PhD success for Euan MacDonald Centre early-career researcher

Picture of Anna Sanchez Avila PhD

June 2023: Many congratulations to Euan MacDonald Centre member Anna Sanchez Avila who has successfully completed her PhD.  


We caught up with Dundee PhD student Anna Sanchez Avila following her successful defence of her PhD thesis. The focus of Anna's doctoral studies centred on using advanced microscopy techniques to investigate the various factors influencing cognitive impairment; a challenge faced by individuals living with ALS. In a recent interview, we had the opportunity to find out more about her work. This article summarises her findings, the personal significance of completing a PhD, and the path ahead in her continued pursuit working in MND.

What did your PhD focus on?

I mostly work in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is the most common form of MND. My PhD focused on the use of very powerful microscopes to study how different factors influence cognitive impairment, which is problems in thinking skills some people with ALS have.

What did you find out?

I found that several non-motor areas - including the visual cortex (the region of the brain that processes visual information), which was previously thought to be unaffected in ALS - seem to be at a very advanced stage of degeneration.

Have your findings been published?

Some of them, which were done as part of collaborations have been published. I am also working on publishing the main bulk of my research.

What advice would you give anyone considering a PhD?

I would say make sure your motivations are right, don't just do it for the title. And also make sure you meet the supervisor and team before you make your decision, and choose wisely. They're the people you're going to spend a lot of time with! I was so lucky to have been part of such an incredible lab with amazingly supportive people, we all got on incredibly well and I am positive that made all the difference.

What did completing your PhD mean to you and is there anyone you'd like to thank?

It meant a great deal, for sure. It made all the hard work worth it, and I find it very rewarding knowing I've added to the MND research field. Well I'd first like to thank the Euan MacDonald Centre (EMC), without their funding and the hard work this charity does, my work would certainly not be possible. My supervisor, Dr Chris Henstridge, and lab members have been incredibly supporting and have made this journey such a joyous one. And also definitely my family, who have had my back all the way through and made all the journey to Dundee to watch me become a doctor!

What are your plans now that you've finished your PhD?

I am staying in academic research and starting a postdoc position. I will still be working in ALS, but this time at Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I'd like to reiterate my thanks to the Euan MacDonald Centre for this opportunity, and highly encourage anyone considering a career in MND research to pursue it. We need motivated researchers to be able to finally find a cure.

Related links

Anna Sanchez Avila three minute thesis

Dr Chris Henstridge profile

Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience

This article was published on: Thursday, June 29, 2023