Ana Lucia Fernandez Cruz

For me, learning about the brain has always felt right. Without a concrete realization, I knew intuitively since high school that there was something “exciting” about the brain. Psychology, biology, and psychiatry, the conventional disciplines offered at Colombian universities, piqued my interest when I was considering career paths in my home country.

It was only when I made the serendipitous discovery of a new Bachelor program called “Neuroscience” that I realized I had the possibility of studying the brain, the structure itself that was attracting me to those fields, in an integrated way. This finding spurred me to leave Colombia and move to Germany as an eighteen-year-old, all to enroll in this exciting degree that encompassed different approaches to what I am, by now, completely enamored with: the biological machine that controls our feelings and behaviors. Following my passion for state of the art research in neuroscience, I  then moved to Canada for a Ph.D.  at the IPN/ Montreal Neurological Hospital/McGill.

Through my academic development, I have had the opportunity to gain significant research experience in multiple fields, ranging from cell physiology with model organisms all the way to neurophilosophy. This broad training has led me to the view that the complexity of our nervous system can only be understood using all the available interdisciplinary tools. This is the reason why I have looked for and will continue looking for academic and educational opportunities to build an interdisciplinary perspective. I greatly enjoy integrating knowledge from different levels and constantly seeking to stay updated with findings from other fields.

Here at McGill, I’m using multimodal neuroimaging techniques, including EEG and structural and functional MRI, to help disentangle the antecedents, correlates, and reversibility of cognitive impairment in persons living with HIV. Unknown to many, HIV+ can have disabling effects on cognition. Even with excellent systemic viral control, 30 to 50% of patients with HIV suffer from impaired cognition, causing difficulties in remembering and learning new information, concentrating, and even communicating. My Ph.D. project will ultimately shed light on the pathophysiology and reversibility of cognitive impairment, and may provide clinically-applicable biomarkers to improve diagnosis, prognosis, and tailored cognitive training interventions.

One of the things I like the most about working at the Montreal Neurological Institute -home of the IPN-, is its ability to suspend itself on time while continuing producing cutting-edge research. At the Neuro, you are living the history of scientists of the caliber of Wilder Penfield, Herbert Jasper, and David H. Hubel, peeking into the continuing work of Dr. Brenda Milner, while, at the same time, witnessing the development of ground breaking -and open- science. The Neuro is the first institute worldwide to establish an Open-Data/Open-Science approach!