Interview with Dr Jaume Ferrer

“Exercise prepares the whole organism to respond more efficiently to stimuli that cause anxiety”


Jaume Ferrer Lalanza (age 29)- Research Support Technician

1.- Jaume, tell us about your career until now.

I studied Psychology and during my last year of degree, I was captivated by the fact that it was possible to mimic and understand human behavior by using animal models. This led me to do my practicum at the Institut de Neurociències. Then, I continued with this research topic in my master degree and later on with my PhD project. During my PhD, I also had the chance of doing an international internship in Vancouver (Canada), where I learned different histological techniques, which I did not know well at that time. But the deeper I explored the histological aspect the more I realized that I preferred to dedicate myself to the behavioral aspect of neuroscience. Then, one year after my PhD dissertation, I got this position of supporting technician at the INc.

2.- Given your academic training, do you think that both disciplines, Psychology and Neurosciences, are integrated enough in your research?

That integration is very important, but it is not easy to implement. For me, although basic neuroscience allows understanding many of the mechanisms of the brain processing, it is also critical to know how those changes affect behavior. Especially, because understanding these behavioral outcomes are an increasing concern for our society.

3.- During you thesis studies, what kind of research did you perform?

Mainly, we tried to simulate people’s life styles in animal models. Particularly, we studied how physical exercise and fast food consumption contributes to obesity, and we evaluated its psychological effects, monitoring all the possible variables.

4.- What do you mean exactly with fast food?

It is the unhealthy food that we usually consume in some bars or fast food restaurants: such as hot dogs, bacon, muffins, cream cheese, etc. It was surprising to observe that although this diet was clearly harmful in many physiological aspects, it had however some beneficial effects: For example, anxiety in these animals decreased and, intriguingly, their sociability was improved. We hypothesized that these positive psychological effects could be one of the reasons why these types of diets are alarmingly increasing in our society.

5.- Do you think that this research with animal models can be transferred to the human behavior?

We think that we can extrapolate many of the data. In fact, our study was based on human routines (for example, the classical recommendation of 30 minutes of exercise) that we adapt to an animal model but minimizing the variables -rats don’t go to the movies, they don’t have problems at work, or they don’t discuss about who has to wash the dishes-. Then, with the results obtained in rat models, it is interesting to go back to the human scenario and use these data to revisit the recommendations that we take about diets and exercise.

6.- What did you discover about physical exercise?

The most relevant finding was the fact that exercise provided a benefit regarding the release of particular stress hormones. Exercise prepares the whole organism to respond more efficiently to stimuli that cause anxiety.

7.- Vindicate your job as a technician. What is the technician role in a research group?

Mainly, we give technical support in very important aspects of the research, specially when other researchers do not have the right time to dedicate to specific tasks, or providing the expertise of techniques in which they do not feel confident enough to do by themselves etc. I think that is a very important role and I believe that every research group has to integrate people with different profiles, including specialized technicians.

8.- Enlighten a little the present socioeconomic pessimism. What would you recommend to students that want to initiate a career in neuroscience?

I would recommend finding the right group in which they feel comfortable. Sometimes working on research is hard and, for me, the most important aspect is to feel motivated and supported by your group. I may say that this aspect cold be even more important than to find your favorite research subject; if it’s closely related to your essential goals, you will enjoy it as well.

I also recommend participating in all kind of activities: poster presentations in meetings; give scientific talks, participate in dissemination activities etc. Everything counts when you need to apply for scholarships. In my case, I didn’t get a post-doc scholarship for a few scoring points and, therefore, I would encourage everyone to participate in these kind of activities.

Listen to the whole interview here.

Josep Maria Calverol