Spotlight on Young Researchers: Multiple nationalities, one goal

 

What do a French, a Spanish, a Brazilian and an Algerian researcher have in common? In the case of Adeline Boileau, Antonio Salgado Somoza, Clarissa P. C. Gomes and Torkia Lalem, it’s that they are all early-career researchers who came to Luxembourg to join forces in the Cardiovascular Research Unit (CVRU) at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), which aims to identify new personalised strategies to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide. Despite advances in technology, a lack of diagnostic tools and effective treatments remains. As part of their work in the CVRU, PhD candidates Adeline and Torkia, as well as Postdocs Antonio and Clarissa, aim to understand the role of RNA molecules – particularly non-coding RNAs – in some cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack, heart failure, cardiac arrest and thoracic aortic aneurysm.

The team explains that these molecules can be used to diagnose disease and predict what might happen to patients, and in doing so helping doctors to tailor treatment to the patient, decreasing burden and optimising resources. The team’s goal is to develop biomarkers and to translate research products into clinical applications.

“Working with long non-coding RNAs makes one realise how little we know about how our body works”, Antonio says about their research, adding: “Indeed, we are contributing to break the central dogma about RNA being only a messenger molecule to place it as a central player of the regulation inside cells and as a vehicle of communication among different cell types throughout the body”.

In addition to their research responsibilities, the CVRU also runs the CardiolincTM network – an international network which aims to advance the understanding of the role long non-coding RNAs play in cardiovascular disease through serving as a platform to provide opportunities for scientific collaboration. Postdoc Clarissa coordinates this international network, which gathers more than 60 research groups and industries worldwide – she explains that:

“It’s been both challenging and very exciting. I get to know people who wrote some of my favourite papers that I never thought I would meet and, most importantly, I’m able to facilitate and initiate collaborations to advance research.”

“Luxembourg encourages young researchers and welcomes any will for innovation and creativity”

Over 80% of scientists in Luxembourg are non-Luxembourgers. This is also the case for Adeline, Antonio, Clarissa and Torkia, who all came to Luxembourg to take on research into cardiovascular disease – Torkia Lalem points out that there are no less than 9 different nationalities in the CVRU for a staff of 15 people – a true international mix.

“Why Luxembourg?”, we asked the four early-career scientists:

“I came to Luxembourg due to an opportunity to achieve more than one of my goals as a scientist: do translational research (develop a kit with direct impact to patients) and communicate science”, Clarissa P. C. Gomes says, adding: “I felt Luxembourg was attractive to work and live because of its encouraging research policies and international culture, an opinion that has been confirmed since I arrived.”

“I wanted to work in the cardiovascular field and Luxembourg offered this great opportunity”, says Adeline, who came to Luxembourg via the FNR AFR programme, which also provides PhD grants to non-Luxembourgers providing they carry out their PhD project in the Grand Duchy.

Even though Luxembourg’s research environment is young, it made an instant impression on the early-career scientists in the CVRU: “I was impressed by how such a small country could have such high impact research”, Antonio says, pointing out that the country’s location is an advantage in itself: “Its location in the heart of Europe is an asset and the need for researchers to develop international collaborations is attractive for young researchers who aim to increase their networks. The great facilities and grant schemes that support research and allow for career development are the icing on the cake.”

“Luxembourg encourages young researchers and welcomes any will for innovation and creativity”, adds Torkia, who is in the 2nd year of her PhD, making her – researcher-wise the youngest of the four CVRU researchers. Despite having only just embarked on her researcher journey, Torkia already appreciates the importance of promoting research to youngsters – both she and Adeline have already taken part in the FNR activity Chercheurs à l’école.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the team members, why they became scientists, find out about their work in the CVRU and what they hope to achieve in their careers:

Adeline Boileau, 3rd year PhD

Nationality: French

Research funded by: FNR AFR grant


Why did you become a researcher?

“I was born with a heart defect and have always been interested in the cardiovascular field, wishing to work in this area to understand the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases and contribute with better diagnostics and treatment. Something unique I bring to my research is that, as a patient, I have a clear idea of the patient’s life quality and needs.”

What do you do in the CVRU?

“My work is to explore how microRNAs (small non-coding RNAs) are able to modulate their target gene expression and the link with thoracic aortic aneurysm, a located dilatation of the weakened aortic wall.

I also work on the search for biomarkers in other cardiovascular disease, including myocardial infarction and heart failure.” 

What does a typical day for you look like?

“Developing a PhD is everything but a routine job. It involves different tasks, including designing and conducting experiments, analysing results, reading and writing scientific papers or grant applications and presenting results. It’s great to work in a friendly environment, where interactions with my colleagues and my supervisor allow for enriching exchanges and knowledge transfer.” 

What would you like to achieve during your career as a researcher?

“My main aim as researcher is to participate in a discovery that will really improve patients’ quality of life, or even save lives. I would also like to be involved in the understanding of biological mechanisms that are still misunderstood or to help elucidate the causes of rare diseases.”

Antonio Salgado Somoza, Postdoc

Nationality: Spanish

Research funded by: FNR CORE grant


Why did you become a researcher?

“I believe it was because of my extremely curious nature that, combined with an affinity for problem solving, makes the perfect cocktail. So I decided to study Biology and specialized in Molecular Medicine, particularly translational cardiology. I moved to Maastricht to learn more about microRNAs and came to Luxembourg because of an opportunity to combine both areas of expertise.” 

What do you do in the CVRU?

“My research is mainly determining if microRNAs can be used to predict patient outcome after cardiac arrest. We also obtained interesting results with long circular RNAs as predictors of a harmful remodelling of the heart after myocardial infarction. We hope that understanding RNA fluctuations in the blood will aid clinicians personalize treatment to patients.” 

What does a typical day for you look like?

“As a postdoc, I work less in the lab and more at the computer, researching information, writing, analysing results and doing management tasks. Our group is lucky to have great technicians, who conduct most of the experiments. But to keep them busy, it takes much effort and planning. I’m continuously discussing with colleagues about experimental design or helping the young fellows.” 

What would you like to achieve during your career as a researcher?

“I think the most important thing a researcher can ask for is that his/her research becomes somehow meaningful for society. That is what I love about translational research: these kinds of projects allow you to see the application of your discoveries in a relatively short term.”

Clarissa Pedrosa da C. Gomes, Postdoc

Nationality: Brazilian

Research funded by: Eurostars E! 9686 MIPROG project


Why did you become a researcher?

“I have always been curious and eager to learn about new things. Despite studying filmmaking for a while, I couldn’t take my mind off the latest scientific breakthroughs, especially molecular biology. So I decided the best way to satiate my curiosity was to become a researcher. It’s a diverse and exciting field, full of novelty and interesting people.” 

What do you do in the CVRU?

“My research involves developing a test based on microRNAs to assess the risk of patients —who suffered a heart attack to develop life threatening heart failure. I also coordinate the CardiolincTM network and disseminate the group’s activities by writing science communication texts and helping organize events, such as the ‘World Heart Day’.” 

What does a typical day for you look like?

“My days generally consist in a lot of reading, researching various information, writing (scientific papers, grant applications, dissemination texts…), coordinating CardiolincTM and analysing results. I also do experiments, but usually count on the help of our group technicians. I love this diversity of tasks because it allows me to experience all dimensions of research.”

What would you like to achieve during your career as a researcher?

“I wish to contribute to advance my research field and improve human health. Another goal is to inspire young people to study science by breaking down academic and cultural barriers. I also think it’s paramount to educate the general public about how science works and to translate applied research into terms that are accessible to everyone.”

Torkia Lalem, 2nd year PhD

Nationality: Algerian

Research funded jointly by: Luxembourg Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the Luxembourg Society for Research on Cardiovascular Diseases


Why did you become a researcher?

“I always wanted to become a researcher due to the originality of the work, the fact that I make discoveries (even small ones) and the feeling that I can contribute to improve patient’s life and well-being. I also like to participate in international congresses and science dissemination.” 

What do you do in the CVRU?

“I study the role of a long non-coding RNA in the development of heart failure in order to validate it as a new therapeutic target against this disease and as a biomarker to predict its development.”

What does a typical day for you look like?

“My typical day is shared between the bench, performing experiments, and my desk, reading papers, writing publications and analysing my experiment results. My day can also include meetings with my team to discuss any issue that may come up. In addition, I am supervising the work of a master student. No room for boredom!!!” 

What would you like to achieve during your career as a researcher?

“I would like to continue searching for new biomarkers to predict the development of cardiovascular disease. I would also like to concretize the new discoveries and translate them into commonly used tools by commercializing tests to detect disease.”

Clarissa Pedrosa da C. Gomes (Postdoc); Adeline Boileau (PhD); Torkia Lalem (PhD); Antonio Salgado Somoza (Postdoc)

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Published 18 May 2017

About Spotlight on Young Researchers

Spotlight on Young Researchers is an FNR initiative to highlight early career researchers across the world who have a connection to Luxembourg. This article is the 11th in a series of around 25 articles, which will be published on a weekly basis. You can see more articles below as and when they are published.

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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Antoun Al Absi

Antoun Al Absi has been fascinated by microscopes ever since his parents gave him one as a child. Unsurprisingly, the Syrian-French national cherishes the long hours spent on the microscope as part of his AFR PhD at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), where he investigates how tumour cells escape the ‘immune surveillance system’, enabling them to spread to other parts of the body.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Nina Hentzen

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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Eric Finn Schaanning

Eric Finn Schaanning was drawn to research by a thirst to understand what mechanisms drove the financial crisis. He has just defended his AFR PhD at Imperial College London, during which he developed an operational ‘stress test’ model that is already being used by two European Central Banks. The half Luxembourg, half Norwegian national is now a Senior Advisor at Norges Bank, where he continues to analyse and help improve understanding of how financial institutions react to economic shocks.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Maria Pires Pacheco

Maria Pires Pacheco is a problem solver with a fondness for coding, who was always drawn to the scientist in a group of heroes, rather than the classic hero. During her AFR PhD, the Luxembourg national worked on building tools that help simulate the metabolism of a cell, tools she applied to cancer research during her postdoc.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Laurie Maldonado

Laurie Maldonado’s research focuses on single-parent families. After suddenly becoming a single parent herself, she experienced first-hand how quickly single-parent families can fall into poverty in the United States, not knowing if she could continue her research. Then Laurie secured an AFR PhD grant, conducting her research at the LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg and at UCLA. A few years and a successful PhD defence later, we talked with Laurie about her journey and her close-to-home research.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Thomas Schaubroeck

Thomas Schaubroeck specialises in sustainability assessment of products. We speak to the Belgian national about the research he is undertaking in the framework of an Industrial Fellowship between the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and company Tarkett; how working with industry differs from academia; and how he hopes his research can help industry steer toward a more sustainable future.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Nature does it best

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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Adham Ayman Al-Sayyad

Adham Ayman Al-Sayyad is a PhD researcher working on multidisciplinary cross-border project. In our article, we explore the Egyptian national’s research around the topic of laser beam joining; why his next step post-PhD would be to spend some time working in industry to understand his research topic from new angles; and his passion for bridging cultures to bring people together.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Remko Nijzink

Climate change affects vegetation and water resources. In order to understand these changes, scientists use models – an abstract, mathematical representation of an ecological system. The challenge: Making accurate predictions under change, without ‘tuning’ models with data. We speak to Dutch national Remko Nijzink, Postdoc in the group of FNR ATTRACT Fellow Dr. Stan Schymanski at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), about his modelling work and the importance of an open science approach.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Dominique Santana

After completing her master’s degree, Luxembourg national Dominique Santana decided to spend time in her mother’s birth country Brazil. While there, she became intrigued by Brazil’s communities of Luxembourgish nationals and wanted to investigate further. Now in the first year of her AFR PhD at the C²DH at the University of Luxembourg, Dominique is examining the paths of Luxembourgers who emigrated to Brazil from 1920 – 1965, which has already rekindled old friendships.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Thomas Elliot

When Thomas Elliot (Tom) cycled from Indonesia to London, he witnessed many people living in hardship. Motivated to research how consumption affects social and environmental justice in a bid to help reduce the hardship witnessed, the New Zealand national applied for an open PhD position at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), where he now works on a project that fuses urban metabolism and ecosystem services.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Kacy Greenhalgh

Kacy Greenhalgh has always had an affectation for medicine and health, and how health can be influenced by dietary habits. During her Master studies, the Luxembourg-American national was introduced to FNR ATTRACT Fellow Paul Wilmes and the ‘gut on a chip’, HuMiX. Fascinated by its potential, and how it could be used to study the relation between diet and health, Kacy’s curiosity led her straight to an AFR PhD at the LCSB at the University of Luxembourg.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Maxime Brami

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Spotlight on Young Researchers: Léon-Charles Tranchevent

Léon-Charles Tranchevent says he has found the perfect job in being a researcher. Cherishing the freedom and unexpectedness of his line of work, the computational biologist also feels it’s his duty to contribute to the training of the next generation of researchers. The French national has recently begun his AFR Bilateral Postdoc at the Luxembourg Institute of Health in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Xianqing Mao

Xianqing Mao comes from a family of professors and doctors and thus has always had a natural interest in science. The Chinese national completed a medical degree, but felt she still had unanswered questions, so she decided to go abroad and took a leap into biomedical research. After stays in France, the UK, the United States and Belgium, Xianqing is now transitioning from junior to senior researcher at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, where she has already been involved in several projects investigating cancer progression.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Anna Schleimer

In high school, Anna Schleimer thought everything there was to know in science was already known. When she discovered how many unanswered questions there still are, curiosity drove her to become a researcher. The Luxembourg national is now in the 1st year of her AFR PhD, in what is not your most common topic: As a marine biologist, Anna studies fin whales as part of her joint PhD at University of Groningen and University of St Andrews.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Ramona Pelich

Ramona Pelich uses data from satellites in space to improve maritime surveillance and flood hazard monitoring. Splitting her time between the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and the company LuxSpace as part of her AFR-PPP Postdoc, the Romanian national’s work has already found direct application when flood maps she co-developed were used in the aftermath of destructive 2017 hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Ernesto Gargiulo

Ernesto Gargiulo has always had a curious and inquisitive disposition, which as a child saw him spending hours outdoors, in a quest to discover. At University, Ernesto’s attention turned to oncology. Set on applying and strengthening his knowledge, the Italian national embarked on a PhD at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), where he works on characterising exosomes, small extracellular vesicles, linked to cancer development, progression and chemo-resistance.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Gilles Tossing

Gilles Tossing’s fascination for the human brain – and why it sometimes fails – led him to the path of research. Now in the second year of his AFR PhD at Université de Montréal in Canada, the Luxembourg national investigates neurodegenerative diseases, with the aim of improving treatments for those affected.

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