‘My main interest was always in neuroscience and how the brain works and how we can apply newly generated knowledge to develop better therapeutic strategies to treat patients.’
FutureNeuro is a multi-disciplinary and inter-institutional research centre aiming to transform the lives of patients in Ireland and worldwide. But what is it like to be part of the team? We got an insight into the life of Funded Investigator Tobias Engel.
Name and Role with FutureNeuro:
Tobias Engel, Funded Investigator
How long have you been with FutureNeuro and how did you get here?
I was part of FutureNeuro since its beginning as one of my main research interests, purinergic signalling in epilepsy, was one of the research focuses of FutureNeuro.
Why did you follow this career path?
Since starting my undergraduate studies, my main interest was always in neuroscience and how the brain works and how we can apply newly generated knowledge to develop better therapeutic strategies to treat patients.
What are you working on at the moment?
The main research focus of my lab is the study of the underlying causes which turns a normal healthy brain into a brain generating epileptic seizures and to identify novel disease biomarkers for a better and faster diagnosis of seizures based on purinergic signaling.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), generally known as the universal cellular energy currency, also functions as an important extracellular signalling molecule. Usually found in very low concentrations outside the cell, extracellular ATP increases rapidly under pathological conditions, including a seizure, where it activates specific cell membrane proteins. The main aim of our current research is to test whether drugs interfering with ATP-activated receptor activation impacts on seizures and epilepsy and whether we can take advantage of seizure-driven release of ATP (and similar purines) to develop new diagnostic methods.
A second research focus is based around the study of messenger RNA (mRNA) polyadenylation – the addition of a poly(A) tail to an mRNA molecule thereby controlling which genes are translated into proteins – and whether we can target this process to alter /reverse the development of epilepsy.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
Best: Continuous challenges, overcoming difficulties and working with enthusiastic and motivated people.
Worst: Never-ending quest for funding.
What have been your greatest work achievements to date?
The discovery that blocking specific ATP-gated receptors has disease modifying potential for epilepsy (Jimenez-Pacheco et al., Journal of Neuroscience, 2016), that we can measure purines in the blood thereby supporting the diagnosis of epilepsy (Beamer et al., Epilepsia, 2021) and the identification of mRNA polyadenylation as regulatory mechanism controlling gene expression during epilepsy development (Parras et al., Brain, 2020).
What are your favourite things about working with FutureNeuro?
Great opportunities for collaboration with leaders in their respective field of research. Access to state of the art technology and research material. Collegial and supportive atmosphere among members.