#HumansOfMedsci with Associate Professor Srdjan Vlajkovic
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 23/9/2018
This week's interview comes from the one of the foremost knowledgeable people in the world of auditory neuroscience. This incredibly well-travelled lecturer serves as an inspiration to aspiring neuroscientists everywhere with his undeniable enthusiasm for his field of work. Read on to find out what shaped him into the academic he is today and his advice for undergraduates.
What is your background? Where did you grow up? My background is in Medicine and Neuroscience. I grew up in former Yugoslavia, a country in the Balkan peninsula which, after a political turmoil in 1990s, was dissolved into several independent states. I lived in Serbia before migrating to New Zealand with my family. I still have strong connections in Serbia and use every opportunity to visit my friends and family there.
What are your interests outside of university life? My great passion is travelling and learning about different cultures, and I have visited a large number of interesting countries over many years. I used to play chess as a college student and have soft spot for sports, tennis and basketball in particular. I also enjoy long walks with my lovely and cheerful cocker spaniel Teddy, who is one of the great joys in my life.
What was your education pathway? I graduated Medicine from the University of Belgrade and received my PhD in Neuroscience at the same University. I had a couple of postdoctoral stints in the USA, including Emory University and Harvard University, before and after I joined the University of Auckland. What are you working on right now? My main research interest is in auditory neuroscience. In the last few years, my research focus has been strongly on inner ear therapeutics. Hearing loss is the most common sensory disability, and yet the treatment options are limited to hearing aids and cochlear implants which cannot repair cochlear injury. I strongly believe that the cochlear injury can be ameliorated by pharmacological agents which, if used within a time window, may prevent hearing loss. My current research projects are related to the role of purinergic signalling in cochlear rescue from injury and novel methods of drug delivery to the inner ear.
What drew you to your field of interest? Was there a particular moment you knew that this topic would be your focus? My family history of hearing loss (my father suffered from Ménière's disease) was the likely trigger of my interest in auditory neuroscience. I made an early decision to forfeit my career in Medicine to pursue research. Choosing a research career over clinical probably contributed to my interest in developing better therapies for hearing loss. I felt strong need to focus on something that will benefit people in the long run.
A paper you have contributed to of which you're most proud? This must be the paper published in 2010 in Hearing Research, which reported for the first time that post-exposure treatment with adenosine receptor agonists can mitigate cochlear injury and hearing loss in rats exposed to traumatic noise. This seminal paper has opened up a realm of new possibilities of treating cochlear injury with drugs.
If you could give your undergraduate self any advice, what would you tell them? Listen to your instincts and choose your career based on what you think is best for you. Don’t give up on your dreams and don’t settle for second best.
Our sincere gratitude to Srdjan for graciously agreeing to this interview. If you'd like to see more of him, consider taking Medsci 206, 316, 317, or beyond under-grad in Medsci 739. Email him if you'd be interested in doing a research project with him!