2018 Research Challenge winner, Mirja Steinbrenner

We recently spoke to Mirja Steinbrenner, MD, of King’s College London, who was awarded the 2018 BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge award. Mirja’s winning submission to the Research Challenge uses transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) techniques to explore the ‘Reduction of cerebral excitation through a combination of GSR biofeedback and tDCS’, and was chosen by the BrainBox Initiative’s scientific committee as one of this year’s two successful winners. As Mirja’s research develops over the next few months, we will be routinely following up with her on a regular basis to find out more about the exciting work that she is carrying out.

Congratulations again, Mirja, on your successful submission to the BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge award. Would you mind telling us a little bit more about your Research Challenge study, and why it was that you focused on this specific area of research?
I have been working as a clinician with epilepsy patients for several years now. I feel really passionate about the fact that there is still up to a third of patients who do not become seizure free with the currently available drugs. I will be working on a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which has the potential to be used therapeutically to reduce seizures in epilepsy patients.

What’s really new about this study is that we’re combining tDCS with another therapy called galvanic skin response (GSR) which also aims to reduce seizures, but, this time, by connecting to the peripheral nerves, rather than the brain directly. We’re hoping that by combining these two, patients will feel the benefit of both options at once.

Before we work with patients, we’re perfecting the dual approach with healthy volunteers. This means we can be confident we’re doing the best we can when we move on to helping patients, and will also give us a basis for comparison to show how effective the new treatment is.

What persuaded you to submit your research to the BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge?
Because we’re trying to combine two different therapies in the same project, there’s a lot to learn. We’re doubling-up on the need to learn experimental skills and different pieces of equipment. Potentially having support from the BrainBox Initiative meant that I could have access to experts in all the equipment and techniques I’d be using, and I’d be able to solve problems more quickly and discover how to combine the different approaches together more effectively. 

For all these reasons this Research Challenge seemed a great opportunity, and so I went for it.

Brilliant. And what does it mean to you now that you’ve been chosen as our 2018 Research Challenge winner?
To win this Research Challenge means a great deal to me. I have not worked much in research so far, and, although I have some fantastic colleagues in my team here in London, it is really great to know that I will have all that support offered through the BrainBox Initiative.

Being able to take part in great workshops and having technical support while setting up our new paradigm will move me forward so much further than I would I have managed by myself. So I’m really looking forward to start this project and feel so much more confident in knowing that the BrainBox Initiative will support me.

How do you think that the Research Challenge prize, and the loan of equipment from Rogue Resolutions, will help you going forward with your research?
We are currently planning a tDCS study in patients with epilepsy. So the knowledge and experience I will acquire while doing this study will directly impact my success in conducting my next project. This project establishes many of the techniques that we’ll use going forward and thereby enables us to move on to the patient studies much quicker.

What advice would you give to other early-career researchers thinking of applying for the Research Challenge, or even just for promoting their research in general?
Just do it. Even if you think you are not far advanced enough to receive a prize, grant etc. there is always the possibility that you will get it. And, if not, you’ve definitely learned something useful for the next time.

And, finally, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? What do you like to do when you’re not conducting research in the lab?

I’m a clinical neurologist from Berlin, currently working in London. I love to go to small live music venues, especially in my new home London which has a lot to offer in that regard. Apart from that, travelling is certainly one of my other passions. One of the last destinations I went to that I can definitely recommend is Sri Lanka, where I had a wonderful time. The people there are so friendly and welcoming, the countryside is diverse and beautiful and don’t forget about its rich history (did you know that 2000 years ago Sri Lanka was one of the most advanced countries in the world?).

Thank you again to Mirja for submitting her work to the BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge, and thank you again to speaking for us in this interview. We will be posting regular updates on Kathy’s work as her research progresses over the coming months, and we’re already exceptionally excited to see the research that she will be carrying out.

Click here to read our interview with Kathy Ruddy, joint Research Challenge winner of 2018.