Interview with Dr. Ahmed Khalil

Stroke Researcher and Medical Resident
Center for Stroke Research Berlin, Charité Universitätsmedizin, Berlin
Twitter: @AhmedAAKhalil

Interviewed by Dr. Inna Lutsenko
ESO Social Media and PR Committee
Neurologist, Hietzing Hospital, Vienna, Austria
Twitter: @inna_lutsenko

I met Ahmed at ESOC 2017, when he was presenting his poster and was impressed by his charisma and by the deep understanding of his research topic, which was also his PhD topic – stroke neuroimaging. Ahmed is an impressive example of a young medical doctor who brought his knowledge and experience from his native country to Germany, completed his PhD training, learned a new language and due to his unstoppable passion to research, established himself as a reliable stroke professional at Charite. The ESO community values diversity among ESO members where the representatives of different nationalities collaborate for the best in the field of stroke research.

Dear Ahmed, please tell us a bit about yourself and where do you work?

I’m a 4th-year radiology resident and a stroke imaging researcher at the Charité Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, Germany. I work on developing, testing, and validating methods for imaging the pathophysiology of cerebrovascular disorders and dementia. That includes methods for imaging the brain’s vasculature, blood flow, tissue oxygenation, and blood-brain barrier function.

How did you get involved in stroke research?

After graduating from medical school and doing my medical internship, I enrolled in a joint master’s program in Medical Neurosciences at the Charité Berlin and Neuropsychopharmacology at the Université de Bordeaux. I wanted to do something clinical for my first lab rotation in Berlin, so I spoke to one of my lecturers, who would later become a good friend and mentor, about joining her stroke MRI research group at the Center for Stroke Research Berlin. I’ve been there ever since – I did my master’s thesis and PhD there and I’m now a postdoc.

You presented a poster at ESOC 2017, please share with us your research topic and findings?

The poster presented the preliminary findings of a study I worked on with a then-medical-student, now, Consultant Radiologist in Zürich (if you’re reading this, congratulations, Vivien!). My PhD revolved around a new method for extracting information about blood flow from resting-state functional MRI. In this study, we showed how the method can detect spontaneous and treatment-related changes in brain blood flow that happen over the first few days in acute ischemic stroke. This was the first study to show this and helped establish the method’s suitability for monitoring stroke patients over time.

What have been the most difficult challenges regarding your research career so far?

Like most clinician-scientists, I would say the hardest part has been balancing my clinical and research duties. I’m lucky to be at an institution and a department that greatly values research and supports its doctors in that regard. For the past three years, I’ve had one day of protected research time every week. I try to make the best of it, but some weeks that’s barely enough time to respond to my emails. That’s also a major reason why I, regrettably, haven’t attended an ESOC since 2019. I think it’s especially difficult when you have people, like students, relying on you. I often feel guilty about not being able to dedicate enough time to them and their projects.

Why is ESOC one the most impactful events of the year in the career of young neurologists?

Some of the things that stand out to me include the very well organized and thorough educational program. There really is something for everyone, not just neurologists but also radiologists, nurses, allied health professionals and researchers. The fact that it has very quickly become the leading stroke conference in Europe also means it provides a great opportunity to meet interesting people and forge new collaborations.

How can young stroke researcher combine private and personal life? Do you have any life hacks?

I’m not a big fan of life hacks in general – what works for one person won’t necessarily work for others. What works for me quite well at the moment is not combining them too much. During my PhD, there was not much of a boundary between my private and professional lives – that was fine in my mid-twenties. A decade later, I make a conscious effort to keep them somewhat compartmentalized and that has really helped me make the most of both.