3 minutes with Ulrike Hammerbeck

Meet Ulrike Hammerbeck, who swapped clinical work for stroke research after a colleague spotted a job advertisement in Frontline.


My wonderful career 

How did you get into research?

I was looking for a new challenge in my physiotherapy career when a colleague spotted an advert in Frontline for a research physiotherapist at the Institute of Neurology at University College London (UCL). As I had always been interested in research (having completed my MSc at UCL), I was delighted when offered a post working with world leaders in neurophysiology and motor learning (Jörn Diedrichsen). By securing funding from the CSP Charitable Trust and the Stroke Association, I was able to pursue a PhD investigating the effect of movement speed during training on arm recovery processes in survivors of strokes. 

What do you focus on?

I am interested in the mechanism of performance change after neurological insult, particularly stroke. Despite numerous studies investigating therapeutic interventions our understanding of why some of these succeed or fail is very limited. Neurophysiological and kinematic measures can detect how people learn new patterns of movement and I use them to investigate proximal arm recovery after a stroke.  
I use brain stimulation (single pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation) to measure corticospinal connectivity from the affected and unaffected hemisphere and alterations in the control of reaching (kinematics). We have found that movement training after stroke should be performed at a variety of movement speeds. We also established that in chronic stroke accuracy improvements can be achieved (without compensation), a fact that was recently questioned in the literature. Our current work is investigating changes in corticospinal connections in acute stroke to establish targets for future intervention. 

And you are a Stroke Association fellow. How did that happen?

After completing my PhD I applied to the Stroke Association for a post-doctoral fellowship. These three-year fellowships are designed to assist researchers to gain further experience and develop research independence. I am working at the University of Manchester with Professor Sarah Tyson in a very dynamic, multidisciplinary team. 

What are the main challenges?

Money! In research job security is unfortunately not easy. Most posts are not substantive and continual applications to competitive funding bodies are required. The same applies for stroke research, which receives proportionally far less funding than other diseases, such as cancer. NHS spending cuts make the delivery of sufficient therapy very tough. Therefore, it is vital that we understand what interventions are effective for which patients so that we can tailor interventions and increase our cost- effectiveness and patient outcomes. 

Would you encourage others to follow in your footsteps?

Absolutely! Involvement in research is very rewarding and it is a wonderful career. However, to stick at research in the longer run requires resilience and a bit of a thick skin (I’m still working on this one!). If you are passionate about your research question and are driven to find the answers, a research career will provide a lot of highs.  

The best thing about your work? 

The constant challenge. There is almost nothing I haven’t had to put my hand to in the last seven years. In addition to the expected aspects of a research career, I have had wonderful patient interactions without the usual time pressures. I had to learn to write computer programs to analyse kinematic data, add hardware to computers, perform maintenance on robotic devices, design devices such as an electromyogram amplifier and, of course, learn so much about neurophysiology and motor learning. 
Neuroscience is incredibly interesting and I still can’t quite believe that I have met so many inspirational world leaders in this field. The prospect of contributing to our understanding of the recovery mechanism after stroke and thereby improving outcome after this often devastating disease is exciting but also very daunting. fl
  • Dr Ulrike Hammerbeck is a post-doctoral Stroke Association research fellow, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester. 
Dr Ulrike Hammerbeck is a post-doctoral Stroke Association research fellow, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester

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