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Ph.D. defence interview - Laura Andreoli

Collage of profile photo of Laura Andreoli next to her thesis cover.
Laura Andreoli defends her thesis on the 14th of December 2021.

Ph.D. student Laura Andreoli spent several years digging into the neural pathways involved in involuntary movements in Parkinson’s disease. On the 14th of December, she defends her thesis. And she is eager to share her findings and thoughts about her time in the Basal Ganglia Pathophysiology Lab headed by MultiPark’s coordinator Angela Cenci Nilsson.

Tell us about your research!

Most patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease are successfully treated with Levodopa pills to reduce their symptoms during the early stages of the disease. However, as dopaminergic neurons continue to die, striatal circuits controlling movements lose their ability to handle the administrated dopamine. This results in involuntary movements, which we call dyskinesia.

My thesis work has been to understand different aspects of dyskinesia in mouse models and to map the different striatal pathways involved.

Dyskinesia can be divided into either dystonia or chorea. Dystonia is a persistent contraction of muscles, leading to abnormal and often painful postures. Chorea reminds us about the dance-like movements seen in Huntington’s disease, with jerky involuntary movements.

To elucidate which neural circuits that are responsible for this, we used mouse models with insulted dopaminergic projections into the striatum. Then I induced dyskinesia with levodopa injections into these mice. Further, we also established a mouse model where we knocked out the dopaminergic receptor type 2 involved in the indirect pathway. By silencing this pathway, I could elucidate its involvement in different aspects of involuntary movements.

The most important finding of my thesis is that different aspects of dyskinesia involve different dopaminergic pathways. Persistent muscle contractions seem to be mediated via the indirect pathway, whereas the jerky involuntary movements depend on the direct pathway. Understanding how these different pathways fail in the later stages of the disease is essential for designing drugs exclusively targeting specific symptoms.

How did you end up at MultiPark?

In 2015, when I was a master student in Trieste (northern Italy), I decided to go for an Erasmus exchange to Finland. After that, I got in contact with Angela Cenci Nilsson at Lund University. She offered me to try a project during a semester at her lab and I became passionate into that project and continued with a Ph.D. in her group.

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

The whole experience has been intense but also nice. In a way, I was lucky with my project since I found it very interesting, and I think that it is essential to be able to spend so much time and effort in pursuing a Ph.D. My research group has been very supportive. The possibility to present my research in a friendly context, such as during the graduate school lunch seminars arranged by MultiPark has meant a lot to my professional development.

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

To be overloaded with work! It is hard to find space for your private life. The biggest issue for me has been to handle my internal demands and the fact that in Sweden, you are expected to publish more papers before your defence. One crucial factor for me to manage this has been the sincere relation I have with Angela, my main supervisor. It helps when that relationship is based on mutual respect and the ability to say no when things become too intense. I have been lucky here.

And the most rewarding?

Without any doubt, when you get to see your main results and the accepted papers. Then it is worth all hours you struggled with the experiments.

Supervising students has also been a great pleasure to me. During my thesis work, I have had seven students, mainly at the master level. This is something that should be encouraged more.

Another thing I enjoyed was the patient visit that Parkinson Skåne arranged before the pandemic. During one day, I was involved in presenting my research project and showing them the lab. I hope there will be more occasions to interact with patients in the future. It is especially important for us experimental researchers to get in contact with people suffering from the disease you try to understand.

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

I have a dog and enjoy walking in nature. Running is another interest. Being physically active releases my stress.

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

Make sure that you are passionate about the project because it will, on some occasions, be overwhelming. Pursuing a research education is a great commitment, so make sure to find a group with a friendly working environment. Try to find time for yourself regularly and understand and respect your limits during the journey.

What happens after your defence?

My partner recently got a job in London, so I will move out of Sweden. First, I will just take some time off to understand more precisely what I want to do. Then I will try to find a suitable postdoc in academia.

Laura Andreoli will defend her Ph.D. thesis titled "Striatal pathways in dyskinesia and dystonia" in Segerfalksalen, BMC A10, Sölvegatan 17 in Lund on 14th December at 13:30.

Read more about the event in the calendar.

Link to follow the defence via zoom: https://lu-se.zoom.us/j/61300229294?pwd=Z2JxNWdqczQ1SWNUNDZjN1hRVmlWdz09

Read the Ph.D. thesis "Striatal pathways in dyskinesia and dystonia".

Fast five with Laura Andreoli

Family:

A boyfriend and a dog.

Hobby:

Reading and watching movies. Running and other sports.

Best time of your day:

Morning. To walk the dog clears the mind. It is a nice start of the day.

Best conference:

The world PD conference in Kyoto 2019. This meeting also attracted patients so that researchers could interact with them.

Need help with:

Finding out more about opportunities to teach and be a mentor within academia.

Profile photo of Laura Andreoli.

Laura Andreoli

Ph.D. student, at the Basal Ganglia Pathophysiology at LU.

laura [dot] andreoli [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Link to Laura Andreoli's profile in the LU Research Portal