Profile | Seigfred Prado, Pinoy neuroscientist and electronics engineer

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1) What do you do?

There are currently nearly 36 million people with dementia in the world, but as many as 28 million have not been diagnosed. Around 62% of these patients are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. If trends continue and no action is taken, these numbers are expected to increase by 40% over the next 12 years and by 156% over the next 38 years.

Although much is known about the neural circuits and molecular pathways required for normal hippocampal functions, the processes by which Alzheimer’s disease disables the brain region remain to be defined. Furthermore, despite much research, there is still no acceptable cure for any neurodegenerative disease. While there are a number of disease models and even several promising treatment approaches, there have been difficulties in transferring apparent success in animal models into successful human trials. One potential reason is that the effect of neurodegenerative disease on memory circuit dynamics is not well understood, nor is the effect of therapeutic strategies on information flow in hippocampal-cortical circuits.

I am currently developing a multi-photon imaging platform that enables whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiological recording of neural activity in deep brain structures, such as the hippocampus – the part of the brain which is associated mainly with memory. This platform can be used to characterize the changes in hippocampal circuit information-processing properties in several mouse models, as well as the effects of therapeutic interventions to neurodegenerative diseases.

This platform will enable for the first time single-cell resolution mapping of information processing in mouse models of dementia during the performance of memory tasks. This has the potential to accelerate the process of development of both pharmacological and neuromodulation-based approaches to treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. I am investigating how the spatiotemporal dynamics of neural cortical circuits involved in memory encoding and recall are affected by neurodegenerative diseases.

The goal of my research is to address this global health challenge and develop a technique that can potentially offer a non-invasive and affordable treatment option for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

2) Where do you work?

I am a Ph.D. student at the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London in England, United Kingdom. I am working as a researcher at the Imperial Centre of Excellence in Neurotechnology under the supervision of its director, Prof. Simon R. Schultz.

I received a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Neurotechnology Studentship Award, which is co-provided by Imperial College London and UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). I also received a partial support grant from the Commission on Higher Education under the K to 12 Transition Program.

Imperial College London is a public research university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. It is consistently ranked among the top universities in the world. It currently ranks 6th in the QS World University Rankings by Subject in Engineering and Technology. It was also ranked by Reuters as the Most Innovative University in Europe.

3) Tell us about the photos

[Top photo] At the Neural Coding and Neurodegenerative Disease Laboratory at the Imperial Centre of Excellence in Neurotechnology, Imperial College London. This facility is used for in vivo brain imaging of Alzheimer’s disease transgenic mice models while performing spatial memory tasks.

Behind me in this photo [above] is the world-famous Tower Bridge. One of the perks of studying in London is having access to different world-renowned tourist destinations, not only in London or in the UK, but also in other parts of Europe.

During weekends, I usually roam around the city to unwind and shake all the PhD-related stresses off. I am also looking forward to visit other European countries, particularly France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, during my four years of stay in London.

4) Tell us about your academic career path so far.

Ph.D. in Bioengineering with Specialization in Neurotechnology (in-progress)
Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Master of Science in Electronic Engineering (2015):
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering (2011):
University of Santo Tomas

Secondary Education:
University of Santo Tomas High School

Before starting my Ph.D. studies, I served as an undergraduate lecturer at the Department of Electronics Engineering of the University of Santo Tomas (UST). I conducted lectures to third, fourth, and fifth year level students in the Bachelor of Science in Electronics Engineering program (B.Sc. ECE) of UST. As a lecturer, I prepared outcomes-based education-oriented academic instructional materials and assessment tools.

Since 2012, I have been supervising undergraduate researchers in several research projects. We were doing research in the analysis of electrophysiological signals such as electroencephalogram (EEG), electrocardiogram (ECG), and surface electromyogram (SEMG) signals. We were collaborating with my colleagues at the UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, UST College of Rehabilitation Sciences, and UST Hospital. Most of our studies have been presented in international conferences and published in SCOPUS-indexed journals.

In my 3rd year of teaching as an undergraduate lecturer, I received the award as the Most Outstanding Instructor in the Faculty of Engineering by the Office for Faculty Evaluation and Development (OFED) of UST. Ever since I started teaching in 2011, I have consistently gained the highest score in the Faculty Competence Evaluation among all instructors in the Faculty of Engineering, as assessed by the Dean, the Faculty Council, Ad Hoc Committee, and most importantly, the students.

Fascinated with neuroscience and neuroengineering, I realized the necessity to further upgrade my expertise through immersion to world-class research and collaboration with the leading experts in the world, so I decided to take my master’s degree in one of the best universities in Asia and in the world – The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

I received the Arthur and Louise May Scholarship Award for Outstanding Young Engineers, and graduated with an academic distinction in November 2015. As a postgraduate student in HKUST, I did an independent research study in developing an invariant feature detection model for electroencephalogram (EEG) signal classification, under the supervision of the director of the Neuromorphic Interactive Systems (NIS) Laboratory, Prof. Bertram Shi.

This model is called Generative Adaptive Subspace Self-Organizing Map (GASSOM). Results showed that the GASSOM model can learn invariant features and has significantly produced better classification results for brain-computer interfacing applications that can help in rehabilitating patients with stroke and spinal cord injury.

I also did an independent study on two-photon excitation fluorescence for biomedical imaging under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Poon, for which I received high commendations.

Having experienced a world-class education in HKUST, I decided to apply for PhD to one of the best bioengineering schools in the world – Imperial College London.

My long-term goal is to become a full-pledged university professor so I can continue mentoring future young researchers. I envision to establish a Research Institute for Biomedical Engineering, which is a first in the country. I want to initiate innovative and cutting-edge projects that will create significant impact and contributions to the health sector, particularly in the diagnosis and rehabilitation of patients with neurological disorders, such as stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

5) Anything else that you would like to share?

“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”

This has been my motto ever since I started my career as a lecturer and a researcher. As a scientist and an engineer, I always feel the urge to explore new things and solve mind-boggling problems, no matter how impossible the answers may seem. In fact, I enjoy doing brain research because the brain is considered as the most complex object in the universe. Elucidating how it works is a still a grand challenge within science. I believe that bridging the large gap in our understanding between microscopic interactions at the neuronal level and the macroscopic structures that perform complex computations will undoubtedly revolutionize brain research.

To my fellow Filipino scientists all over the world, I am encouraging you to continue to serve as an inspiration to younger generations in proving to the world that we Filipinos can also make a huge and significant impact and change to the world. There are only a few of us in the field, and so we need to mold younger minds and motivate them to pursue excellence in whatever they do. Let us all serve as a role model to our fellow countrymen, especially the youth, so we could all discover the limits of the possible and go beyond into the impossible.

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