Interview with Dr. Jerome Mertens PhD

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. Jerome Mertens PhD

Assistant Professor at the Institute of Molecular Biology, Genomics, Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine

University of Innsbruck

1. What inspired you to pursue neuroscience as a career?  
Honestly, my feeling is more that I am a cell biologist more than a neuroscientist. As an undergrad, one of my course supervisors, Philipp Koch, was working on using human embryonic stem cells and iPSCs to generate neurons as disease models for Ataxia and Alzheimer. I found this concept to turn peoples’ skin cells into brain cells so outstandingly cool that I eventually got sick with it. 

2. What do you think is the most important goal of neuroscience research?  
I agree with what Tiago said below:  it very much depends on whether you approach it from a therapeutic or a basic science perspective. When I take a step back and ask again what is really ‘important’ about what we do, I think it is to find treatments for people that offer from neurological diseases – that’s what society expects from us even more than to quench our own curiosity.

3. What are the main topics and goals of your research?  
One major goal is to refine our methods on ‘How to make good human brain cells in the dish’. I hope that my research can help to find cures to age-related diseases of the brain, while my contribution would be to provide model systems, and what we can learn by listening to them in an unbiased way.

4. What accomplishment do you think is the most important out of your own research? 
My findings have helped to establish that the factor ‘age’ can be preserved in human neuronal disease models. I like to believe that my work helps to establish a new and useful sub-field within neuroscience. 

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

Staying excited about the possibilities we have, and focussed on the goals. In 10 years, I want to be able to call my current students and ask them for advice. 

Bonus question: What is your advice to a teenager who wants to learn more about neuroscience?
Follow your own curiosity and be true to yourself and your goals in life and research.