Eleonora Broggi - What happens in the brain of someone with a psychiatric disorder

What happens in the brain of someone with a psychiatric disorder? Eleonora Broggi, an alumna of the bachelor Biomedical Sciences at Maastricht University, is investigating brain patterns in people with autism spectrum disorder at King’s College London. Read how Eleonora uses Biomedical Sciences for her career in neuroscience and drug development.

Eleonora is pursuing her PhD at King’s College London, supervised by Prof Declan Murphy and Dr Luke Mason. She aims to identify subtypes within the large spectrum of autism, based on the patients’ brain dynamics. Eleonora engages with autistic patients and employs electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor and enhance our understanding of the neurophysiological activity in the patients’ brains. These EEG measurements can be used in clinical trials of targeted treatments. Eleonora: “Autism spectrum disorder poses a significant challenge due to the high heterogeneity among patients, with diverse symptoms observed. To develop targeted and effective drugs, it’s essential to distinguish subgroups within the autistic population, ensuring that the right type of drug is matched with the unique characteristics of each patient subgroup.” 

eleonora broggi brain

Precision medicine for social dysfunction

As of now, there is no proven medication to target social communication difficulties, a core symptom of autism. The research group Eleonora works for is examining a compound and assessing its superiority over a placebo in improving patients’ social function difficulties. Besides scientific insights, this lets Eleonora learn more about the process of drug development, potentially allowing her to integrate entrepreneurial aspects into her future career.

Biomedical Sciences as a pathway to the brain

Eleonora chose Biomedical Sciences at Maastricht University because of the excellent structure of its curriculum. “It helped me to decide on what I wanted to focus on. That turned out to be the brain, drug development, and the field of bio-entrepreneurship.”  After discovering her interest in neuroscience in the first year, Eleonora delved into it in the second year by choosing elective courses on neuroscience and cell signalling.

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From faculty to faculty

It was in her third year that Eleonora became interested in drug development for neurological/psychiatric disorders, and bio-entrepreneurship. “After talking to course coordinators, I decided to take a minor in bio-entrepreneurship at the School of Business and Economics and afterwards register for the research master’s programme in Drug Development and Neurohealth at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience.” That’s where Eleonora learned to navigate the complexities of neuroscience, drug discovery and development “The flexibility Maastricht University offers allowed me to switch between faculties and understand what I truly wanted to pursue”.

My research is worth spending money on

Before conducting research, you need funding. Something that every scientist experiences. Eleonora learned about the economic models employed in drug development, enabling her to understand the financial perspectives in academic and industrial settings.  “It will help me realise my future research projects. Even in the upcoming years of my PhD, it will be important for me to communicate the financial requirements necessary to support the value of my research”.

Academics versus industry

Eleonora is happy she started with Biomedical Sciences at Maastricht University. “In STEM disciplines, I know many students who graduate without a clear sense of the specific fields they are interested in. At Maastricht University, I had the unique chance to first cover everything related to biomedical sciences, then focus on what interested me and then gain practical knowledge while doing an internship on it.”