Interview with Dr. Andreas Lieb, Ph.D

In this column, I ask neuroscience professors from around the world the same five questions. Read on to learn more about their research, careers and goals for neuroscience in the future.

Interview with Dr. Andreas Lieb, Ph.D

Department of Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy, Queen Square Institute of Neurology

University College London, London, England

Dr. Andreas Lieb studied Pharmacy at the Leopold Franzens University Innsbruck. He acquired his PhD at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, also in Innsbruck, mainly focusing on the detailed biophysical characterization of disease causing mutations in the low voltage activated Ca2+-channel Cav1.3. In October 2014 he moved to the Department of Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, where he develops novel gene therapeutic treatment strategies targeting refractory epilepsy. Currently he is optimizing different approaches for first in human use.

  1. What inspired you to pursue neuroscience as a career? 

During my childhood I was always amazed by nature. I even remember the first time in my life when I was allowed to stay up late (I was fairly young so I mean here later than 8pm), in order to watch the Austrian documentary series UNIVERSUM together with my dad. During my school education, it emerged early that if I wanted to enrol in university, it would be a rather advisable decision to go for a natural science related field. So I studied Pharmacy, just, because I could not decide between medicine and chemistry, and thought it a wise choice (turned out to be one of the best ones I ever made). During my studies I was amazed by the manifold drug actions on the brain. So what inspired me to pursue neuroscience as a career? Wow, easy question, hard to answer. I think why I decided in the end to focus on studying neuroscience (I am also interested in other organs), is, because 1) the function of the brain is well understood, but it is hardly known how it works, 2) there is an overwhelming need of novel treatment strategies, targeting brain disorders, and 3) these two facts provide an amazing research environment, where, through identification of novel treatment strategies, we are able to gain more insight into how the brain works, and can further develop novel treatment strategies. In short, isn’t the brain the most amazing organ developed during mamal evolution?

2. How is research work in the UK different from Austria from your perspective/experience? 

In general it has to be considered, that this is a hard question for me to answer, as I have been in different career stages in Austria in comparison to the UK. After a successful PhD-study in Innsbruck, I moved to the Department of Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology in London, totally overwhelmed by the size of the city itself. Although I had knowledge about neuroscience already, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new information (in principle I changed the research field between my PhD-studies and my Postdoc phase). From my perspective, there are two major differences between research in the UK and Austria. First, research in the UK is much more visible to the public. That means, that research is much more communicated to the general public, and it is also much more present in normal day live. This happens mainly via charities like “Epilepsy Research UK”, or “Cancer Research UK”, which themselves fund a lot of research. This may probably be also the main reason why research is rather preserved as a goal of the general public, than of a small elite. This goes along with the second big difference, which is the amount of money which is spent on research. This opens up a lot of opportunities and are the reason the UK can do cutting-edge research. Most people will now come up with the argument, that, yes, the UK has a bigger population than the Austria. Nevertheless, I think that the funding volume of Austria is much too low, and should be increased substantially. In my opinion, Austria has a huge potential to get one of the leading countries on research, but yes, this comes with a price. I really think it is worth spending the money for research!

3. Has research in the UK experienced any changes because of Brexit? 

One of the major strengths of research in the UK is, that the UK attracts very bright minds from all across the world. In contrast, “take back control of the boarders” was one of the main reasons for Brexit. This is a fundamentally different concept that may have a huge impact on research personnel in the future. In addition, the EU is a major research funder and it is not clear at the moment, whether the UK will have access to European grants in the future.

4. What are the main topics and goals of your research? 

Around 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy. Of those, around 30% (that’s 15 000 000) continue to experience seizures despite optimal medical treatment. This does not only have a substantial impact on their normal day live, but also significantly increases the risk of sudden unexpected risk during epilepsy. Since I am in the UK my major goal is to be involved in the development novel treatment strategies for refractory epilepsy.

5. What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years in the field of neuroscience? 

My recent research was focusing on development of novel gene therapeutic strategies targeting refractory epilepsy. It would be amazing to see one of them enter the clinical trial phases, or even be licensed as a novel medicine.