NAD Fellow year: 2023

Christian Holm Steenkjær

MD, Aarhus University

PhD Project

Project title
Structural and functional networks in ALS: An insight into pseudobulbar affect
PhD lab
Department of Neurology
Aalborg University Hospital
Main supervisor
Professor Jakob Udby Blicher
Assistant Professor Lau Møller Andersen, Center for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University
Tine Marie Hansen, Department of Radiology, Aalborg University Hospital

Lab rotations - pre-PhD year

Lab Rotation 1

Department of Neurology, Aalborg University Hospital w/PI Professor Jakob Udby Blicher

Lab Rotation 2

Translational Neuroimaging Group, Aarhus University w/PI Associate Professor Anne Landau

Christian is in training to become a neurologist and has a special interest in ALS, and he was looking for an opportunity to work with brain imaging methods and gain some basic and translational research experience during his second rotation. For this reason, his lab rotation PI Associate Professor Anne Landau connected with Associate Professor John Nieland in Aalborg to collect ALS mouse brains from his laboratory prior to the start of Christian’s rotation. During his rotation, Christian will cryosection these brains and use imaging biomarkers of synaptic density and neuroinflammation with a method called autoradiography, where radiolabelled ligands are applied directly to brain sections. He will also have the chance to observe in vivo microPET imaging of rodent models, rat stereotaxic surgery and human PET imaging thanks to the group’s team members and close collaborators.

Lab Rotation 3

Embodied Computation Group, Center for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University w/PI Professor Micah Allen

During his rotation in the Embodied Computation group, Lab, Christian is assisting in an ongoing neuroimaging and pharmacological study implementing MEG (Magnetic encephalography), all the while learning about the ins and outs of MEG and behavioral research and practice. This particular study aims to examine noradrenaline’s function in uncertainty and prediction errors in decision-making. In the study, participants are given either low dose beta-blockers or placebo. Afterwards, the participants complete a series of behavioral tasks under MEG recording. As an MD, Christian can safely administer the drugs and help in patient observation.

Meet Christian Holm Steenkjær

Christian Holm Steenkjær obtained his MD from Aarhus University in 2020. While completing his PhD through NAD, he has been granted leave from a specialist training position in neurology at Aalborg University Hospital. Christian has experience in working with patients suffering from a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.

Christian is a clinician at heart, and he is motivated to do research that contributes to treatment for neurodegenerative diseases: ”We are moving towards more knowledge about what actually happens in the brain and in the nervous system – knowledge that leads towards finding effective treatment options in the future.”

While research within neurodegenerative diseases in many cases does not contribute to direct treatment options, Christian points out that a deeper understanding of diseases that lack effective treatment can also contribute to the development of tools for a more precise and timelier diagnosis – and better patient communication. Christian emphasises that a strong research background is very important for a doctor in this regard:

“In these cases, the explanation [of the diagnosis] is an important part of the treatment as we do not have a lot of treatment options yet. (…) The bridge from basic research [to the clinical perspective] is key in explaining to the patient where we are in research and why we know whether a particular treatment works or does not work.”

Christian describes NAD as a “think tank” uniting Danish neuroscience and gathering resources and knowledge from the different universities and university hospitals. He especially highlights the lab rotations during the pre-PhD year as a great way of exchanging knowledge:

“Why not send someone out to the different universities in order to contribute with something from where they come from, but also bring something new to where they will do their PhD [project]. I think it is a genius idea.”