An interview with 2018 Research Challenge Winner, Kathy Ruddy

We are very proud to introduce our very first interview with Kathy Ruddy of Trinity College Dublin, one of the two successful 2018 BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge winners. Kathy submitted her exciting research into ‘Late-cortical disinhibition as a mechanism to upregulate excitability of the corticospinal pathway after stroke’ and was chosen as our successful winner by the BrainBox Initiative’s Scientific Committee. Over the coming months we will be supporting and following the progress of Kathy’s groundbreaking research, and will be providing regular updates and interviews to keep everyone informed of how Kathy’s work is developing.

Kathy Ruddy
Dr. Ruddy is a research fellow funded by the Irish Research Council at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin. She started her research career at Queen’s University Belfast, after graduating with a first-class honours degree in Psychology in 2010 and in the same year being named by ‘The Times Higher Education’ in their list of top 100 Graduates as ‘UK graduate of the year’. She went straight from undergraduate studies into a PhD, where she used functional and structural MRI measures of brain connectivity to investigate the mechanisms that give rise to inter-limb transfer of learning; a process termed ‘Cross Education’ whereby training performed with one limb (eg. the left hand) transfers to benefit the untrained opposite limb (eg. the right hand). From this work she published five peer-reviewed articles in high impact journals such as ‘Brain Structure and Function’ and ‘Journal of Neuroscience’, and co-authored a book chapter. In January 2014 she moved to Switzerland and started as a postdoctoral researcher in the Neural Control of Movement Lab in the department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zürich. There, she worked for three years on projects concerning fundamental mechanisms of sensorimotor control and inter-hemispheric communication. It was here that she also discovered her interest in Neurofeedback and Brain-Computer Interface, as methods for understanding the importance of brain rhythms for control of movement.

Hi Kathy – congratulations again on being awarded the BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge Award, and we really look forward to working with you. Could you tell us a little it about your award-winning Research Challenge study, and why you chose this particular area to study?
For the research challenge I proposed to conduct a proof of principle study using combined transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and electroencephalography (EEG) recording. In a recent investigation using TMS neurofeedback, we trained participants how to voluntarily increase and decrease the size of their motor evoked potentials (MEPs) using an operant conditioning protocol. We subsequently performed mechanistic investigations with paired pulse TMS and EEG, and found that upregulation of MEP amplitude was associated with increased late-cortical disinhibiton (LCD), a measure of the removal of GABA-ergic inhibition, and increased gamma oscillations (high frequency brain waves). Although these were the two key findings from the study, the two modalities were recorded separately so it was not possible to directly relate the LCD to the gamma oscillations. For the research challenge, I will perform paired pulse TMS simultaneously with EEG recording, in order to make direct statistical associations between these two phenomena. This knowledge may become of particular relevance, as we are now developing our TMS neurofeedback paradigm for stroke rehabilitation, and a detailed understanding of the underlying mechanisms will be essential.

And what inspired you to submit this work to the BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge?
I was inspired to submit my proposal to the Research Challenge as I have recently moved from ETH Zürich in Switzerland, where the original study was conducted, to Trinity College in Dublin, where I hope to establish my own research group in the coming years. For making the transition to scientific independence, having state of the art equipment to conduct my planned experiments will be essential, and the BrainBox Initiative offers a unique opportunity to do this as part of the Research Challenge prize.

What does it mean to you to be chosen as our 2018 Research Challenge winner?

I know that being chosen as the Research Challenge winner will provide a valuable kick-start for my career, by providing me with the equipment and support necessary to realise my research goals. As an early career researcher, normally it would be unheard of to have a budget for such a large amount of scientific equipment to pursue your own idea, so this is definitely a unique and exciting opportunity for me.

How will the Research Challenge prize, and the loan of equipment from Rogue Resolutions, help you with your future work and research?
The prize will facilitate me to run an experiment during my time as a research fellow, that I would not otherwise have been able to do. As I am preparing for grant applications for future research funding, this proof of principle study will allow me to provide pilot data to include in the applications to strengthen my case for the research.

What advice would you give to other early-career researchers thinking of applying for the Research Challenge, or even just for promoting their work?
The application process for the Research Challenge isn’t too arduous- a one page proposal explaining the idea and how the equipment would be used. The prize is definitely well worth the effort. If you’re not in it, you can’t win it!

And, finally, what about yourself? What are your interests when you’re not in the lab?
Although I do spend the majority of my time in the lab or surgically attached to my laptop, I also have some fairly obscure hobbies outside of work. I like to experiment with making soap, making clothes and sewing in general, crochet and baking wedding cakes. I really enjoy the travelling that is associated with my academic life, and take any opportunities possible to visit other countries to promote my research and get new experiences at the same time.

Thank you to Kathy for submitting her entry to the Research Challenge, and for speaking to us for this interview. We will be posting regular updates on Kathy’s work over the coming months, and we’re very excited to see the groundbreaking research that she carries out.

Click here to read our interview with Mirja Steinbrenner, joint winner of the 2018 Research Challenge.