The browser you are using is not supported by this website. All versions of Internet Explorer are no longer supported, either by us or Microsoft (read more here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/windows/end-of-ie-support).

Please use a modern browser to fully experience our website, such as the newest versions of Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari etc.

Inflammation and the glymphatic system – Ph.D. interview with Marta Ramos

Marta Ramos and her thesis cover. Photo collage.
Marta Ramos Vega defends her thesis on the 9th of September 2022.

Marta Ramos’ Ph.D project unravels how inflammation and the glymphatic system affect each other in the brain. September 9, she defends her thesis. Here, she explains how you may complement your thesis project with other missions to boost your career.

Tell us about your research!

The glymphatic system clears waste products away from the brain via the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). It consists of a perivascular fluid network where astrocytes facilitate the clearance of certain compounds from the brain parenchyma to the CSF leaving the brain. As it may help the brain to get rid of proteins that may otherwise accumulate, there has been an increasing interest in its role in neurodegenerative disorders during the last years.

 

Other factors implicated in neurodegenerative diseases are the inflammatory processes in the nervous system. Yet, little effort has been made to investigate how the glymphatic function interacts with neuroinflammation. Here is where my thesis project started. We wanted to know how systemic inflammation affects the function of the glymphatic system and how it may be altered in different mouse models of neurological disorders with inflammatory components, such as meningitis and multiple sclerosis.

Why is your project important? (What difference could it make for patients?)

To find concrete clinical implications of basic research projects that are not straightforward translational may be challenging. Still, unravelling how this system is affected in neurological diseases will hopefully open doors for novel therapeutic targets.

For instance, we detected that the brain swelling that occurs in severe cases of bacterial meningitis could be due to the blockage of the glymphatic function. This leads to a potentially life-threatening accumulation of fluid inside the brain. In rats, this glymphatic dysfunction seemed to be caused by inflammatory products from neutrophils entering the brain. So, if we could target these inflammatory products at a certain timepoint, it may save lives. Still, this is only at an experimental stage, and the road to translating such findings into the clinic is usually long.

How can one go about to investigate the glymphatic function?

Some aspects could be studied in the dish, such as the basic functions of astrocytes. However, the glymphatic system involves a complex architecture of different cell types and fluids where the resultant functions are not yet possible to study in cell cultures. Therefore, laboratory animals are crucial for gaining insight. In rodents, it is possible to inject fluorescent tracers in the CSF at the cisterna magna level to follow their distribution in the brain and clearance rate. This is what we do in our lab.

How did you end up at MultiPark?

I knew quite early that I wanted to do neuroscience research. During my bachelor’s and master’s education, I was involved in neuroscience-related projects in Australia, Malta, and France. Towards the end of my master’s, I found my current supervisor Iben Lundgaard, who introduced me to the fascinating glymphatic system and also offered me to study neuroimmunology, another interest of mine. Then I came to Sweden to start my thesis project in her group.

What did you like the most during your thesis work at MultiPark?

I enjoyed the freedom Iben gave me as a researcher. She allowed me to choose where I wanted to take my main project. Being part of MultiPark provided me with many opportunities to meet potential collaborators nearby. I am very social, so I took advantage of the open atmosphere during the lunch seminars offered by the graduate school.

What have been the most challenging during your Ph.D.?

The publishing requirements at the faculty has sometimes made the Ph.D. journey less enjoyable. It is hard to appreciate the learning process when you feel the pressure to deliver publishable data in a short period.

And the most rewarding?

Writing up the thesis was much more pleasant than I expected. To realize how many things I have learned during these years was a great feeling. I also enjoyed very much how interactive our institution is and I really cherish the many great colleagues and students I have met over the years.

What are you most proud of?

That I actually managed to develop projects, all the way from drafting an experimental design to wrapping all the results together in a publishable paper, which got accepted by the scientific community.

Did you spend time with something else apart from the research project that you believe is important for career development?

I engaged in different boards and working groups, such as the MDR and Young MultiParker’s working group. Boards and working groups represent a significant part of how you navigate in academia. Thus I believe it is advantageous to get insight and experience in how it works.

Furthermore, as I love to draw, I have also produced scientific illustrations for our research team. And that is something else that could add a little extra star to your CV; implicating your hobbies and personal skills into your projects may be a very fruitful motivator and niche yourself as a scientist.

What advice do you want to give to new Ph.D. students?

Before starting, make sure to choose a good lab and supervisor. I believe this choice should be more based on finding a working environment that suits you than caring too much about the research topic and impact factors.

After starting, it is a good idea to design a simple project that can provide you with publishable material as soon as possible. This releases some of the pressure so that you can focus on more long-term research goals.

What do you like to do when you are not at work?

Everything that involves eating and socializing helps me to disconnect from work. Often, I meet up with friends to cook or go out for dinner together. I also like exercising outside and trying new activities, most recently this has included climbing, mountain biking and standup paddling.

What happens after your defence?

At the beginning of the year, I was determined to make a decision and perhaps have the next work contract lined up by the time I defended. Then, I realized that spending the last months of my Ph.D. thinking of the next step was not allowing me to enjoy the final stages of the thesis. I made the active choice to put that out of my mind and reconciled with the fact that the decision would have to fall into place later. Right now, I am focusing on my thesis and enjoying the process very much. Afterwards, when things are calmer and with the right space of mind, I feel confident that I will be more capable of making a wise decision. I am open both to doing some more research in academia and to trying the experience of working in the life science industry, but for now, a much-needed break is the right choice for me.

Many Ph.D. students find it hard to integrate, but you have achieved quite an impressive level of Swedish during your Ph.D. Could you share any advice on how to make that happen? (Apart from getting a Swedish sambo :P)

Well, there are several courses to take, and I have tried them all: SFI, SFU and others. After finishing SFI, I felt that I had a basic level to move on. But I wanted to improve. Hence, during my third year of PhD, I applied to an independent bachelor level course, “Svenska som främmande språk”, offered by SOL in LU. The course was one full-time semester, 30 ECTS, but I did it part-time, over two semesters, and it was truly helpful. I would say that this is the fastest and most efficient way of learning Swedish if you are serious about it, I would really recommend it.

More about Marta Ramos' thesis

Marta Ramos will defend her Ph.D. thesis titled "Fluid Homeostasis in Neuroinflammation" in BMC, D15, Belfragesalen in Lund on 9th September at 13:15.

Read more about the event in the calendar.

Follow the defense via zoomhttps://lu-se.zoom.us/j/68647867164  

Read the Ph.D. thesis "Fluid Homeostasis in Neuroinflammation".

Fast five with Marta Ramos

Family: 

My sambo Oscar in Sweden. My parents and brother in Spain.

Hobbies: 

Hanging out with friends, cooking, drawing, climbing and Brazilian jiujitsu.

Best time of your day: 

All times combining socializing and eating; lunch or dinner with friends!

Best conference:                                              

The Gordon Research Conference in Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology 2022.

Need help with: 

Would love to hear some other people’s experiences on how they chose their paths after their Ph.D.

Profile photo of Marta Ramos.

Marta Ramos

Ph.D. student in the Glia-Immune Interactions

marta [dot] ramos [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Link to Marta Ramos's profile in the LU Research Portal