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.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Paul Johanns

Paul Johanns works in a research field one does not read about every day: knots. As part of his AFR PhD at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Luxembourg national combines high-precision model experiments, computation and theory to untangle the influence of topology on the mechanics of complex knots, particularly those used in surgical procedures.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: László Sándor

For László Sándor research is the ultimate war against ‘fake news’. After completing his PhD in Economics at Harvard, the Hungarian-American national chose a Postdoc position at the Luxembourg School of Finance at the University of Luxembourg, where his work includes big data projects, field experiments in household finance and applied microeconomics.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Isabel Z. Martínez

Isabel Z. Martínez has been interested in how policies are put in place and how they affect people’s lives for as long as she can remember. After completing her Masters in Economics, she realised that academia was the ideal way to quench her thirst for analysing large data sets and finding answers to questions addressing people’s well-being and policy decisions. The Swiss-Spanish national has been studying income and wealth inequality in Switzerland for years and has now come to Luxembourg as a Postdoc at LISER to expand her research to the Grand Duchy. We spoke to Isabel about life as a research economist, and how it has already enabled her to travel across the globe, as well as work with some of the foremost researchers in her field.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Eva Lagunas

Eva Lagunas has always been curious about technology, even building her own makeshift smartphone when she was a child. A couple of degrees later, the Spanish national set her sights on coming to Luxembourg, family in tow, to take up a Postdoc position at the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT). Now, she feels lucky to spend her time researching satellite communications in the 5G era.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Max Hilaire Wolter

During his Bachelor studies in physics and photovoltaics at the University of Luxembourg, Max Hilaire Wolter was exposed to live-action research for the first time. The experience left such a positive impression that Max proactively sought out to return to the same lab for a PhD after completing his Master’s studies abroad. We spoke to the Luxembourg national about why research is fun, solar cells and the importance of science outreach.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Guillaume Nataf

“Would matter be perfect, it would be boring” says Guillaume Nataf, who has an oozing passion for physics and teaching fundamental science. The French national did his PhD in the group of FNR PEARL Chair Jens Kreisel at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), in collaboration with the French Atomic Commission (CEA). We spoke to Guillaume, who has just started a Postdoc at the University of Cambridge, about life as a researcher.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Jo Hoeser

Ever since he was a child, Jo Hoeser wanted to understand the function of complex systems. He found himself taking apart and trying to fix broken electronic devices. Then fascination for chemistry came into the mix. Fast forward some years and the Luxembourg national completed his AFR PhD in biochemistry at the Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg – and wants to return to the Grand Duchy to continue his career in research.

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: Lucas Oesch

Luxembourg is one of many countries experiencing the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees that have been displaced for reasons such as conflicts or instability in their own country. Managing a research team for the first time, CORE Junior PI Lucas Oesch leads the project ‘REFUGOV’ at the University of Luxembourg, which looks at the accommodation of asylum seekers and refugees in cities and camps.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Anna Scaini

Anna Scaini’s appetite for becoming a researcher was stirred at University, stemming from a desire to ‘save’ the last natural river in Europe, which runs close to her home town and causes dangerous local flooding. The Italian national is taking the first step towards pursuing her goal as she prepares to complete her PhD thesis in Hydrology at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).

Spotlight on Young Researchers: German Castignani

After doing his Master’s degree and working in the private sector in Argentina, German Castignani decided to do a research internship in France, which piqued his interest for research. After completing his PhD in wireless networking in France, the Italian-Argentinian national came to Luxembourg, where he added an entrepreneurial perspective to his vehicular telematics research, co-founding the SnT’s first spin-off Motion-S.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Maciej Piotr Chrzanowski

Maciej Piotr Chrzanowski never thought he would become a researcher, but a successful attempt at applying for a PhD changed all of that, and the Polish national found himself moving to Luxembourg. Now in the 3rd year of his AFR-PPP PhD, Maciej is embedded both at the University of Luxembourg and in R&D Application Department of steel manufacturing corporation ArcelorMittal, where he works on development of new solutions for structures.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Jose-Luis Sanchez-Lopez

Jose-Luis Sanchez-Lopez works with multirotor aerial robots – drones. Despite being early in his research career, the Spanish national’s research is already taking off, having secured him several awards at international competitions. After completing his PhD in 2017, Jose-Luis set his sights on Luxembourg, where he works as a Postdoc at the SnT at the University of Luxembourg, with the goal of giving drones enough AI that they can safely operate autonomously in a range of environments.

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: Cyrille Thinnes

In 2015, Cyrille Thinnes was featured in our campaign ‘Spotlight on Young Researchers’, which highlighted early-career researchers with a connection to Luxembourg. At the time, Cyrille was at the University of Oxford doing a DPhil (PhD) in chemical biology. One year on, we caught up with Cyrille!

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: 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: Pier Mario Lupinu

When one thinks of banks and financial institutions, the word ‘research’ may not come to mind. However, research has much to offer these institutions, for example new tools to help with delivering critical services. As part of his PhD at the University of Luxembourg, Italian national Pier Mario Lupinu researches issues related to post-resolution in banking and finance.

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.

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