Andrew Pruszynski, PhD, joined the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and Robarts Research Institute this month. We spoke to him about his current research and what he's looking forward to as a scientist at the Institute.
Why did you decide to become a scientist?
I was always interested in how things worked. Sometimes that meant building things, but usually it meant breaking them. So naturally I decided to complete an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. This choice had the extra benefit of annoying my father who was a proud chemist. Toward the end of my degree, I became interested in designing and building robots and other biomedical devices. In particular, I worked on a robotic device for the rehabilitation of gait in stroke patients with the idea of providing rapid intervention following trauma. I learned a lot from this experience. Mostly that we can build great robots but that we don't really understand how to use them to recover function because we lack even a basic understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie healthy movement. This simple revelation forced my hand at becoming a scientist, which I did via a PhD in neuroscience.
What are your current research interests?
Motor behaviour and sensory perception reflect a myriad of complex interactions between the mechanical properties of the body and a highly distributed neural circuit. The goal of my research is to explain how the nervous system handles and exploits these interactions when moving and manipulating objects. Addressing this issue under naturalistic conditions is essential to our basic understanding of sensorimotor function and may lead to better treatment following trauma and disease which often disrupt these interactions.
What do you hope that your research will mean for people's health in the future?
Motor behaviour and sensory perception appear and feel effortless, but all this can change in an instant because of trauma or disease. The resulting impairments - even minor ones - have major negative consequences on people's quality of life. I expect that my research will lead to individualized treatment and rehabilitation schemes, which will hopefully maximize people's recovery and get them out of the hospital and back into the community where they can get back to doing the things they want to be doing.
What are you most looking forward to as you begin at Robarts?
It is exciting to be part of a group that appreciates a multidisciplinary approach - leveraging cutting-edge techniques and expertise across a range of disciplines - is what's needed to resolve many of the most interesting scientific questions, as well as today's most pressing health problems. I am looking forward to knocking on doors and discovering many areas of common interest and complementary approaches.
When you aren't working what might we find you doing?
These days, it would most likely be playing with my kids or watching some form of car racing, most likely Formula One.
If you could have any super power what would it be?
Time travel, but I'd settle for an infinite bank account.