Antonis Asiminas

Tell us about yourself

I was born in Athens and studied Chemistry in Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. For the past 4 years I have been leaving in Edinburgh which is an amazing city. I probably spend most of my free time (and money) travelling, eating out in nice restaurants (Edinburgh has so many options!), movies and festival gigs during Edinburgh Fringe in August.

What is your research about?

I am currently working on a novel rat model of Fragile X Syndrome (FXS). FXS is the most common form of inherited mental retardation, and the most common known genetic cause of autism. The aim of my work is first to characterise the cognitive impairments in this rat model and second to investigate the therapeutic potential of candidate treatments in this preclinical model of FXS. This work has potential application not only to the treatment of FXS, but also to other neurodevelopmental disorders.

What have you enjoyed the most about your research?

Behavioural Neuroscience has proven to be very time consuming but very rewarding, especially for someone like me, who was working with bacterial cultures and protein chemistry before this. I think that one of the most exciting things, is being able to develop your own apparatuses and tasks. Feels a little bit like being one of those pioneer experimental psychologists (Tolman), putting rats in mazes.

What have you found most challenging about your research?

Trying to model human behaviour using rodents is challenging. Realizing in the middle of lengthy and important experiment that something in the design of the experiment was wrong is really frustrating. Having said that, the best way to learn is to make mistakes. Something that makes me happy is looking back at my first experiments identifying my mistakes and realize that I have learned from them.

How has your research experience influenced your career path?

My research experience so far is quite diverse, ranging from protein chemistry and microbiology to behavioural neuroscience and in-vivo electrophysiology. After finishing my PhD, I am considering combining microbiology/biochemistry with neuroscience in order to study the interplay between gut microbiota, immune system and nervous system. A plausible alternative is to become a science teacher because I enjoy working with kids and sharing my passion for science with the future generations.

How has your research impacted the world?

Treatments so far do not target the core cognitive plenotypes of neurodevelopmental disorders but mostly focus on associated symptoms like hyperactivity. My work has potential application to the treatment of Fragile X Syndrome, but also to other neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism. We are working on identifying not only potential therapeutic targets but also exploring critical developmental windows during which intervention can have long lasting effects.

“I always wanted to be a scientist and never considered any other career”

What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?

It is obvious that over the last years science has become more and more interdisciplinary. Research sub-fields like neuro-immunology highlight the fact that researcher are starting to appreciate that there is a huge interplay between systems, previously studied as independent entities. Furthermore there is huge need for sophisticated molecular tools which will advance our understanding of how the human body works; and this is probably another very promising research field.

What motivates you to do research?

I always wanted to be a scientist and never considered any other career. Having the liberty to work on discovering new things, in a field I truly love, is the best work I could ever imagine. This desire to pursue a career in neuroscience has arisen from a lifelong fascination with how the human brain uses multiple senses to form a coherent percept of our environment. I believe that understanding how the brain works is perhaps the greatest challenge facing contemporary science.

Tell us about your 'Eureka' moment

I guess the most vivid Eureka! moment for me was when I discovered a robust behavioural deficit in the model I am working on. It took me almost 2 years. I was really happy for quite a few reasons. First is that I could have something interesting to write in my PhD thesis. Secondly this behavioural deficit has been the basis of all my future experiments. And last, for a few hours I was the only person in the world knowing something, which is an amazing feeling.

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