Jan 22, 2019

Interview with Dr Sylvia Ortega

We have interviewed last week Dr. Sylvia Ortega Martinez, a passionate Spanish neuroscientist.

She got her international PhD in Neuroscience at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (July 2013). Her research interest is the role of the new neuron formation in a specific brain area (known as Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis (AHN)), as a key target in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases. Indeed, her research experience in six different countries (Spain, USA, Germany, UK, France and Finland) and top institutions (Instituto Cajal, Washington University, Leibniz Institute for Age Research, Oxford University, Universite of Bourgogne, Turku Centre of Biotechnology and The University of Chicago) were focused on this brain process. From July 2017, she is working at The University of Chicago as a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Sisodia. Her current project aims to elucidate the role of microglia in Alzheimer´s disease through its influence in AHN.

In addition, Dr. Ortega-Martinez is an enthusiastic of science divulgation. Indeed, she has participated in Clubes de Ciencia, Soapbox Science, and has given multiple interviews in newspapers or radio. She is grateful for the opportunity ARJ is given her to talk about science.

ARJ: Could you please do a brief introduction of your research?

Currently my project pursue to elucidate the role of microglia in Familiar early onset Alzheimer´s disease. Specifically, I am interested to understand how microglia affects the new neuron formation in the brain, or neurogenesis, in Alzheimer´s conditions. We already known that mice with specific mutations of Alzheimer´s disease shown lower neurogenesis compared with control mice, after environmental enrichment conditions. We are trying to understand now if microglia has an underlying role in this final output. This research could have a potential future impact in Alzheimer´s disease understanding.
ARJ: We're proud to be the first TOTAL Open Access publishers (no fee to authors or readers to publish or download), what do you think are the biggest advantages of Open Access?

As a passionate of scientific dissemination, I consider crucial to bring our science to the broadest audience possible, and Open Access gives that opportunity. I hope that in the nearly future, all scientific journals will be accessible for everyone. This is the right way to motivate new generation of scientist as well as to allow a globalize science. Finally yet importantly, to remove publication fees to authors also help us in our mandatory task of transmit our science. Sometimes those fees are just ridiculously expensive after all the hard work behind. Nevertheless, our world is continuously changing and I believe positively that this initiative from ARJ will be a rule in the future of science. Finger crossed!

ARJ: What do you think of publishing negative results? How can they improve our actual scientific methods?

Negative results deserve same importance as positive results. Positive or negative, all are results. Most of scientific problems have too many knowledge corners and the only way of build, the reality is taking into consideration all results we are getting from our observations. I strongly consider that the publication of negative results could improve notably science globally, diminishing resources, repetitions… or in other words, saving everyone time and money. The best advantage of negative results is actually to give other clues to reformulates our hypothesis or previous conceptions.

ARJ: What makes negative results so different for not being usually published?

I don't have a 100% clue of why negative results has that bad reputation, but if you allow me to do an speculation I consider it is because we are living in an extremely competitive world where everyone wants to achieve thousands of goals at the same time. I think this is a ´ego problem’. We don´t like to admit our hypotheses were not right. Editors do not want to publish that you do not obtain an explanation of your experimental problem. We are living same reality in other expressions of our society. Social media are full of happiness but the reality is more than that. Science is more than that. This is why I think it is essential to understand the meaning of our ´´failures´´.
Moreover, this is applicable for science as well. Every success usually comes after too many tries and previous ´´failures´´. We do have to delete the negative connotation of those. I am glad that ARJ bet for negative results as another sign of scientific progression.

ARJ: Why is it that clinical field researchers have the most probability to deal with negative results?

In this case I do believe is mainly a variability issue. I am working in basic research using experimental animal models, and even though the variables that are behind one experiment are infinite. However, we are able to control too many crucial factors (from genetics, food, environment, etc) that are extremely difficult in the clinical research.

ARJ: Do you think big pharma companies and their sponsored trials might contribute to not publishing clinical negative results?

That´s a harsh question, but not response is also a response, and in fact a good one. Whatever is the case, I would like to think everyone in science or science business look for the progress of the society, cure of diseases, etc. This was my motivation to enter here, even the difficulties that science means. But, having said that, it is true that reality sometimes is different and whenever I see the interest, politics or corruption behind science... I want to run away.

ARJ: Everybody is talking about the "file drawer" problem: those experiments that fail to prove an idea aren't normally published. What are the consequences of this problem in Neuroscience?

The mainly problem is all those experiments that end up in a drawer are delaying the progression and understanding of basic scientific questions, and are multiplying exponentially the resources invested. This applies for neuroscience or whatever other science. I am aware that this happens, but right now, in order to publish you need to have a complete story and many times this is not possible. Therefore, to readjust the system all parties should be involved, from authors, editors, grants, universities, etc. Because this requires a solution.

ARJ: What might be the causes of the file drawer problem in Neuroscience research?

As I previously said, the problem is that many times you get results that you cannot include as a part of your strong story. We have to start with the premise that we ignore much more than we know even if this is our small research field of the last 10 years…so taking that into consideration it is really hard to create the kind of stories that editors pursue for their journals with all results, because some of them does not have a clear explanation. In addition, it is realistic to say that time and resources are limited, so there are occasions where you have to deal with the dilemma of what is the next question after your previous results. When you do that, a lot of times you are discarding other information due to personal limitation or economic restrictions. At the end, you cannot address all experimental questions.

ARJ: How do you normally manage negative results in your lab? Are (NR) common on a regular daily basis?

To me all results are needed, positive and negative, again all are results. This is something that I use to say to the students or other researchers in the lab that are working directly with me in the project. Therefore, when a result is not easily understandable the way that I like to act is planning alternative experiments that can give us a clue of what is going on. Sometimes you get more exciting and not expected explanations. The history of science is full of results not expected that brought to great ideas and future progression.

ARJ: What feature of The All Results Journals do you like most?

The fact that it is an open access with no fees, meaning a really accessibility to everyone who loves science, from authors to readers. The idea that the journal is interested as well in negative results make it also really interesting and revolutionary. Without doubts, it means a before and after of the direction that science must adopt. Congratulations to everyone in ARJ for your job!

ARJ: Thank you for your time!

NOTE FROM DAVID ALCANTARA: Please post your comments below trying to add something with some value. Contribute to this conversation with an insight, a practice, or a resource that we can all use to create more value. Thank you!

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