Neurology & Neuroscience
I became a medical student coming from the School of Electrical Engineering because I wanted to do neuroscience. I thought medical school would be a good way to become a neuroscientist. And it worked out well, even though it took me 6 years in medical school (standard curriculum in Brazil), three years in residency of neurology, and a three-year PhD combined with a two-year post-doc at Harvard. It was all worthwhile and I was actually able to spend eleven years of my life doing neuroscience.
1. The Neurolab Years (1995-2000)
As a medical student, I soon became a research assistant at the Institute of Bioscience at PUCRS, Brazilian second largest education conglomerate. There, I used my background as a dropout from the School of Electrical Engineering to set up a neuroscience lab (the Neurolab). The lab was several years in the making as we learned about the several techniques, visited other labs and imported the required equipment (always a lengthy process in Brazil). Eventually, the lab became capable at running current- and patch-clamp studies on brain slices of mice and humans (obtained from patients undergoing epilepsy surgery). In addition, I was responsible for writing software and running brain mapping sessions on candidate patients to epilepsy surgery, work that was awarded Best Work in Clinical Research by the International League Against Epilepsy (below). The article can be found here.
Award handed by Dr. Jerome Engel, Head of Epilepsy at UCLA (2003)
A patient with implanted electrodes for pre-surgery mapping (Brazilian law allows for patient pictures under consent) after undergoing surgery to to get an electrode array implanted.
Another patient having a transoperative brain mapping stimulation session.
A screenshot from software I wrote to record all our findings along the electrical stimulation session.
The electrical stimulation mapping was more precise than the Wada test, which consisted of anesthetizing a whole hemisphere for testing. The patient in the picture is raising her hands, but as soon as one of the hemispheres is anesthetized, the contra-lateral arm will automatically drop
2. The Residency Years (2001-2003)
Residency can be a pretty dry period in someone's life. You work a lot and learn a lot (but you definitely work a lot). Not all work is glorious as you really are at the bottom of the medical pyramid at the hospital. But I had a great time in my years as a resident.In my little free time, I developed the fMRI technique for motor and language functional brain mappings. It was something I had to do pretty much from scratch, since there was no around to teach me. But the effort paid off handsomely when I got the opportunity to start a fellow at Harvard based on that research.
While the research was the thing that really excited me during the residency, the thing that made me the happiest was coordinating, in 2001, the very first case of use of rtPA for the treatment of a stroke patient in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The lady in her 80's had arrived at the hospital completely hemiplegic on the right and completely aphasic with little over an hour of symptoms onset.
Typical fMRI mapping of motor areas (2003)
Language mapping of a patient with a malformation on the left hemisphere (shown below), which caused most language activity to migrate from the left to the right hemisphere.
3. The Harvard Years (2004-2006)
After the residency, following my work on language and motor fMRI in Brazil, I managed to land a job as postdoctoral fellow at Harvard's Brigham & Women's Hospital under supervision of Dr. Alex Golby at GolbyLab.
At GolbyLab, where I finaly had access to a state-of-the-art (at the time) GE 3T scanner, I devised fMRI methods for lateralization of memory dominance in patients undergoing epilepsy and brain tumor surgery. An article can be found here.
Upon finishing my post-doc, I got a faculty position offer from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, which I reluctantly declined to pursue an MBA at Wharton. That was a tough choice. I hope there is another version of me, living in another timeline, who has taken on that offer and is enjoying that timeline as much as I've been enjoying being an entrepreneur.