In January, Antonio Giraldez, a 2008 Pew Scholar, was awarded the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for his research on the role of microRNAs in the early developmental stages of vertebrates.More info
|"What most people might not know, however, is that HSV-1 can also infect the eye, leading to serious problems like blindness, and can even spread to the brain."|
Q: What led you to become a scientist?
Esteban Engel: Ever since I was a kid, I questioned everything I saw, and at times overwhelmed my family with my inquisitiveness. I was eager to understand the origin of things and how they worked. In fact, I used to disassemble and attempt to reassemble all kinds of stuff, including stereos, TVs, cars, and computers. I even studied insects up close. So biological sciences seemed to be a natural fit with my curiosity and interests.
Q: What were the difficulties in pursuing a science career in Chile?
Esteban Engel: There is still a big difference in funding and research diversity between Chile and the United States. For example, only a handful of researchers are working in my field—virology—in Chile, and although they are very good and productive, there is a need for a bigger scientific community and more resources.
I was lucky enough to finish my Ph.D. at very good institutions in Chile. Fundación Ciencia y Vida and Andrés Bello University were great in terms of funding and infrastructure. My Ph.D. mentor, Dr. Pablo Valenzuela, gave me plenty of freedom to pursue my research.
Q: What made you decide to apply to Pew’s Latin American Fellows Program and seek additional training in the United States?
Esteban Engel: As a graduate student, I was fortunate enough to travel for international meetings and participate in an internship abroad. These experiences convinced me that I had to emigrate at some point in my career to gain insight and expertise in research areas that are not explored in Chile. Living abroad has been a mind-expanding experience not only science-wise, but also in exposing me to different cultures, languages, and diversity.
When I was seeking postdoctoral funding in the United States, I realized that a very limited number of fellowships were available for international researchers. I learned about the Pew fellowship for Latin American scientists from colleagues in Chile. They were impressed with the program, so I knew that I had to apply.
Esteban Engel: I am currently working with clinical strains of herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1, which is a human pathogen. Most people know HSV-1 as the causative agent of cold sores, which is a rather minor problem. What most people might not know, however, is that HSV-1 can also infect the eye, leading to serious problems like blindness, and can even spread to the brain. Although this rarely happens, it causes severe damage that can lead to lethal encephalitis.
Once the virus reaches the central nervous system, or CNS, it is exceedingly difficult to treat with the drugs currently available. It is not fully understood why the virus usually stays in the peripheral nervous system when the CNS is only one synapse away. HSV-1 efficiently replicates and spreads through synaptically connected neurons in both directions. My goal is to understand the viral and host mechanisms that control such a precise spread. Learning about the way it travels through the nervous system could allow the design of a vaccine or more effective anti-viral drugs. Additionally, many laboratories around the world use the fluorescent versions of the virus we have developed in Dr. Enquist’s lab to trace and decipher the hardwiring of the nervous system connections.
Q: What attracted you to your current research?
Esteban Engel: I did my Ph.D. in plant pathology, and for my postdoc I decided I was ready to switch gears and work in something completely new to me. I wanted to learn more about animal virology, so I started to search for laboratories in that field. When I opened the Enquist lab Web page and saw microscopy movies of fluorescent viral particles moving in and between live neurons, that blew my mind! I immediately felt attracted to his laboratory even though I knew nothing about neurons or animal viruses. Lynn Enquist has been a terrific and supportive mentor in the last two years—I could not have chosen any better!
Q: What has it meant to be a Pew Latin American fellow?
Esteban Engel: It’s been a world of difference and a huge peace of mind to have my own funds during two years of my postdoc. I feel very fortunate to have such a prestigious fellowship and also to meet very talented colleagues in the annual Pew meetings. The Pew fellowship is well known in Chile. It affords me the funding support to start my own lab when I move back. This is a great deal of help, especially early on, when it is hard to get competitive grants.
Since 1985, Pew’s biomedical programs have been supporting promising beginning researchers in the health sciences—particularly young investigators with innovative approaches and ideas. This article is the fourth in a "Biomedical Researcher of the Month" series highlighting Pew’s biomedical programs.
- Date added:
- Apr 18, 2013
The sensation of feeling itchy is pretty universal, and yet scientists still don't completely understand the complex processes that give us the urge to scratch.More info
Two BU researchers will travel to Washington, D.C., later this year to accept the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), one of the highest honors for young science and engineering professionals.More info
In October, 2013 Pew scholar Shelly Peyton won the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, a five-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. With the funds, the assistant professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is focusing on cancer spread—and the possibility that some cancer treatments might speed up the process.More info
Wired magazine has compiled a list of the year’s best scientific visualizations—including an image by 2013 Pew scholar Viviana Gradinaru. In collaboration with other researchers at California Institute of Technology, the assistant professor created a technique to make fatty tissues translucent and color-coded for easier study.More info
Mark Davis, a 1985 Pew scholar and director of Stanford University’s Institute for Immunity Transplantation and Infection, is featured in US News & World Report for his research on how men and women respond differently to influenza vaccines. His study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to demonstrate a correlation between testosterone levels, gene expression, and immune responsiveness in humans.More info
1996 Pew scholar Carolyn Bertozzi, the T.Z. and Irmgard Chu Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, has been elected into the National Academy of Inventors for her contributions to the field of chemistry. Bertozzi’s innovations include copper-free click chemistry, a technique for examining sugars on cell surfaces without doing harm to the cell.More info
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS, on Nov. 25 named 338 new fellows, including Pew biomedical scholars James Bliska (1994), M. Bishr Omary (1989), and Richard Padgett (1986). AAAS fellows are selected based on their demonstrated efforts to advance science or its applications.More info
On November 25, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) named 338 new Fellows, including 1998 Pew Latin American fellow Alejandro Aballay.More info