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Ex-serviceman discusses the benefits of publishing cranial nerve research open access

29 Aug 2023 by Cait Cullen

Stephan Blanz, ex-serviceman and data engineer at the University of Wisconsin – Madison has recently published a paper about activating and targeting the vagus nerve, one of our twelve cranial nerves that are connected to the brain.

Blanz has published his paper openly for anyone to read in the Journal of Neural Engineering at no cost to him through a transformative agreement with IOP Publishing. Transformative agreements enable researchers to publish their work openly because the costs of publishing are paid directly by their university, in this case the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Researchers are increasingly supporting open access which is in line with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Year of Open Science.

Here we discuss his work.

  • Can you tell us about your recent research?

Our research represents a crucial step in understanding the complex principles of vagus nerve stimulation, particularly regarding electrode placement and the underlying neuroanatomy of the vagus nerve.

Our study provides valuable insights that can pave the way for future therapies – with even greater precision. We have precisely targeted and activated specific neural pathways that connect the vagus nerve to end organs, while minimizing side-effects. Future studies in targeted vagus nerve stimulation may hold the potential to treat various diseases that impact the brain such as drug-resistant epilepsy, depression, and chronic stroke rehabilitation.

Overall, our work has the promise to benefit large patient populations and contribute to the ongoing efforts of improving treatment outcomes and quality of life across a variety of syndromes and conditions.

  • How was the collaboration within the team?

This paper holds special significance for me as it was my first paper as lead-author. My path has been non-traditional and has been shaped by eight years of military service before embarking on higher education and eventually pursuing a career as a medical student. As a result, I consider myself a novice in the field of neuroengineering; I am constantly learning from and amazed by my colleague’s wealth and depth of knowledge. While, at times, collaborating with 14 other researchers can feel like herding cats, I enjoyed learning from their expertise and felt profound satisfaction upon collating all our incredible work and ideas into a paper we are all immensely proud of.

  • The research group conducting this study consisted of 15 researchers, how did the team make sure all researchers were able to contribute their expertise?

We had the good fortune of collaborating with a diverse and talented team of 15 researchers. Our team comprised researchers from esteemed academic institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, Duke University, Case Western Reserve University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This broad talent pool included researchers from both academia and industry, with wide-spanning and varied research backgrounds and experiences. Dr. Kip Ludwig was essential in assembling this multidisciplinary team and collaborating with key researchers across these prestigious institutions.

The strength of our team lay in the broad range of research backgrounds and experiences from each researcher and the resources available by their institutions – every researcher was crucial in their contributions towards the work as a whole. For instance, Duke University provided valuable expertise in computational modelling, enhancing our research outcomes significantly – I am especially indebted to Dr. Nicole Pelot whose mentorship, advice, expertise, and leadership I greatly appreciate and admire.

  • What is your most memorable moment of this research project?

Our experiments were 14-to-16-hour days with the surgical tests lasting 12 hours. To keep us sharp and provide moral support, we would have a speaker playing music in the operating room. This would occasionally lead to impromptu karaoke sessions and a very fond memory of our principle investigator dancing to Lady Gaga.

  • The research was published open access, what made you decide to do so?

The decision to publish our research as open access was driven by the recognition of the multifaceted benefits it offers. While the immediate advantages, such as accessibility, impact, increased visibility, and citations, are evident, we also considered the broader implications and potential long-term outcomes.

One significant factor was the principle of transparency. Open access promotes transparency of the scientific method, allowing for scrutiny, replication, and verification of research findings. By making our work openly available, we contribute to the overall integrity and credibility of the scientific community.

Additionally, publishing open access has the potential to foster unforeseen collaborations and connections. By reaching a wider audience we open the door to new collaborations, innovative ideas, and interdisciplinary insights. These serendipitous encounters can lead to groundbreaking discoveries and solutions that may not have been possible within narrower academic circles.

  • What benefits have you seen so far from publishing your work open access?

One unexpected instance involved a web developer from Uruguay who reached out to me via LinkedIn. This individual expressed a genuine curiosity about the field of neuroengineering and sought additional perspectives to broaden his horizons.

The open access publication allowed our work to reach a wider audience, extending beyond the traditional academic circles. In this particular case, it enabled someone to access and engage with our research, who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.

I firmly believe in the value of diversity of experience. By having people from different backgrounds examine the same problem, we open the door to novel and innovative solutions. This encounter with the web developer exemplifies the potential for interdisciplinary collaborations and the unforeseen connections that can arise through open access publishing. It serves as a reminder of the importance of making research accessible to diverse audiences, fostering greater engagement and the potential for unique contributions.

  • This paper was published as part of a transformative agreement. Were you aware of the agreement?

This came as a very pleasant surprise to myself, although admittedly, quite late in the process as this was my first paper published as lead-author. I was quite delighted by this as it meant that our paper would be seen by a wider audience and that our research lab would be able to allocate those funds towards other vital needs.

  • What advice would you give to other researchers considering publishing their work open access?

I would advise any researcher publishing work that could benefit the scientific community to strongly consider publishing open access. The benefits for the publishing researcher, as well as the scientific community are innumerable. Additionally, by making work openly available, it contributes to the transparency of the scientific method, allowing for scrutiny, replication, and verification.

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