Exploring mysterious territories of the brain

Neuroscientist Ana Klahr is working toward better treatments for female stroke patients.

Anna Schmidt - 28 November 2022

Ana Klahr image
Photo by John Ulan

As a child, Ana Klahr dreamed of working for NASA and exploring the depths of space. When she got to university, she realized she wanted to delve into a different great unknown — the human brain. Klahr is now a neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychology and mental health at Augustana Campus, where she researches potential treatments for female stroke patients.

How do you describe your work in one or two sentences?

I study in animals what happens in patients who suffer a hemorrhagic stroke. My main goal is to find potential therapeutic targets and test the efficacy and safety of treatments.

What did you want to be when you were in Grade 3?

I wanted to be an astronomer. My dream was to work for NASA. My favourite planet is Saturn.

When did you know you wanted to be a psychologist or neuroscientist?

During my BSc Honours in psychology at the University of Manitoba, I did my thesis research under Dr. Tammy Ivanco, a psychology professor who is also a neuroscientist. I decided then that all I wanted to do was to study brains for the rest of my life.

What’s one big problem you want to address or goal you want to achieve?

Over 97 per cent of animal studies that test therapies for hemorrhagic stroke use solely male animals. These animals tend to be young and healthy, which is not a good representation of what happens in people with stroke. Females are also excluded from animal research because scientists are concerned that female hormones could be a confounding factor. Given that female human patients are also underrepresented in clinical studies, we know very little about female stroke health. I hope my research can advance our knowledge of how to treat stroke in females, and not just the young and healthy ones.

What’s your favourite thing so far about Augustana?

The staff and the faculty are great, but my favourite thing is the students. I appreciate building relationships — watching students evolve and grow. I also learn a lot from them.

How do you see the Augustana community playing a role in your work?

Augustana students are instrumental in my research. They acquire and analyze the data and report their findings. My students are also the ones who decide whether I am doing a good job, and I take their feedback seriously. Several faculty members have mentored me to become a better teacher and academic. The staff works very hard and are always willing to make my life easier. Without the support of the Augustana community, I would not be able to do a good job.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be kind to yourself and others. You do not know where others come from or what they’ve been through. And we will not always behave or feel the way we think we should. In those moments, when there is shame or hostility, it’s important to bring kindness to the table.

What’s the worst fashion or hair decision you’ve made?

A lot of the early 2000s fashion choices were terrible. When I was 13, I would wear low-rise cargo pants and had some bleached strands of hair, just at the front, that I would dye different colours. But now I see students rocking their Y2K looks on campus, so maybe it wasn’t that bad.

What’s the last show you binge-watched and loved?

Severance, a very interesting science fiction psychological thriller which involves being severed from the time you spend at work. This splits the individual, and there is one person outside of work and another person who is constantly at the office. Fun stuff.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I do not know about other families or societies, but it seems that no one teaches other people about what love is. Not just romantic love but community love. This book gave me a framework that I feel I needed and, likely, a lot of other people do as well. bell hooks, who passed not that long ago, was a social activist who wrote extensively on feminism and topics related to Black women. She also wrote Feminism Is for Everybody, which is another gem.

Where did you grow up and what do you love about your hometown?

I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I love my people and culture. Saying hi with a kiss on the cheek. Sharing maté, a tea-like drink, with friends and drinking it from the same straw — not COVID-friendly! Heated arguments about politics and unsolicited advice from highly opinionated people.

What’s one thing you’re grateful for?

I am grateful for being born at a time in which a Latin-American, female-presenting individual can be an assistant professor at one of Canada’s top universities. I am grateful for being able-bodied, and for having a home, drinkable water, food and electricity. Most importantly, I am grateful for the people (and pets) who love me and have put their trust in me.

More About Ana Klahr

I am an Argentinian person who identifies as a woman, vegetarian, feminist, Capricorn, perfume addict, amateur musician, highly sensitive person, neuroscientist and now, a psychology and mental health assistant professor at Augustana Campus. For the past decade, my research has focused on stroke, one of the leading causes of death and disability in Canada. I advocate for including female animals in stroke research, a neglected field of study.