I took my undergraduate degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and my favourite subject was neuroscience – I was fascinated by the complexity of the brain. So, once I graduated, I moved to Edinburgh for a master’s degree in Neuroscience. Initially I thought I’d stay for only one year, but I fell in love with the city and the work I was doing in the lab, so I never left. I chose to study MND because I want my work to have a real impact on people’s lives and, as we all know, MND is such a devastating disease. I feel like I am really contributing to create a better future for people living with MND.

  1. What is your research about and what impact will it have on people living with MND?

My research is focused at finding new effective treatments for MND. In a process called “drug screening” we are testing thousands of drugs on cells obtained from people living with MND. Among the large number of compounds we test, many of them are drugs that are already licensed for the treatment of other diseases. This approach is called “repurposing” and is a strategy for identifying new uses for drugs that are already safety-tested and approved for use in people. If one of the drugs proves to be effective in our experiments, it can quickly be repurposed for treating MND. This approach can also save many years by avoiding lengthy approvals processes so that the new drug will be quickly available to the people who need it.

Repurposed drugs are being tested in the MND-SMART clinical trial, which is being supported by My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. You can learn more about the trial here: https://www.mnd-smart.org/

  1. How did the pandemic affect your PhD and how did you work around the challenges it presented?

The pandemic has undoubtedly been a very difficult time for all of us. I was half-way through my PhD when the country went into lockdown. Since I was unable to go to the lab to carry out my experiments, I spent my time learning about how bioinformatics (the use of computational tools to analyse data) could be applied to my research. It’s been a challenging time, but it taught me how to adapt to new situations and the new skills I developed turned out to be very useful to my project.

  1. What have you gained from your PhD?

I believe the most important skill I have developed during my PhD is resilience. As researchers, we face many disappointments and hurdles. It can be very frustrating when experiments don’t work, but you must learn to accept adversities and overcome them. In these respects, my PhD made me stronger, and this will not only be useful in my professional life but my personal one as well.

  1. What are your personal highlights from your PhD experience?

The highlight of my PhD would be all the public outreach activities I have been involved in over the years. I especially like discussing my work with the patients I meet at the events organised by the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic and The Euan MacDonald Centre. It’s always very rewarding and it reminds me that our work really matters.

  1. How do you like to spend your free time?

I love photography. I like to think that if I weren’t a scientist, I would be a photographer. I could spend hours sitting in the same place trying to get the perfect shot!

We would like to thank Alessandra for taking the time to talk to us and for being such an essential part of the MND research community. We wish her all the best with her research and completing her PhD. Thank you also to our supporters, without whom funding scientists like Alessandra would not be possible.

Meet the Researcher – Alessandra Cardinali
Meet the Researcher – Alessandra Cardinali

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