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.
“For a successful career in research, three things are essential for me: firstly, to be competent in my field; secondly, to be able to raise the awareness of people around me on health issues; finally, to be a social person, open-minded, communicative and with a strong team spirit”, Xianqing Mao says.
Since arriving in Luxembourg in 2013, she has been working in the ‘Cytoskeleton and Cancer Progression’ research group at the LIH. Xianqing explains that her group is interested in metastasis – the process of cancer cells spreading to other parts of the body, and the main cause of death from cancer.
“Cancer cells progressively evolve to become more and more invasive and be able to escape from the immune surveillance system. Both tumour cell invasion and immune resistance involve actin cytoskeletal changes. My research mainly focuses on actin regulatory proteins and related signalling pathways driving tumour cell invasion and immune evasion, with the goal to identify new prognostic markers and therapeutic targets.”, Xianqing explains.
A scientific cocktail
Xianqing is a postdoctoral researcher – a transition period from junior to senior researcher. How is her every-day routine changing as she progresses in her career?
“My typical work day sounds like a tasteful scientific cocktail”, Xianqing says and adds:
“Generally, I spend about 50% of my time working at the bench, setting up and conducting biological experiments. About another 50% are spent on project management and coordination: designing experiments, writing experimental procedures and analysing data. I also review experimental designs, experimental procedures, results and data analyses generated by junior team members, assist with writing journal articles and abstracts, and present my project results at scientific conferences.
“I am progressively given more and more responsibilities within the team. I now assist the team leader with grant proposal writing, make recommendations for new equipment purchases, hold laboratory meetings, participate in the hiring of new group members and establish collaborations.”
Xianqing stems from a family with an abundance of professors and medical doctors. It is no surprise that she was almost born with an interest in science – Xianqing explains that early on she was particularly interested in biomedicine and the function of cells within an organism.
It was during her medical studies that Xianqing developed an interest in experimental cancer research. She embarked on a PhD at the University of Lorraine in Nancy in France, where she worked on a project – later published in the journal Oncogene – in which it was discovered that a particular enzyme has important clinical value as a prognostic marker in a subtype of breast cancer.
With all the countries Xianqing has already worked in – how did she end up in Luxembourg and how is she thriving?
“During this 4-year experience [of my PhD,]I became highly passionate about research. I realized that my training requires far more breadth if I want to establish a successful research career. I continued travelling, learning and working, and finally arrived in Luxembourg”.
Since she arrived in the Grand Duchy in 2013, Xianqing has already been involved in 3 research projects (2 supported by Fondation Cancer and 1 supported by Think Pink Lux), and is about to embark on the FNR CORE project METASTALIM. In 2015, she had the opportunity to be a committee member of the European Health Parliament in Brussels, a hugely enriching experience:
“I met more than 50 young professionals from all across Europe. During 6 months we worked together intensively to deliver high-level policy-oriented recommendations that shall positively influence and change the future of healthcare in Europe. This work experience really broadened my horizon. It made me “think big” and I felt proud to act as a European citizen for public healthcare.”
“Research environment in Luxembourg is more attractive than in other countries”
We ask Xianqing what she thinks about the potential of Luxembourg’s research environment, and whether she could see herself sticking around for a bit longer in the Grand Duchy:
“I have travelled a lot during the early stages of my academic career (China-France-Scotland-England-United States-Belgium), however, I feel that Luxembourg is an attractive place for me to make a longer stop and develop my career,” Xianqing says and adds:
“I think that the research environment in Luxembourg is more attractive than in other countries owing to the government’s efforts to support and develop the sector of research and innovation. I believe that Luxembourg has a lot of potential for researchers to develop themselves and for long-term career evolution.”
Published 10 August 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 23rd in a series of 25 articles, which are published on a weekly basis. You can see more articles below as and when they are published.
July 27, 2017
Hussein Rappel uses a mathematical learning approach to try to predict and simulate physical phenomena. The Iranian national came to Luxembourg in 2014 to join the team of Prof Stephane Bordas at the University of Luxembourg, where he is now in the 3rd year of his PhD in Computational Science – and sees great potential in Luxembourg as a research destination.
July 18, 2017
Luxembourg nationals Max Greisen and Véronique Cornu have many things in common: They are both educated in the field of psychology, they are both PhD researchers at the University of Luxembourg – and they both work with language-free approaches to early mathematical development of multilingual children. Max develops and implements animations that help assess early numerical competencies, while Véronique develops training methods to help overcome language barriers in early math education.
May 5, 2022
The hidden part of plants – the root systems – play a vital role both in plant survival, and in our ecosystem, as plants store carbon in the soil. Scientists are working to understand how roots are affected by changes in water availability, but how do researchers even approach the study of roots?
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Dementia in neurodegeneration – defining the role of microglia, the brain’s immune cells
April 1, 2022
An estimated 55 million people in the world suffer from dementia, with the number estimated to increase to 78 million by 2030. In Luxembourg, more than 10,000 people suffer from dementia, including patients affected by Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia with Lewy Bodies. These incurable diseases have an increasing socio-economic impact along with the burden on patients and caregivers. One of the approaches researchers are taking is studying microglia, immune cells in the brain.
April 16, 2020
Growing up in Botswana and Zimbabwe, Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa did not see science as a career option. Fast forward a few years: Nathasia is studying Parkinson’s disease as part of her PhD at the LCSB at the University of Luxembourg, and has co-founded a STEM initiative that was featured in Forbes.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Glioblastoma and the challenge of getting cancer drugs to reach the brain
July 19, 2021
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of brain tumours in adults. The incidence is about 4 per 100.000 people and the average survival after diagnosis is about 14 months with current treatments. The tumour’s location represents a major challenge – few drugs make it past the blood brain barrier. Researchers are working on designing a novel kind of drug that could help do just that.
March 18, 2021
Digitisation has had a significant impact on humanities research: not only has it changed how many scholars conduct their research, it has also led to completely new fields of research, such as digital humanities, a highly interdisciplinary science. Linguist Lorella Viola is interested in how software can enable critical digital humanities practice.
Spotlight on Young Researchers: Harnessing the potential of the Internet of Things and satellites to make smart agriculture a reality
June 2, 2022
Lack of access to fast and reliable Internet in rural and remote areas is a [multi-step] challenge that must be addressed to pave the way for smart agriculture and precision farming, a vital step toward ensuring food security in a changing climate. In the quest for smart agriculture, researchers are working on solutions for connecting Internet of Things (IoT) with satellite communication (SATCOM) systems.
September 13, 2021
Vegetable oil – mainly palm oil – is heavily relied upon in the production of food, cosmetics, and biofuel. The increase in droughts also affects the standard cultivation of palm oil – alternatives are needed. Agricultural scientists are investigating the potential of a new alternative drought-resistant source for the most widely-used kind of vegetable oil.
April 14, 2021
Using solar absorbers for collection and storage of heat from the sun is an environmentally friendly way to generate heat, yet only 16% of heating is generated from renewable energy. Material scientists are looking for ways to boost this number by making the solar absorber coatings more efficient.