“We’ve had to be nimble” – how Macquarie’s CNS lab is dealing with lockdown


The Computational NeuroSurgery Lab team (left to right): Mr Robert Newport, Mrs Poonam Kumari, Dr Abdulla Al Suman, Mrs Laya Jose, Dr Carlo Russo, Dr Sidong Liu and Professor Antonio Di Ieva.

The Computational NeuroSurgery (CNS) Lab at Macquarie University was founded to merge computational and clinical neurosciences. Their aim is to find new prognostic, diagnostic and therapeutic markers of neurological diseases –above all, brain tumours – by applying computational modelling and Artificial Intelligence.

Several research programs within the laboratory, including projects in neuroimaging, digital pathology, and machine vision, require the collection of clinical data from patients and healthy participants –for example, eye-tracking record for machine vision experiments.

COVID-related restrictions have made it very difficult to enrol patients and collect new clinical data. In some cases,  data collection is not possible at all. This required a nimble adaptation by our researchers.

The pandemic pivot

Based on computational analysis, the CNS Lab scholars showed  impressive agility to adapt their research environment. Weekly meetings quickly moved to teleconference and Research Associate Dr Carlo Russo moved the physical environment of the Lab’s high-performance workstations to the cloud, allowing the researchers to work remotely from home on several different projects.

Dr Russo returned to Italy at the end of his contract, however with special consideration of the COVID environment, has continued his work with the CNS Lab as an Honorary Senior Lecturer and continues to help supervise researchers and students remotely through this uncertain time.

Medical student Anne Jian, who joined the CNS Lab as a visiting scholar from the University of Melbourne, had to return to Melbourne during the first months of the pandemic. Despite this, she was able to resize her experimental work to systematic and literature reviews, remarkably publishing two papers in top neurosurgical journals and a chapter in a book on the application of machine learning in neurosurgery. Another Research Associate, Dr Abdulla Al Suman, joined the Lab in August 2020 and has been instrumental in reshaping weekly research meetings to a teleconference environment.  Dr Sidong Liu, a postdoctoral researcher from the Australian Institute of Health Innovation, continued his research in collaboration with the CNS Lab, publishing novel findings in neuroimaging and digital neuropathology.

The CNS Lab’s PhD candidates, Laya Jose, Robert Newport, Poonam Kumari and Mehnaz Tabassum, have all tailored their research, performing the analyses on pre-existing or previously collected datasets, seeding the experimental work to be finalised at the end of the restrictions, and were still able to publish reviews and experimental papers in international peer-reviewed journals.

Professor of Neurosurgery and Head of the CNS Lab, Antonio Di Ieva, has also continued his clinical and surgical activity along with his usual supervision of the CNS Lab research activities, continuing to publish peer-reviewed papers and delivering lectures at national and international teleconferences.

Despite their limitations in collecting new data during the pandemic, the CNS Lab team has shown great determination, working together to develop a resilient research model for the future.

Macquarie staff conducting research during the current lockdown should refer to the University’s COVID-19 information page for guidance.

A seminar on ‘Conducting Research in the Online Sphere’ is available on the Early Career Research Network website.





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