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Susan Byrne

Job title/role in FutureNeuro

StAR research lecturer/Neurologist

Tell us a little about your background and what led you to a career in science and research?

I went to Dun Lughaidh all-girls secondary school in Dundalk. The school had a brilliant STEM emphasis and really passionate science teachers. We had access to subjects such as technology, and I remember making a robot for my junior cert technology project. They also encouraged me to participate in the Young Scientist’s Exhibition. I went on to study medicine when I left school and trained as a doctor. While I was specialising in neurology I did a PhD which gave me the skills to take questions from the clinic and seek to answer them with research questions in the lab.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work as a clinician scientist so for half of the time I work in the hospital seeing patients, and the other half of the time I work in FutureNeuro. No two days are ever the same.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

Because lots of the paediatric neurological conditions we see are very rare, information on management and outcome can be limited. This is why it is very important to study, describe and understand the cause of rare conditions. It’s the best way of working towards a better understanding of these conditions, better care for patients, and possibly even a cure.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

In the last decade there has been an explosion in understanding the genetic cause for neurological diseases – once a gene is described in a condition it is very important to accurately describe what that condition looks like in the patient (this is called phenotyping). The highlight of my research career to date has been my involvement in phenotyping a type of genetic ALS, and Vici syndrome (a rare neurological disorder of childhood).

Tell me about someone who has influenced your decision to pursue your career?

I couldn’t just pick one person – although to mention a few, my PhD supervisor, senior authors on projects, my friends and family, and patients and their families.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about pursuing a career in STEM?

Look at all the options, and try to speak to as many people as possible about the options within STEM. It’s hard to do something if you don’t know that it exists as an option.

What impact do you hope your role in FutureNeuro will have over the next five years?

In the past decade neurology has changed – we now have a much better genetic understanding of disease and targeted therapy is a reality. There is so much expertise in FutureNeuro. Along with the team in FutureNeuro I hope that we can better understand the neurological disorders of childhood and work towards ways of easier diagnosis and better management.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I almost studied theoretical physics instead of medicine.

What do you do in your spare time?

I like to travel, run and drink coffee with friends.

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