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Researcher Spotlight: Dr Roger Varela

23 October 2023

What does a typical workday look like for you?

My work routine is very dynamic, so I guess I don’t have a typical workday. My research involves many different steps that goes from experimental animal behaviour, in vivo brain neuromodulation and recordings, cellular and molecular techniques, microscopy, data analysis, results communication, students supervision.

You can find me either working sitting by my desk, zooming through the lab or down in the animal facility. I think this dynamism is very common among researchers, and that’s what make our work so exciting and challenging in the best way possible.


What are you currently researching?

My research is focused on understanding the neurocircuitry underlying motivated behaviours and the therapeutical applications of mesolimbic dopamine neuromodulation in psychiatric conditions using translational animal models. I have a particular interest on how we can use targeted neuromodulation techniques to improve bioenergetics capacity, restore dopaminergic signaling in the brain and improve impaired expression of motived behaviours.

To accomplish that, I use a wide range of research tools which include: Complex operant conditioning tests in animals to assess reward-related behaviours; Targeted neuromodulation tools, such as deep brain stimulation and optogenetics; and in-vivo real-time electrochemical and electrophysiological recording methods.

My research goal is helping to enhance this therapeutical approach and develop innovative closed-loop neuromodulation technologies for adaptive regulation of mood-related behaviours in neurological and psychiatric conditions. For that, my group rely on a large network of collaborators to translate the knowledge generate by preclinical investigation and apply it into clinical practice.

What have been some highlights of your career so far?

I reckon I have managed to build a strong track record so far, publishing in high-impact journals in my field and contributing to the understanding the neurobiology and treatment of psychiatric disorders. My work has been recognised and I have been granted important awards throughout my career.  During my PhD I have received a 10-month International Research Travel grant to conduct part of my training in the Mayo Clinic Department of Neurosurgery in the USA, under the supervision of Dr. Susannah Tye and Dr. Kendall Lee. In 2021 I was awarded the Samuel Gershon Junior Investigator Award from the International Society for Bipolar Disorders for my work on the antimanic effects of deep brain stimulation. This year I received a NHMRC funded Centre for Excellence Fellowship from CREDIT (Centre of Research Excellence for the Development of Innovative Therapies for Psychiatric Disorders), which allowed me to further develop my research on innovative neuromodulation technologies. These are important milestones that certainly keep me focused and motivated to pursue my research goals.

What advice do you have for students interested in a career in research?

A career in research requires passion, dedication, and perseverance, but it is certainly highly rewarding. My first advice to students is to find a topic or area of interest and develop a solid foundation on understanding the fundamentals of this field. Doing something you are passionate about makes all the difference to keep you interested and motivated. Start small, engaging in small projects, class assignments and short internships are great opportunities to gain experience, develop skills, and create your network. Seek and engage with collaborators and mentors, we don’t do research alone, connecting with experienced researchers and peers can provide valuable guidance and insights for your career. Stay tuned to small grants, funds, and awards, those are great opportunities to build a strong and competitive track record in that early career stage. Lastly, embrace failure, and be patient and persistent. Research is a long process and often involves setbacks. Stay committed to your goals and learn from failures and you will achieve the best outcomes.